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Great Lakes Piping Plover Maze
Great Lakes Piping Plover Maze
Original Artwork and paper copyright 2014 by Rob Hughes.
The Endangered Great Lakes Piping Plover.
The Great Lakes Piping Plover is a migratory bird that made summer nests on the shores of the Great Lakes. Records from the 1890s show about 680 breeding pairs on sandy beaches from New York to Wisconsin. During the 20th century almost all of the Great Lakes Piping Plovers were killed and their territory greatly diminished. In 1984 there were only 12 breeding pairs and they all lived on the shore of Lake Michigan.
There are two subspecies of Piping Plover. The Great lakes Piping Plover is part of the subspecies that also nests in the Great Plains area (from Oklahoma to south central Canada). The other distinct subspecies nests along the Atlantic Ocean (from North Carolina to Newfoundland).
In the late 19th century and early 20th century many bird species, including the Piping Plover, were hunted: their feathers used to adorn women’s hats. As a result many birds were killed, and in 1918 the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was enacted as federal law. This law protects over 800 migratory bird species, crosses state lines, and is still in effect today. Both species of the Piping Plover are on this list.
It is not known what drove the Great Lakes Piping Plover to the edge of extinction in the 20th century. Aside from killing them for feathers, we have other pursuits that are lethal to plovers. One of these is property development. The beachfront property these birds need for survival is often used for recreation, residential and commercial development. Pedestrians and all terrain vehicles sometimes crush the eggs. Garbage left on the beach attracts raccoons, foxes, cats and other animals that in turn prey on the Plover or its eggs. Off leash dogs pose another threat. Another culprit is the use of DDT (a pesticide used on fields until 1972 when it was banned). DDT washes off the cropland and into the lakes and rivers where it poisons the small invertebrates the Piping Plover eats. It may be that some pesticides used today pose a similar, if less pronounced, threat. Industrial pollution is yet another problem. There are likely other hazards (resulting from our society) in the plovers’ winter or summer home; or along its migratory path, which caused the Great Lakes Piping Plover to nearly go extinct. The Piping Plovers that were common on the Atlantic Coast and inland on the Great Plains suffered a similar – if less drastic – fate. Now the Atlantic population is about 1750 pairs; and the Great Plains has about 2200 pairs. These plovers are currently listed as threatened in the United States, and endangered in Canada.
In 1986 the Great Lakes Piping Plover was listed as an endangered species. All of the know breeding pairs, nineteen in total, nested on Michigan shorelines. Starting in 1990 people determined to help protect the Plover in its native habitat from predators, developers and tourists. Over the next two decades, the Plover population increased almost every year. At last count, in 2012, there were nearly 60 nesting pairs; about 1/3 of those reside in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Little is known about the Piping Plovers’ winter habits. Regardless of their summer homes they migrate to spend the winter on beaches from southern North Carolina to Florida where they congregate together. In 2011 a previously unknown outpost of 1000 Piping Plovers was discovered wintering in the Bahamas. In total there are about 8000 Piping Plovers alive today.
Characteristics of the Piping Plover.
The Piping Plover is named for its distinctive bell like call. The adult female and male birds look very similar. They are about 5” – 7” long, with a wingspan of about 14”. Their bodies are sandy colored, with yellow-orange legs, and a beak that is orange with a black tip. During the spring and summer these birds have distinctive black marking on their forehead and about the neck. They camouflage well with their surroundings.
In general, the Piping Plover prefers sandy flat beaches with some gravel to nest on. The male bird scratches a nest, called a scrape, in the sand just big enough for a plover to sit in. Then, with an impressive diving flight display he attracts a female to the scrape. This courting behavior occurs immediately upon migratory arrival in the early spring.
The males reach the nesting grounds in early April just a few days before the females arrive. After mating the eggs incubate for about 28 days. When the eggs hatch the chicks begin foraging within a few hours. In another 30 days or so they learn how to fly. The first nest of the season almost always has 4 eggs. The short incubation time and early arrival allow this species as many as 4 nests during the spring and summer. The male and female share the incubation duty, taking turns sitting on the eggs. After the first brood, other nests that year will usually only have 2 or 3 eggs each.
Less than half of the fledgling will survive the migratory journey of about 2000 miles. Adults generally fare better, and are known to live as long as 14 years in the wild. The average lifespan of an adult is 5 years.
The Great Lakes Piping Plover is a very rare bird making a comeback from the brink of extinction. It is a small bird that blends in with its surroundings. Every year it flies close to 4000 miles along its migratory path. It is susceptible to various hazards throughout the year. As we grow in harmony with the natural environment, so too do the numbers of the Piping Plover.
Original artwork is copyright 2014 by Rob Hughes. Drawn with india ink on 9″ x 12″ Bristol white vellum surface paper. Made in Michigan. Built to last.
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