Aiding Animals in the Wild: Piping Plover Recovery and Support

The Great Lakes population of the piping plover was listed as endangered in 1986. Its decline is attributed to habitat loss and degradation due to the encroachment of humans on its nesting environment: beaches and inland lakes and rivers. Nest disturbance and predation, largely due to the presence of humans, also has contributed to the population’s steady decline. Since 1995, when the Windway Corporation and the Milwaukee County Zoo collaborated in a piping plover nest-rescue operation in the Dakotas, Zoo staff have participated in the development of captive husbandry protocols and designated research projects designed to benefit wild populations of piping plovers.

Since 1997, Zoo staff members have assisted the United States Fish and Wildlife Service biologists in Michigan with salvage hatching, rearing and releasing of abandoned piping plover eggs. These chicks were brought in as eggs at the University of Michigan Biological Field Station and were hatched for re-release into the wild. Heather Neldner, a Milwaukee County Zoo aviary keeper, has spent every summer since 2005 helping raise abandoned piping plover eggs. This program is vital to the survival of the small Great Lakes piping plover population. Six birds released in 2006 successfully returned to their release site in 2007. This success was attributed to delaying the release until 30 days of age instead of 21 days. The statistics from 2004 are:
2004 –10 birds were raised and released
2005 – 15 birds were raised and released
2006 – 30 birds were raised and released
2007 –12 birds were raised and released
2008 – 28 birds were raised and released
Total birds raised and released over these five years: 95

The Zoological Society of Milwaukee has provided funding for travel to the Michigan site and a stipend for one Zoo staff participant in the program since 2004.

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Animal(s) being conserved/studied: Piping plovers
Alive issue: Winter 2007

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