What is a Piping Plover?
When to Look for Piping Plovers
Where to Look for Piping Plovers
The areas around the nests are roped off during the breeding season to protect the birds from disturbances that would cause them to abandon their nests. Also, plover eggs and small chicks are very well camouflaged. Well-meaning plover watchers could easily step on them if allowed in the nesting area.
It is, however, possible to observe all aspects of plover behavior from outside the plover-protection fences. Because piping plovers are well camouflaged, you might need to watch for a while before you see them. Also, keep your ears open. They often peep (or pip), and you may hear one before you see one. If you hear a plover, freeze and look around for movemnent.
Nesting piping plovers can also be seen about 1 mile North of the Platte River mouth. The North Manitou Island nesting area is closed during the breeding season.
How the Park Service helps Piping Plovers
When the piping plovers return in spring, park staff members begin watching their activities. Once they begin to establish territories, staff and volunteers rope off the nesting areas. This prevents disturbance which might cause the birds to abandon their nests, as well as protecting eggs from being stepped on accidentally.
Once a complete clutch of 4 eggs has been laid, trained staff build an exclosure, a wire fence with a mesh top, around the nest site. This prevents predators such as dogs, gulls, crows, and raccoons from taking the eggs, while allowing the plovers to pass easily in and out.
During incubation each pair of piping plovers is checked daily to make sure that both are present and taking care of their eggs. If something should happen to one of the pair, the other is likely to abandon the nest. In that case park personnel will transport the eggs to the University of Michigan Biological Station to be raised in captivity and released when they are independent.
After the chicks hatch they are monitored daily until they can fly well.With this intensive program, the number of Great Lakes nesting plovers has risen from 17 pairs in 1986 to 58 pairs in 2012. Sleeping Bear Dunes usually has one third of all pairs. The numbers have dropped in recent years: 2009, 25 pairs; 2010, 23 pairs; 2011, 18 pairs. One reason for the decrease in the numbers is predators such as merlins, but dogs running through nesting areas and even chasing plovers have also threatened the population.
Getting to Know Individual Piping Plovers
Plover Behaviors to Watch
From late April through Early June
Territory defense – Both males and females engage in territory defense. They walk shoulder to shoulder along the boundary with the birds from the adjacent territory. Sometimes they lower their heads, puff up their back feathers, and charge at a trespassing bird.
Scraping – Males lay on their chests and scrape out nest sites by kicking backwards with their legs.
Incubation and trading incubation duties – Both parents participate equally in incubating (sitting on the eggs). When it is time to trade duties one bird runs quickly to the nest and the other then runs away.
Feeding – Plovers spend much of their day eating insects, spiders, and other small creatures.
During June and July
Brooding – During the first week after hatching, chicks are unable to maintain their own body temperature. They spend much time tucked in under their parents’ wings staying warm. You might see a fat-looking adult bird that appears to have up to 10 legs!
Territory Defense – See the description in the April through June section
Chick Defense – The adults take turns watching over their chicks and defending them from predators. They sometimes do a broken-wing act to lead predators away. They also give a call that warns the chicks to hide if danger threatens.
Feeding - See the description in the April through June section.
How you can help protect Piping Plovers?
Please help protect piping plovers:
Last updated: May 22, 2015