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Pennsylvania

Missing bird for 60 years finally breeds again in Pennsylvania

Mary Ann Thomas
| Sunday, July 30, 2017, 8:33 p.m.
Piping plover chick
National Park Service
Piping plover chick

The piping plover, a federally endangered bird missing from Pennsylvania for 60 years is finally breeding at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Named after its high-pitched piping call, the piping plover is a robin-sized shorebird that nests on beaches and is colored to blend in with sand and sticks.

Unfortunately, the birds' breeding habitat, open beaches, is also preferred by people.

Development and human traffic on beaches coupled with predation has caused steep declines in the plover population through the 1940s and 1950s.

The Game Commission and the Audubon Society reported two piping plover chicks, which were banded, from one of two nests at the park's Gull Point.

Strong waves overtook the second nest, however, the Game Commission and Audubon biologists rescued the eggs, which were transferred first to the Detroit Zoo and then to the University of Michigan Biological Station piping plover captive-rearing facility. Two chicks hatched and will be released on Lake Michigan in early August.

“This is a testament to dedication and teamwork, not only in Pennsylvania but throughout the species' range,” said Dan Brauning, Game Commission Wildlife Diversity Program Chief. “Their return wasn't by chance, or an accident.”

According to the Audubon Society, bringing the plovers back to the peninsula has taken a lot of work. Audubon provided the “eyes in the field” since 2009, with Mary Birdsong and other monitors providing daily updates on bird sightings and activity to all the agencies involved.

Audubon said it monitors noted, for instance, a tripling of the shorebird population at Gull Point after groups removed invasive plants and other vegetation taking over the sandy beach habitat that plovers and other shorebirds need.

At one time, Pennsylvania likely hosted up to 15 pairs at Presque Isle State Park – the only suitable breeding habitat in the state.

Shortly after a territorial male was observed at Gull Point in 2005, the Game Commission, working with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, developed a Presque Isle Piping Plover and Common Tern Partnership aiming to bring back to Pennsylvania both beleaguered species.

Other partners include U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, Audubon Pennsylvania and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4691, mthomas@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.

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