ALBANY, N.Y: A pair of piping plovers successfully nested on New York’s Lake Ontario shoreline for the first time in more than 30 years, which bodes well for the recovery of the endangered bird’s Great Lakes population, according to biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Audubon New York.
“We were thrilled to see the successful breeding of piping plovers on Lake Ontario this year,” David Stilwell of the federal agency’s New York office said on Wednesday.
The agency said three adult plovers were spotted over the summer on New York’s Ontario shore, including a breeding pair in Jefferson County that hatched two chicks. One chick survived to migrate south in August.
The piping plover is a robin-sized bird resembling a sandpiper that nests on beaches and is colored to blend in with sand and sticks. The Great Lakes population had fallen to 16 pairs in 1986, when the species went on the endangered list. All were in Michigan.
Protection of nest sites and other conservation measures have increased the population to about 75 pairs across the region today, according to the wildlife agency.
A separate piping plover population, the federally threatened Atlantic Coast population, breeds on coastal beaches from Quebec to North Carolina.
The species’ decline is attributed to habitat loss, disturbance of nest sites by people and pets, and predators such as foxes, gulls and crows.
“The return of piping plovers to the eastern shores of Lake Ontario is a tremendous success story for birds and the environment,” said Erin Crotty, executive director of Audubon New York. “That they’re finding new and suitable habitat to successfully fledge chicks signals their recovery.” It also emphasizes the need for habitat protection and restoration to benefit other vulnerable species, she said.