MAUMEE – The latest good news from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is that Nellie and Nish, a piping plover pair, have mated and nested at Maumee Bay State Park, in the Maumee Area of Concern, near Toledo.
Four chicks hatched earier this month after their eggs were watched around the clock by nearly 100 volunteers.
"While the birds are at the center of all the excitement, they're not the only stars involved in this historic nest. The network of nearly 100 volunteers who answered Black Swamp Bird Observatory's call to action are superstars of bird conservation,” said Kimberly Kaufman Executive Director at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory “This incredible network of volunteers came together on very short notice to monitor the nest from dawn to dusk every day.
"The data they're collecting has already been put to good use, helping to inform the wildlife agencies as they make decisions about areas to close to protect the young once the eggs hatch. It's an inspiring example of community science in action."
Nellie and Nish are the first piping plover pair to nest in Ohio in over 80 years. The piping plover was listed as an endangered species in 1986 because of its threatened extinction in the Great Lakes.
Since the GLRI began, sustained funding has been made available to accelerate the restoration of the Great Lakes piping plover including the monitoring work protecting Nellie, Nish, and their four eggs. As a result, the species has seen a continued upward trajectory in the number of breeding pairs present in the Great Lakes.
Nellie and Nish were hatched last year and traveled a great distance to find each other in Toledo. Nish was born to Monty and Rose last year at Montrose Beach in Chicago. Nellie was born last year at the delisted Presque Isle AOC in Pennsylvania.
GLRI AOC funding has had such a positive impact that endangered species like Nellie, Nish, and their offspring are now able to thrive in the restored habitat.
Here's more information on the endangered species:
QUESTION: Piping Plovers have not been seen in Ohio for more than 80 years, what brought them back now?
ANSWER: These are Great Lakes piping plovers, and they are endangered at a state and federal level. The federal government has been promoting efforts to help piping plovers recover for the last 40 or more years.
These birds mate and nest in pairs and they were down to only 20 pairs 30-to-40 years ago. However, the population has been increasing and they’re fluctuating between 60 and 75 pairs over the last 10 years. Recently, piping plovers had been spotted nesting pretty close to Ohio.
A few years ago, a pair nested in the Chicago area and another pair started to nest at Presque Isle in Pennsylvania. One of the individuals that make up the Ohio pair is from Chicago and the other is from Presque Isle. It just so happened this year that those birds were looking for a beach to nest on and decided Maumee Bay on Lake Erie was the place.
QUESTION: Was the return of these birds expected after seeing them nest near Ohio?
ANSWER: The birding community was always secretly hoping piping plovers would turn up. There had been talk among other agencies in Ohio about whether or not they would come back to Ohio.
QUESTION: Where else can these birds be found in North America?
ANSWER: There are three distinct populations segments of piping plovers in North America. There are Great Plains piping plovers and they nest in the prairies of the Dakotas and there are Atlantic piping plovers which settle on the Atlantic coast. The piping plovers we’re seeing in Ohio this year are Great Lakes piping plovers. The Great Lakes piping plover has seen a much sharper decline in numbers than the other two plovers.
The bulk of the Great Lakes piping plover population is focused along the Michigan shoreline at both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. There are also some populations along the shores of Lake Superior and Lake Ontario as well. Right now, all of the Great Lakes have the potential to see piping plover pairs nesting.
QUESTION: Is there optimism we could see piping plovers return to the shores of Lake Erie next year?
ANSWER: A lot of it depends on how this pair does. If they have a successful nest this year there’s a good chance they return to Maumee Bay, but if it isn’t successful we’re looking at more of a 50/50 chance of them returning.
There’s still a chance another pair could show up in other parts of the state in the future. We were all pretty skeptical we’d see them back here, but now that it’s happened we’ll be more on the lookout for something like this next year.
QUESTION: In the future, what should Ohioans do if they encounter a Piping Plover nest?
ANSWER: Contact either your Wildlife Officer or Division of Wildlife district office and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They have some great resources online as well you can access for more information on the bird and how to handle an encounter.
That being said, it’s getting near the end of the nesting season. These birds typically nest from May to mid-June. If their nest were to fail they may nest somewhere else, but the period of courtship and bonding between two birds has almost passed by now. If this pair lost their nest they may try to renest in the area, but for now they’re there.