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Fall Migration Begins for Piping Plovers

Piping Plover

There’s a lot to love about Piping Plovers. Small, round, and undeniably charming, these little shorebirds are considered an indicator species for the health of the ecosystems along the shores of the eastern United States that they call home. Although they are shorebirds, Piping Plovers are also found further inland, around the Great Lakes as well as a sizeable chunk of Canada. This inland population spends the spring breeding season inland before heading south to spend the fall and winter in the warm neo-tropical coasts of the southern United States.

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While it may not feel like autumn yet, for some Piping Plovers, this seasonal transition is already underway. In fact, the first of the 2023 fledglings raised this season have begun to appear in their wintering grounds in Florida. The first chick to arrive is a Great Lakes area native with an interesting family history.

Sanibel Island in Florida is a favorite wintering ground for Piping Plovers. Each year when the birds begin preparing for fall, new fledglings in the Great Lakes area begin to make their way to the island where they will spend the winter enjoying the warm weather before returning to the north in spring. The journey to Sanibel Island is 1,500 miles; no small feat for a young fledgling. And yet, year after year the birds continue to pull it off.

This year’s first arrival on Sanibel Island is a juvenile bird identified by its research band as “O,Y/O/Y:X,Y (Ydot, Y483).” Through its research band, researchers were able to identify the youngster as a recent child of a very special Piping Plover. Of,gb:X,Y, or “gabbY” if that ID name is too much of a mouthful, is the oldest Piping Plover in Michigan.

This is just two years younger than the oldest Piping Plover ever recorded. This new young Piping Plover was raised by “gabbY” in a protected Piping Plover nesting area known as Sleeping Bear Dunes, where the population of Piping Plovers is closely monitored.

This adolescent Piping Plover will be the first of many adolescents to congregate on Sanibel Island. These birds represent the success of protection efforts in place in the Great Lakes area. Although it is still just the beginning, this first arrival is a good sign that a bright and successful migration season is set to begin.

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