Piping Plovers used to be found across the shores of North America, where they made their homes on the same sandy beaches locals and vacationers frequent every summer. Unfortunately, many of the beaches were not big enough for birds and beachgoers, and as beaches continued to be developed and disturbed, the plovers lost a lot of important habitat. So much so that in the 1980s the Great Lakes plover population was as low as 12 pairs, with no nesting pairs in Canada. But thanks to a lot of hard conservation work their numbers have started to increase, and in 2018 there were 67 breeding pairs in the Great Lakes – a massive increase!

A 6-day-old plover on the left and an adult male plover on the right. The bands on their legs are put in place by scientists and used to track the plovers as they grow.

A 6-day-old plover on the left and an adult male plover on the right. The bands on their legs are put in place by scientists and used to track the plovers as they grow.

Piping Plovers returned to Ontario in 2007, after having not been spotted in the province for 30 years. They now nest consistently at Ontario’s Sauble Beach and Wasaga Beach, and are usually found breeding at 2-4 other beaches in Ontario each summer. With lots of support from volunteers and local communities plover habitat is being restored and protected, and our partners at Bird Studies Canada have already been able to do a lot of amazing work this summer!

This plover nest is almost invisible on the beach. An egg can be seen in the middle.

This plover nest is almost invisible on the beach. An egg can be seen in the middle.

All new nests that were spotted since the plovers returned in May have been protected with a mini exclosure – a fence that covers a small area around the nest to protect the eggs from predators while the nest is being laid. Volunteers have also put up symbolic fencing (a “barrier” that ropes off an area 50 m around the nest) around the nests to alert beachgoers to the presence of the nests, and they’re putting up signs on the beach to help teach people about the plovers and the importance of protecting their nesting habitat.

A wire exclosure covers a plover nest on the beach to protect it from predators while still allowing the plovers to move in and out with ease.

A wire exclosure covers a plover nest on the beach to protect it from predators while still allowing the plovers to move in and out with ease.

Putting up signs around plover nests helps make sure everyone knows how important it is to protect them.

Putting up signs around plover nests helps make sure everyone knows how important it is to protect them.

Protecting their nests from predation and disturbance is important, but it’s just one piece of the plover puzzle. Volunteers are also busy keeping their eyes on the nesting plovers, spending lots of time monitoring the proud parents and waiting anxiously for the arrival of their chicks. The data they collect is used to track the plover population, their health, and any potential threats or disturbances, and all of this information helps make management decisions on the beach that we hope will give the breeding plovers a safe place to come back to year after year.

Earth Rangers is supporting this important work through the Bring Back the Wild Program, in which kids across Canada can raise funds to help this exciting project continue. To learn more about how to get your family involved, visit https://www.earthrangers.com/membership#protect-animals 

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