By Jennifer Nixon, Denver Zoo Bird Keeper
This week’s Feathered Friends highlights a species currently supported by one of Denver Zoo’s conservation projects in the United States -- the migratory piping plovers (Charadrius melodus.)
The piping plover has faced some trouble since its breeding population plummeted to 12 pairs in 1983. Much of this decline has been a result of human disturbance and competition for beach habitat, as well as predation. As a result, a major recovery effort was started to help save this species in the Great Lakes region and, in 1992, the Egg Salvage and Captive Rearing portion of this project began.
This overall project is multi-faceted, and Denver Zoo works with other AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) institutions and the USFWS (US Fish and Wildlife Service) on the Piping Plover Recovery Plan. Denver Zoo’s portion requires zookeepers to travel to northern Michigan throughout breeding season to incubate abandoned eggs, monitor nest sites and hand rear chicks before their release into the wild. Denver zookeepers, Jennifer Nixon and Harriet Good, have played a major role in this effort. Without assistance from the Egg Salvage and Captive Rearing project, these eggs would have perished in the wild. Furthermore, adding those chicks back into the population has been a significant addition to their struggling numbers.
This has already been a very busy year, with 21 chicks hatching at the captive rearing station, including some stand-outs, like “Kevin” and “Squinty Von Squinterstein.” We look forward to seeing them on the Gulf Coast this winter, or back in the Great Lakes, next spring. The Great Lakes wild population of 2014 consists of 70 breeding pairs (including at least one of last year’s captive reared chicks), just one pair shy of the record. If you happen to be vacationing in either spot, you can recognize a Great Lake piping plover by an orange flag on its leg. Virtually all of the population is banded that way. If you would like to help with this project locally, click on the link below to make a donation to the Conservation Biology Department of Denver Zoo, and specify piping plover in the comments section.
Projects like these help at home, too. Thanks to knowledge gained from this project, Denver Zoo has raised 10 Egyptian Plovers chicks since 2000 – including 4 this year – which is more than any other AZA institution. Success with this species has been slow, yet beneficial in increasing our knowledge of plover hand rearing. This, in combination with our Avian Propagation Center has led to many improvements involving this bird. You can visit the Egyptian Plovers at Bird World, sponsored by Frontier Airlines, in the Jungle exhibit and the Seashore exhibit!