Great Lakes Piping Plover Chicks Banded at Green Bay During a Promising Summer

It’s midsummer, which means Piping Plovers are hatching throughout the Great Lakes region, and Audubon Great Lakes and their conservation partners are diligently working to track and protect these shorebirds

On June 17, 2024, seven Piping Plover chicks went dashing back to their homes in the sands of Green Bay, WI after being banded by U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and the Great Lakes Piping Plover Recovery Effort, with the support of Audubon Great Lakes staff and volunteers and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. 

These Piping Plovers, which are endangered throughout the Great Lakes region, will be closely monitored and tracked over the course of their lifetimes. Since they’re such strong runners from a young age, these chicks can be fitted with lightweight leg bands. Around 96 percent of Piping Plovers throughout the Great Lakes are banded, allowing observers and conservation staff to keep track of their movements and assess the population’s health not only in the Great Lakes, but on the shores of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts where they winter and points in between.

Audubon Great Lakes Conservation staff and partners from Great Lakes Piping Plover Recovery Effort, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources banded seven federally endangered Great Lakes Piping Plover chicks

If you happen to see any Piping Plovers on the shores of the Great Lakes, look for bands on birds you see. Bands are placed on chicks, and bands with orange flags are placed when birds are re-banded as breeding adults. Matching combinations of band colors indicates siblings from the same clutch, and chicks are also given unique numbers or dot colors within color bands so that the individual history of each bird can be recorded over time. These simple leg bands allow for accurate, minimal-interruption studies of adult Piping Plovers from a distance.

So far this summer as of June 17, there were 77 breeding pairs of Piping Plovers counted throughout the Great Lakes, approaching last year’s record since listing in 1986 of 80 pairs. Chicks are beginning to fledge in multiple states, contributing to the next generation of this species.

Treasured throughout the Great Lakes, Piping Plovers have captivated the city of Chicago again after the first breeding pair arrived in 2019. As an example of the benefits of banding, we know that a breeding male that returned to summer in Chicago this year is a 1-year-old male that was hatched in Green Bay last year. Although he is not breeding this year, hopefully he will return in future years to Chicago or elsewhere, and his band combination will allow him to be identified.

Back in Green Bay where a clutch of fledgling Piping Plovers that were raised in captivity — because their eggs were abandoned in the Apostle Islands after a parent was taken by a predator — were released last July, one of the females returned to nest. Remarkably, she was photographed in Ashland, Wisconsin on the evening of May 22 and found at the site she was released last year in Green Bay on the morning of May 23, documenting an overnight migration across northern Wisconsin! None of these triumphant stories of individual birds would be known without banding.

This vital work isn’t just for conservation staff, everyone can help by being mindful of Piping Plovers and their habitats. These birds are particularly vulnerable to predators, including off-leash dogs, and disturbance from beachgoers who unintentionally or intentionally enter their habitats and nesting sites can be very detrimental. Great Lakes Piping Plovers need our help to share the shores with them—this means giving them space and peace so that they can nest, raise young and eventually migrate. Dogs should be kept on leashes, and beachgoers should avoid marked areas. Finally, don’t feed any wildlife, and make sure to pick up any trash to avoid attracting any predators towards Plover nests.

If you’d like to do more to contribute to Piping Plover conservation, you can learn more about coastal stewardship and take the pledge to protect Great Lakes Piping Plovers by following the links below:

How you can help, right now