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The piping plover, a small, sandy colored shore bird resembling a killdeer, currently nests on the beaches of Northern Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake Superior in Michigan and Wisconsin. These birds winter on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts from Virginia to Texas and some as far south as Mexico and the Bahamas. Historically, breeding populations upwards of 800 pairs nested throughout the Great Lakes, but only 51 pairs were recorded in 2002. The species became protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1986, when the Great Lakes population ranged from 12 to 32 pairs. This critically endangered species returns to its breeding grounds in late April to early May and shallow nests are scraped out on the beach and lined with pebbles and driftwood. The eggs take 28 days to hatch, and the chicks cannot fly or escape predators until they are about 30 days old.

There are several factors that threaten the piping plover including commercial and residential development, disturbance from humans and domestic animals (especially dogs), and over-predation by gulls, owls, crows, foxes, and coyote that are also pressed for habitat. The Endangered Species Act provides penalties for taking, harassing or harming the piping plover and protects critical habitat.

There are many activities underway through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), Michigan State University and the University of Minnesota to help protect the piping plover including annual surveys, nest monitoring, chick banding, captive rearing of abandoned or orphaned chicks and eggs, public education programs and the Piping Plover Patrol program.

For the fifth year, Binder Park Zoo is actively participating in the Piping Plover Patrol Program which sets up volunteers at each known nesting site to help keep animals and humans from disturbing the area and to educate the public as well. Zoo staff and volunteers will head to the beaches in early June to monitor nest sites as well as conduct surveys to locate more plovers and new nesting sites. Lead Zookeeper Tami Eichorst will be traveling to the University of Minnesotas biological station on Burt Lake in Northern Michigan once again this year to incubate eggs and hand rear and release orphaned plover chicks. Zoo keepers from around the country participate in this hand rearing, including staff from Detroit Zoo, San Diego Zoo, Disneys Animal Kingdom and Miami Metro Zoo.

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