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Piping plover born at Maumee Bay State Park spending the winter at the Detroit Zoo

The bird named Erie had failed to migrate by mid-October.
Published: Nov. 3, 2021 at 6:26 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - The story of the piping plovers certainly has a lot of twists and turns. The latest chapter involves one of the chicks born at Maumee Bay spending the winter in Detroit.

Kimberly Kaufman is the Executive Director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. The organization coordinated the volunteers who monitored the plovers around-the-clock for months. “We could never have anticipated all the ups and the downs and the challenges and the precedent the nest set in so many ways.”

For the first time in more than 80 years, piping plovers nested in Ohio.

The breeding pair, Nellie and Nish, set up shop on the shores of Lake Erie. They had all four of their eggs hatch at an inland lake at Maumee Bay State Park in July.

The chick named Kickapoo was killed by another wild animal in August. Later that month, it was discovered that something was wrong with the chick named Erie.

“It became clear Erie would not recover on its own, so after discussions with state and federal wildlife agencies, he was captured by volunteers from our organization. The bird was taken to the Toledo Zoo where it was treated for 11 days. the day we took him to the zoo the two surviving chicks headed south.”

Erie got better and was brought back to the park. Everyone expected the bird to head south like the rest of its family, but by mid-October that still hadn’t happened.

“With such a small population in the great lakes every egg, every bird is so important to the overall population so that is why there is so much going into one tiny bird.”

After meetings with state and federal agencies, there was talk of driving or even flying Erie south for the winter.

“Ultimately there were still questions about its health so the decision was made to bring the bird into captivity. At the Detroit Zoo, they have had experience working with piping plovers for decades. That is where the bird will remain until spring. The Toledo Zoo also has a lot of experience with piping plovers and the staff there did an amazing job with Erie. The bird went to Detroit because of more space available for it”

Erie has reportedly adjusted well to the new surroundings. “The bird will be inside with a beach and water. We’ve been told that Erie has settled in well and is very comfortable there.”

Even with the importance of the scientific research that came out of this story, there’s still an emotional component for many of those who spent a lot of time in a place they affectionately call Ploverville. “So many things about this touched my heart and will stay with me forever. This tiny family of birds captured a lot of hearts. I am so proud of all the people who volunteered their time to help. Many of them were here day and night until we took that bird off the beach last month.”

There’s a chance Erie will have to spend its life in captivity for health reasons. But if the bird is able to be released next spring, Kaufman says it will likely be taken to the Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan where there’s a larger population of piping plovers.

Erie’s two surviving siblings and parents all headed south this summer. Nish has already been spotted on a Florida beach. The birds are identified by bands.

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