By Sarah Pechtel, Head Zoo Keeper
For the last 9 years I have had the pleasure of participating in the Great Lakes Piping Plover captive rearing program – a joint effort between the Detroit Zoo, the University of Minnesota, USFWS, DNR and more. During the months of May – July, zookeepers from across the country head to the University of Michigan’s Biological Station in northern MI to assist in the incubation of plover eggs that would have been otherwise lost to predation, storms and nest disturbance.
Eggs that arrive at the station are weighed and candled to determine their approximate stage of development and then placed in artificial incubators. Around day 28 of incubation, precocial chicks no bigger than cotton balls on toothpicks are born. They are able to stand and eat not long after hatching but are not able to fly. Zookeepers continue their care for an additional 30 days, weighing them daily to ensure proper growth and feeding them a wide range of commercially available and wild caught insects. The chicks begin spending time in the outdoors on day three and keepers slowly increase that time until they are out in the lake shore holding pen all day and all night. Finally, once their flight feathers have fully come in and they are strong enough to fly, the chicks are banded and released back into the wild to begin their long trip to the wintering grounds on the gulf of Mexico.
Check out these sites to learn more about Great Lakes piping plovers!