If you've ever walked along the shores of Lake Michigan and found yourself smiling at the antics of the Piping Plover, you're not alone. These birds scamper across the sand at the edge of the surf, and just as quickly flutter away. To many, they are a sign of summer in the same way that a seagull perched on a piling may be.
Hopefully the Piping Plover will continue to amuse us and enjoy our shorelines for years to come. But only time will tell if their precarious hold on life will prevail. The Piping Plover is considered an endangered species and could become extinct if we're not careful. In the 1800s and early 1900s the Piping Plover was hunted to very low levels as it was in demand for its feathers, which were used for hat decoration. They were put under protection in 1918 and numbers were increasing. However, habitat loss due to development, rising lake levels, and predators brought their numbers in the Great Lakes area down to around two dozen in the '70s. The Piping Plovers construct their nests on flat, sandy beaches. As lake levels rise, the beach area decreases and leaves little room for nesting. Dogs, cats, foxes, and raccoons are just a few of the predators these birds have to worry about.
Current efforts to protect their nesting areas have made a difference and their numbers are increasing. Nesting pair numbers are currently around five dozen in the Great Lakes region, but that number fluctuates. An aggressive campaign to build cages around their nesting sites and rope the areas off to alert humans has greatly helped the Piping Plover population.
If you're lucky enough to spot these playful plovers, enjoy their antics, but try to keep a respectful distance. For photography enthusiasts,a long lens and patience can go a long way. With a little education, these beautiful birds just may be here for years to come.
Article and photography by Craig Sterken Photography
More Lake Michigan Great Outdoors...