Endangered plovers face new threat: snowy owls

Jun 20, 2018

A new predator has emerged for piping plovers in the Great Lakes.

Snowy owls were recently seen eating plovers in several locations along the Great Lakes, including Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in lower Michigan and Vermilion Point in the Upper Peninsula.

Piping plovers are a critically endangered species. There were only 11 nesting pairs back in the mid 1980s. It has since expanded to 76 pairs located all over the Great Lakes.

A snowy owl [right] has a conversation with a raven.
Credit Lydia Hicks

The Great Lakes piping plover coordinator for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, Vince Cavalieri, wasn’t expecting a new predator.

“This is the first time that I’ve seen snowy owls this late into the season in these kind of numbers, and also it’s the first time we know that piping plovers were predated by snowy owls,” said Cavalieri.

He said that piping plovers typically don’t arrive in the Great Lakes until mid to late-April.

“That’s right about when snowy owls are usually leaving to go back to the Arctic,” said Cavalieri.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service talked about trapping the owls but that ended up not happening.

“Most of the owls have left on their own,” said Cavalieri.

Every year, conservationists take measures to protect the plovers. They build nest exclosures and install monitors on the beaches to keep an eye on how the plovers are doing.

Cavalieri’s team will also take abandoned eggs to a rearing station in Pellston where the eggs will be incubated. Birds that survive will be released back into the wild.

The Great Lakes piping plover conservation Team is still unsure why Snowy Owls stayed in the Great Lakes so long this season. The birds usually head back to the Arctic in April