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Piping Plovers, concert conflicts, and rising waters

Piping Plovers
A Piping Plover chick captures its own meal on the beach. Photographed at Sandy Point State Reservation, Ipswich, Massachusetts, by Michael Rossacci

Piping Plover nesting season is in full swing, and the endangered shorebird is generating its fair share of headlines this spring. Here’s a summary.

New Jersey concert series cancelled 

Federal officials in New Jersey have cancelled a summer concert series at the Sandy Hook unit of Gateway National Recreation Area because a plover nest was found on the same beach where the concerts were going to be held.

Since noise disturbs Piping Plovers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service restricts activity that generates loud sound within 1,000 meters of a nest, according to a story from WHYY. “We want these special birds to thrive,” said Gateway National Recreation Area Superintendent Jen Nersesian.

Plover pair nests in Chicago, may force change for beach concert

For the first time since 1955, Piping Plovers have nested in Chicago. A pair from the Great Lakes population attempted to nest last year at Waukegan, Illinois, north of the Windy City. This year, they turned up at Montrose Beach (Hotspot Near You No. 74), one of the city’s premier birding locations.

Federal officials and local birders are keeping close watch on the pair, and last week, their four eggs were removed from the beach because the waters of Lake Michigan were rising. Sure enough, the next morning the nest site was under water, but the eggs were safe. The eggs will be sent to the University of Michigan Biological Station, where the Detroit Zoo manages a captive rearing facility for Great Lakes Piping Plovers.


The plovers have shown signs of courting after the eggs were removed and could attempt to nest again, says Carl Giometti, president of the Chicago Ornithological Society.

Montrose Beach, the site where the birds nested, is scheduled to host a music festival called MAMBY on the Beach on August 23 and 24, drawing up to 20,000 people each day. Giometti and other bird conservationists are calling for the festival to be moved to avoid disrupting the birds.

Read our August 2017 cover story about Great Lakes Piping Plovers

Due to the high water in the lake, the concert’s organizer is currently planning to shift the location to a grassy area above the beach, but conservationists point out that would still mean bringing loud music, lights, and thousands of people into close proximity to the birds.


The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the Chicago Park District is in talks with the concert organizer about the location. The Fish and Wildlife Service is not taking a stance on the matter, other than saying that holding the festival in the nearby lawn would be “a much better option for the plovers,” the paper reports.

Kudos to the Sun-Times Editorial Board for coming out in favor of the birds.

High lake levels are worrying

The high water in Lake Michigan isn’t just a problem for the Chicago pair. According to the Detroit Free-Press, record or near-record water levels predicted throughout the Great Lakes this summer may wash out plover nests around the five lakes.


“I am nervous,” says Vincent Cavalieri, Great Lakes Piping Plover Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The last time water levels were this high, in the late ’80s, that was the very low point of this population.”

At Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan, officials have roped off plover nesting areas as water levels rise.

Ontario court hears plover case

A court in Ontario is considering charges against the Town of South Bruce Peninsula for two counts of damaging a Piping Plover nesting area when they groomed the beach with a bulldozer in the spring and late summer of 2017. A ruling in the case is expected in October.

Record nesting season in Maine

Finally, on a happier note, plover nests in Maine have hit a record of 83, up from last year’s record of 68. An article from the Portland Press Herald says volunteers who reach out to educate the public about the birds have been important to the recovery.


Since 2014, the number of volunteer programs aimed at protecting nesting plovers has grown at some of the 20 beaches Maine Audubon oversees, the Press Herald reports. “After we started educating people more, and collaborating with volunteers and the Warden Service, it’s helped,” Coastal Bird Project Director Laura Minich Zitske said. “Luck is part of it, too. But I attribute a lot to the volunteers.”


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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and You can reach him at [email protected].

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