North Dakota

Piping Plovers Study at John E. Williams Preserve

Thanks in part to predator control, 67 breeding pairs were found on Conservancy property in 2009.

Piping Plovers

Making a Comeback at our John E. Williams Preserve

As part of a long-term effort in the Missouri Coteau region in North Dakota, the Conservancy and partners are monitoring nesting populations of piping plovers on and around John E. Williams Preserve. The 2009 count showed success in part due to efforts to control predators. 

Each year, the researchers first look for nests, scanning the beaches for pairs of birds with binoculars or a scope. Once a nest is found, they collect data on the eggs, put a cage around it if possible and regularly monitor it. They also count the number of chicks that hatch and, after 18 days, record how many chicks survived (they are considered fledged 18 days after hatching).

The number of breeding pairs found on Conservancy property in 2009 was 67 pairs, down from 69 pairs in 2008.

An average of 1.26 chicks per pair hatched, surpassing the rate required for a sustainable population. This is due in part to efforts by the Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to control hawks, owls and foxes that prey on the plovers by removing their roosting and den sites.

This species would not be able to sustain its population without the Conservancy’s and partners’ efforts.

On Conservancy land, metal caging is installed around nests to help protect them from bird and mammal predators.

“John E. Williams Preserve is one of the most significant nesting areas for piping plovers in North America,” said Eric Rosenquist, preserve manager for the Conservancy. “It is a unique spot. The beaches have sparse vegetation due to the concentration of salt in the ground. That’s what plovers are looking for.”

The piping plover breeds primarily along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to southern Canada and along rivers and wetlands of the northern Great Plains, from Nebraska to the southern Prairie Provinces of Canada. They are also found on portions of the western Great Lakes.

The piping plover is listed as a threatened species in North Dakota, where it nests primarily on the shores of shallow alkali lakes or depressions formed by glaciers.

The northern Great Plains population has been declining because of low reproductive success and alteration of breeding habitats and predator communities. At this rate they could disappear from the region within 50 to 100 years.

Approximately 300 to 400 pairs of the U.S. Great Plains’ population breeds annually in a range from central North Dakota to northeastern Montana.

Efforts to monitor and restore plovers on the lakes and wetlands of this area started in the mid-1980s, and recovery activity has been ongoing since 1991.


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