Endangered piping plover nesting for first time in 75 years in bay

    Piping Plover, photo courtesy of Tom Prestby

    GREEN BAY (WLUK) - An endangered species is making a rare and extended appearance in the waters just north of the city of Green Bay.

    The small shorebird called the Piping Plover has been seen throughout the Great Lakes, but the newly created Cat Island Chain is serving as a seasonal home. Biologists say this is the first time the birds have successfully nested in the waters of Lower Green Bay, in 75 years.

    On a place called McKloskey Island, a tiny white bird is running for its life.

    "You'll see a speck on the top of the sand there. That's the male Piping Plover there," said Josh Martinez, DNR Wildlife Biologist.

    The Piping Plover is a federally-listed endangered species. Three male birds showed up on the Cat Island Chain near the mouth of the Fox River a couple of years ago.

    "We were able to track them, and that first year, a female never showed up. Then finally this year, we knew there were a couple of males around, and then eventually a female did show up," said Gary Van Vreede, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Wildlife Biologist.

    The birds began to nest. Wildlife Biologists covered the area with a wire cage to keep out predators. Student volunteers checked the progress every day.

    "About 25 days later they hatched. Two of them one day, and one of the eggs hatched on another day. and one of the eggs, just didn't hatch," said Van Vreede.

    Van Vreede says this is the first time in the birds have successfully nested in the lower bay in 75 years.

    "So this is a pretty incredible thing for us," he said.

    The birds are nesting on newly created habitat. The Cat Island Chain causeway stretches two and a half miles into the bay. Dredge material from the Green Bay shipping channel is being used to rebuild.

    "I think much quicker than we thought. A lot of it had to do with the composition of that first year of fill, which was 95 percent sand. We had a lot more coming out of the bay than we thought we would initially, and that really helped to define this first island pretty nicely," said Mark Walter, Brown County Port and Resource Recovery Department.

    "It's created a really good mosaic of different types of habitats being good shelter from the cottonwoods, nice open sand, and a really nice zone of water's edge on that sand, which creates really good feeding habitat for all of our shorebirds," said Martinez.

    And the newest seasonal resident the Piping Plover.

    "We thought this would be a great habitat project but to have this kind of success right off the bat is pretty incredible," said Van Vreede.

    There are about 75 nesting pairs of Piping Plovers around the Great Lakes, including five from Wisconsin.

    It is important to note, the Cat Island Chain is an active dredging site, and the causeway closed to the general public.

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