Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My new job - Great Lakes Piping Plovers!

I was hired this summer to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ecological Services Office in East Lansing, MI.  One of my primary duties is to act as the field coordinator for the endangered Great Lakes population of the Piping Plover.

Many people are unaware that there are three distinct Piping Plover breeding populations, one along the Atlantic Coast, one along the rivers and prairie potholes of the northern Great Plains, and the one that nests along pristine sandy beaches in the Great Lakes.

Both the Atlantic Coast and Great Plains populations are listed as threated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and number less than 2000 pairs.  By far the most imperiled is the Great Lakes population which is listed as endangered (on the wintering grounds on the Gulf and southern Atlantic coasts, the whole of the population is considered threatened).

Historically, Great Lakes Piping Plovers were estimated to number perhaps 600-800 pairs and breed across most of the Great Lakes basin.  However, habitat loss and nest disturbance and predation on the breeding grounds had reduced the Great Lakes Piping Plover population to under 20 pairs by the 1980s; almost all on isolated beaches in northern Michigan.

Since then a mix of intense conservation efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state agencies and countless volunteers, as well as lowering Great Lakes water levels (which provides more beach habitat for the birds) has resulted in a slow but steady increase in the Piping Plover population.  Last year a high of 71 pairs was reported across the Great Lakes basin, breeding in areas where breeding hadn't occurred in decades such as parts of Canada, Wisconsin and even Illinois.

However the Great Lakes Piping Plover continues its precarious life on the endangered species list and only intense monitoring, nest protection and other conservation activities have likely allowed it to persist at all.  Now the Gulf oil spill presents new hazards for the Piping Plover on its wintering ground (luckily the bulk of the Great Lakes population seems to winter along the atlantic coasts of Georgia and Florida). 

Much work remains to be done but I am sure I and the many other members of the Great Lakes Piping Plover conservation team will try our best to help make sure the ringing cry of PEEP-LOH!! continues to ring out from beautiful Great Lakes beaches!

A Great Lakes Piping Plover broods its nest inside a nest enclusure in Michigan.

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