HARRISBURG, PA - Two piping plover chicks took flight in August from the shores of Presque Isle State Park, Erie County, after a challenging season, marking the fifth consecutive year of nesting success for this federal and state endangered sparrow-sized shorebird.
“The inspiring five-year piping plover winning streak is a testament to the power of partnerships, resiliency of nature, and hope for the future, especially after the season we’ve had,” said Game Commission biologist Cathy Haffner, who has been involved in Great Lakes piping plover recovery since 2001.
What started as a routine season ended with four nests, of which three failed and one partially hatched. Typically, a male and female will pair shortly after returning from the wintering grounds in April, lay three to four eggs in a small pebble-lined scrape on the beach, and equally care for the eggs and young. Not this year. The male, that pioneered the Pennsylvania site in 2017 after an absence of nesting plovers since 1955, this season courted not one, but three different females at overlapping intervals.
“A male splitting his time between multiple nests puts each nest in jeopardy,” noted Nicole Ranalli, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pennsylvania field office biologist and Pennsylvania piping plover recovery lead.
“After a nail-biter of a season we are thrilled to have two more plovers join the population,” she added. “The Fish and Wildlife Service is grateful to Erie Bird Observatory for careful daily field observations, the Game Commission for swiftly implementing conservation actions, and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for enthusiastically supporting efforts to recover this critically imperiled shorebird in Pennsylvania.”
Presque Isle State Park Manager Holly Best is proud that the park provides suitable habitat for piping plovers, a goal the park has been working toward for more than a decade with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Game Commission, Fish and Wildlife Service, and other partners.
“After such a long hiatus, it has been wonderful to see piping plovers return to Pennsylvania for the past five consecutive years,” Best said. “We will actively maintain the nesting area to encourage the plovers, and other shorebirds, to visit Presque Isle and hope for many more years of successful nesting.”
Pennsylvania’s success is paying dividends for the Great Lakes piping plover population, the smallest population with only 74 nests basin-wide this season.
Since 2017, four of 18 Pennsylvania fledglings have returned to breed in the Great Lakes, including a 2020 fledge that paired with a 2020 Chicago fledge to recolonize Ohio this year — the first Ohio piping plover nest in 83 years.
These accomplishments contribute to the federal recovery goal of 150 nesting pairs, 100 in Michigan and 50 in the other five Great Lakes states. In 2021, Great Lakes piping plovers nested on all five Great Lakes, in six states and one Canadian province. Two additional distinct federally threatened piping plover populations exist in North America, one along Atlantic Coast and the other in the Northern Great Plains. There are about 4,000 piping plover pairs on the planet.
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