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Health, Science and Environment

High lake levels could be bad news for endangered Piping Plover

Kelly Colgan Azar

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are warning that high water levels on the Great Lakes could be harmful to an endangered Michigan bird.

Great Lakes water levels have been high this year - lakes Erie and Superior are expected to hit or have already broken recorded highs.

As the Detroit Free Press first reported officials say those high water levels could be trouble for the endangered Piping Plover - a bird that lives along the shores of all five Great Lakes.

Vince Cavalieri is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He said high water levels directly intrude on plover habitat.

“It causes them to squeeze into smaller and smaller chunks of habitat which of course is not ideal.”

Cavalieri said the lowest Piping Plover levels were during a high water levels in the Great Lakes in the mid 1980’s. High water levels weren’t the only reason for record lows, but they were part of it.

“And when the waters went back down in the 90’s and the early 2000’s that also helped with the rebound.”

He said the best way to protect the Plover is to adhere to closed beach signs intended to protect the birds nesting areas.

“Keeping folks away from the nests as much as possible because the Plovers might get frightened and abandon the nest if there's too much activity nearby.”

Cavalieri said that’s particularly true of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore where roughly half of all the Plovers on the Great Lakes reside.

Cavalieri said there have already been some declines in Plover levels recently. There are currently 67 breeding pairs in the Great Lakes region. Two years ago there were 76 pairs.