Great Lakes Piping Plover returns for third winter at Rich Inlet

Over the past month or so, the inlets in southeastern North Carolina have been filling up with migrating shorebirds. From Royal Terns staging with their young of the year to tired Whimbrels stopping to refuel on their long journey to South America, the birding has been picking up. We have also been seeing more Piping Plovers, signaling that we are receiving the annual crop of migrants, possibly working their way to the Bahamas, and wintering pipers, which will be with us until March or April.

Among those Piping Plovers, Katie Bullard and I recently found a familiar set of bands. This little female has spent at least the past three winters at Rich Inlet, just north of Figure 8 Island. She was first spotted on July 14, 2009, and she remained until at least April 14 the following spring. Then she departed, back to her breeding grounds. She was next seen on August 5, 2010. I remember her particularly because the first time I saw her she was roosting with one of the two Bahamas-banded Piping Plovers that we spotted last March.

The orange flag YB female scratching an itch on Hutaff Island, March 2011. By Lindsay Addison.

We know from the orange "flag" style band that this particular plover is a member of the Great Lakes population, which consists of only about 250 birds. We know from behavioral observations made during previous nesting seasons that this individual is a female. Beneath her orange flag are a yellow band and a dark blue band, which can be abbreviated as YB. Hopefully, when the band is reported we'll learn if she raised chicks successfully this summer.

The orange flag YB female forages at Rich Inlet, September 2011. By Lindsay Addison.

Piping Plovers that breed in the Great Lakes and Great Plains and winter along the Atlantic coast have about an 800-mile flight to make every spring and fall. The pipers making that trip do not usually stop over along the way, so they must make the trip without refueling. That's an impressive feat for a bird that weighs about two ounces.

-- Lindsay Addison

How you can help, right now