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Rare piping plovers hatched in NW Ohio are getting ready to spread their wings and fly south

The four chicks are the first plovers born in Ohio in more than 80 years.
Published: Jul. 23, 2021 at 5:34 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - The piping plover is a tiny bird that’s critically endangered here in the Great Lakes region. For the first time in decades, there was a successful breeding pair in Ohio this year. Nellie and Nish nested at Maumee Bay State Park and their four babies are getting ready to spread their wings.

The chicks hatched July 1st, so they are almost a month old right now. They grow up quickly, so they will be heading south for the winter soon. In the meantime, making sure they are safe is a major undertaking.

It had been 83 years since there was a documented piping plover nest anywhere in Ohio.

“In the entire great lakes region there are less than 200 breeding piping plovers,” says Kimberly Kaufman, head of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. “So every egg, chick and every bird is so critical.”

Volunteers have been documenting every moment in the place they now affectionately call Ploverville.

“We’re thrilled, we are elated, exhausted, and excited that we still have all four chicks with us,” says Kaufman. “That is way above the average success rate in the Great Lakes.”

You have to look quickly to see the chicks scurrying across the sand in and around at the inland lake.

“It has been remarkable to watch and document all their progress,” explains Kaufman. “We’re seeing them take short flights of 4-6 feet right now. Any day now, they will take off for a sustained flight, and we’ll be that much closer to true success.”

Keeping track of them is an around-the-clock job. Volunteers are there every day from six in the morning until 10 at night while wildlife officers watch the nest overnight.

Nellie and Nish are first-time parents. The male plover handles most of the parenting duties. In fact, Nellie began her journey south a few days ago.

“Pretty soon when Nish senses the chicks are strong enough, and the winds are right, he will take off with our four little babies and head south for the winter,” says Kaufman.

The hope is that this story has another chapter along the shores of Lake Erie and that Nellie and Nish nest here again next year.

“I am so honored to have been part of this little feathered family,” says Kaufman. “The community formed around them is so inspiring and uplifting. It’s been a beautiful thing to be part of.”

The chicks have been named Erie, Ottawa, Maumee, and Kickapoo. They will migrate to the Carolinas or Florida with their dad in the coming weeks. Depending on weather conditions that journey could take less than a week.

On a side note, Nellie was hatched on a beach in Erie, Pennsylvania, and Nish was born on a Chicago beach.

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