Endangered Great Lakes piping plover chick hatches at Detroit Zoo

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An endangered Great Lakes piping plover surprised staff at the Detroit Zoo when it broke out of its shell.

Four piping plover eggs were found last month abandoned, wet and sunken in the sand on the shores of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in northern Michigan after heavy rain and high water levels washed out the nest.

The eggs were taken to the University of Michigan’s Biological Station in Pellston, where the DZS leads an award-winning program to salvage eggs like these to bolster the population of Great Lakes piping plovers.

Upon the eggs’ arrival, DZS staff were dismayed that they appeared to be unviable, as no movement was observed. After three days, staff spotted motion in one of the eggs, which continued to develop, but the chick struggled to hatch. A DZS bird keeper assisted with the hatching, and the chick is now almost three weeks old and doing well.

“We are completely surprised and delighted that this chick hatched and is now thriving,” said Bonnie Van Dam, DZS associate curator of birds, who supervises the field conservation program for the tiny shorebirds. “We are hopeful it will be able to join wild plovers once it’s fully fledged.”

In 1986, only 17 nesting pairs of piping plovers remained in the Great Lakes region, and a federal recovery program was established by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Scientists found that, due to human disturbance and other factors, some of the plovers were abandoning their eggs, and they realized salvaging these eggs could contribute significantly to the species’ recovery.

Because of its expertise in bird care and incubation, the DZS developed a salvage-rearing program to hatch out abandoned eggs and rear the tiny chicks until they can be released to join wild plovers.

More than two decades later, 238 birds have been reared and released by the DZS-led team. A total of 19 chicks have hatched this spring and are currently being reared, with the first release expected this week in northern Michigan. In 2018, the USFWS honored DZS Curator of Birds Tom Schneider with the Recovery Champion Award, recognizing his leadership and the significant contributions made by the DZS in the recovery of Great Lakes piping plovers.

About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital special projects manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013.