Rare nest find creates stir in bird community

Chicago – A small bird about the size of a sparrow has caused a
major commotion in the state’s wildlife community.

The first piping plover nest found in Illinois since 1979 was
discovered earlier this summer along a remote stretch of the Lake
Michigan shoreline, sending birders into a frenzy. Earlier this
month, three piping plover chicks that had been rescued before
hatching in that nest were released at Sleeping Bear Dunes National
Lakeshore in Michigan.

The nest was discovered by DNR wildlife biologist Scott Garrow
during a regular survey.

“Finding the breeding pair of piping plovers in Illinois is one
of the true highlights of my 30-year career,” Garrow later
said.

Wildlife experts say the incident could represent new hope for
the endangered shorebird.

Piping plovers are sand-colored birds that nest and feed along
coastal beaches in North America. The adult has yellow-orange legs,
a black band across the forehead from eye to eye, and a black ring
around the neck. It blends well with open, sandy beach habitats and
is difficult to see unless it moves – it typically runs in short
starts and stops.

It’s not a common bird – the total population is currently
estimated at fewer than 7,000 individual birds. The population has
reportedly been increasing since 1991. The Great Lakes population
of the piping plover was listed as endangered under the U.S.
Endangered Species Act in 1986. A total of more than 70 breeding
pairs was reported in the Great Lakes this season, the largest pair
total since the bird’s listing.

DNR and the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed that
the nest found along Lake Michigan originally contained four
eggs.

It is believed the adult piping plovers abandoned the nest,
likely due to disturbance by a predator or human. Soon after the
nest discovery, the eggs were placed in incubators at the Lincoln
Park Zoo in Chicago. Three chicks hatched and were transported to a
rearing facility at the University of Michigan Biological Station
at Pellston, where they were cared for until ready to be
released.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a national park, was
selected as the release site because it is relatively close to the
captive rearing facility and because other plovers are still
present there.

“This milestone is a direct result of strong partnerships,”
Kristopher Lah, endangered species biologist with the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, said. “Each of the partners brought a spirit of
cooperation and willingness to overcome obstacles – and that’s the
key to success for any endangered species recovery program.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provided support for nest
monitoring and protection. Johns Manville, which owns property near
the nesting site, gave biologists access to the beach to monitor
the nest; and, the Lake County Health Department provided water
quality tests. Illinois Beach State Park site staff provided
logistical support.

The Lincoln Park Zoo, the Detroit Zoological Society, and the
University of Michigan provided hatching and rearing facilities and
expertise.

The USFWS media office contributed to this story.

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