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Breaking News: Chick Comes Out of Its Shell

Great Lakes piping plover hatches after high water levels wash out its nest

Don’t count this chick out before it’s hatched. An endangered Great Lakes piping plover surprised Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) staff recently when the resilient little chick broke out of its shell.

Four piping plover eggs were found last month abandoned, wet and sunken in the sand on the shores of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in northern Michigan after heavy rain and high water levels washed out the nest. The eggs were taken to the University of Michigan’s Biological Station in Pellston, where the DZS leads an award-winning program to salvage eggs like these to bolster the population of Great Lakes piping plovers.

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Upon the eggs’ arrival, DZS staff were dismayed that they appeared to be unviable, as no movement was observed. After three days, staff spotted motion in one of the eggs, which continued to develop, but the chick struggled to hatch. A DZS bird keeper assisted with the hatching, and the chick is now almost three weeks old and doing well.

“We are completely surprised and delighted that this chick hatched and is now thriving,” said Bonnie Van Dam, DZS associate curator of birds, who supervises the field conservation program for the tiny shorebirds. “We are hopeful it will be able to join wild plovers once it’s fully fledged.”

In 1986, only 17 nesting pairs of piping plovers remained in the Great Lakes region, and a federal recovery program was established by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Scientists found that, due to human disturbance and other factors, some of the plovers were abandoning their eggs, and they realized salvaging these eggs could contribute significantly to the species’ recovery. Because of its expertise in bird care and incubation, the DZS developed a salvage-rearing program to hatch out abandoned eggs and rear the tiny chicks until they can be released to join wild plovers.

More than two decades later, 238 birds have been reared and released by the DZS-led team. A total of 19 chicks have hatched this spring and are currently being reared, with the first release expected this week in northern Michigan. In 2018, the USFWS honored DZS Curator of Birds Tom Schneider with the Recovery Champion Award, recognizing his leadership and the significant contributions made by the DZS in the recovery of Great Lakes piping plovers.

The DZS recently announced the launch of Piping Plover Pilsner, a craft beer created in partnership with Griffin Claw Brewing Company to recognize and support its conservation work for the endangered bird. The limited-edition brew is the first in a series of four special beers Griffin Claw will introduce under the Survival Series label. Due to early and enthusiastic support, Griffin Claw is brewing another small batch of the crisp, refreshing pilsner. The beer is available while supplies last at the brewery in Birmingham as well as select grocery stores and specialty markets throughout Metro Detroit.

The Detroit Zoological Society – a renowned leader in humane education, wildlife conservation, animal welfare and environmental sustainability – operates the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center.  With an annual regional economic impact of more than $167 million, the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak is one of Michigan’s largest paid family attractions, hosting more than 1.3 million visitors annually.  Its 125 acres of award-winning naturalistic habitats are home to 2,400 animals representing 235 species.  The Belle Isle Nature Center sits on a 5-acre site surrounded by undisturbed forested wetlands on Belle Isle State Park in Detroit.  It provides year-round educational, recreational and environmental conservation opportunities for the community.  For hours, prices, directions and other information, call (248) 541-5717 or visit detroitzoo.org.

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