piping plover

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This week on Points North, we look at animals and the threats they face. Great Lakes piping plovers were on the verge of extinction in the 1980s, but recently they’ve been making a comeback. Still, their slow recovery is hindered by absent-minded beach walkers, high water levels and racoons.


Taylor Wizner / Interlochen Public Radio

Half a century ago, hundreds of pairs of piping plovers lived in the Great Lakes. But by the 1980s, they were on the verge of extinction and only a dozen pairs remained.

Over time, wildlife biologists have helped increase the population. But it’s still well below a stable number and each year there’s a new threat.


Piping plovers are small, stout white-gray birds. In the spring, they can be found nesting on the shores of the Great Lakes. Once a fixture on the lakes, the birds are now on the federal Endangered Species List.

Endangered plovers face new threat: snowy owls

Jun 20, 2018
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A new predator has emerged for piping plovers in the Great Lakes.

Snowy owls were recently seen eating plovers in several locations along the Great Lakes, including Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in lower Michigan and Vermilion Point in the Upper Peninsula.

Piping plovers are little shorebirds, and they're an endangered species in the Great Lakes region. But they’re making a comeback thanks to conservation efforts and even some heroics.

Piping plovers are little white and gray shorebirds. You might’ve seen them running around on the beach.

Sarah Saunders is a post-doctoral researcher at Michigan State University.

“The majority of the piping plovers in the Great Lakes region nest at Sleeping Bear Dunes,” she says. “The chicks look like little fluffy cotton balls on toothpicks because their legs are really long and they’re very cute. And they make a very high pitched piping noise.”

Plover Versus Merlin in the National Lakeshore

Jun 28, 2012

For decades wildlife officials and volunteers have gone the extra mile to help the piping plover reestablish itself in the Great Lakes. A couple of decades ago the bird was nearly wiped out in the region.

But to help plovers sometimes means killing another threatened species. A small falcon called a merlin is a main predator of piping plovers.

Now there’s a new effort to catch and remove the falcons instead of shooting them. But it’s not easy.

Piping Plovers

Jul 1, 2009


It's shaping-up to be a banner year for the Piping Plover.

The Great Lakes population of the small shorebird has been listed as an endangered species since 1986.

At that time, there were right around a dozen nesting pairs.

Today, more than 60 nesting pairs are sitting on nests around the Great Lakes.

Dr. Francie Cuthbert is a professor at the University of Minnesota.    She's also on the staff at the University of Michigan Biological Research Station near Pellston.

And she's been following the piping plover for more than 20 years.