A record number of Great Lakes Piping Plovers (GLPIPL), a federally endangered shorebird, nested in the area this summer. The GLPIPL Recovery Effort, a partnership between university, government and state organizations, reports that it recorded 73 breeding pairs in the Great Lakes for 2015. This is up from 70 pairs last year and 66 pairs in 2013.

“The increase is important because it demonstrates the population is continuing to grow,” says University of Minnesota Professor and Principle Investigator of the recovery effort Francie Cuthbert. The GLPIPL was put on the Endangered Species List in 1986. That summer, only 16 breeding pairs were recorded.

Cuthbert says the increase represents a tremendous and ongoing effort on the part of many organizations, “both for monitoring and protection through the Great Lakes region, as well as during migration and winter.” Two components of the recovery effort are based at the University of Michigan Biological Station, in Pellston, Michigan. The GLPIPL banding team, led by Stephanie Schubel, resides at the Biological Station. They travel by car and float plane to beaches around Lakes Huron, Michigan and Superior, to find, assess the health of, and band adult plovers and their chicks.

Nests are occasionally abandoned by the adult birds due to death of a parent or storm damage.  When this happens, the plover eggs are transported to the Biological Station and placed in the Captive Rearing Center where zookeepers from across the country oversee incubation of the eggs and then raise the chicks once they hatch. At the end of the season, the chicks are returned to northern Michigan beaches to continue their lives as wild birds.

These efforts, along with a strong public education program, account for much of the uptick in plover numbers. Piping Plovers nest on the ground, among stones on wide sandy beaches. Their eggs are vulnerable to being stepped on or eaten by animals. For these reasons, beaches with plover habitat ask people to keep dogs leashed, give birds space, and even stay away during breeding season. Public cooperation is another piece of the birds’ rebound.

GLPIPL Research Assistant Jordan Rutter says season got off to a discouraging beginning. A cool spring and higher than average water levels delayed the birds’ breeding. “The first few weeks of the breeding season we weren’t finding many nesting pairs,” Rutter says. “Then all of a sudden, around the beginning of June, it seemed like all of the plovers were nesting at once. Not only did the breeding plovers catch up to the numbers we were hoping to see, but they broke the record too!”

Learn more about the Great Lakes Piping Plover recovery work here.