Sun. Feb 25th, 2024
The Piping Plover power couple does it again!

Today’s blog comes from Southeastern Ontario Parks Piping Plover biologist Monica Fromberger.

Each year, Darlington Provincial Park runs a plover conservation program to help these endangered shorebirds.

This year the park’s plover lovers have done it again!

Lovebirds Blue and Miss Howard have hatched, fledged and successfully raised their four chicks to migrate for the second year in a row.

Introducing the happy couple

Blue is our proud plover dad. He is named after the small blue dot on his orange leg band of the Great Lakes.

We can distinguish our plovers by the unique combination of colored bands on their legs. Almost all Great Lakes piping plovers have them.

Blue hatched from a nest on Toronto Island in 2018 and was single in his first breeding season in 2019.

Spotted on several beaches, he looked a little “blue” while looking for a mate – a difficult task when your species is endangered!

Plover on the beachBlue, male Darlington piping plover. Photo: Tom St Jean

Miss Howard is our protagonist and she has a little more experience than Blue.

It hatched from a nest in Wasaga Beach Provincial Park in 2015 and nested in Presqu’ile Provincial Park for the first time in 2016. It first nested in Darlington in 2017 and has nested in the park every year since.

Miss Howard gets her name from constantly spending her winters at Fred Howard Park in Florida. We know this from our fellow birders in the south who report sightings of our ringed plovers.

plover on rocky beachMiss Howard, the main character of Darlington. Photo: Tom St Jean

These two first met in Darlington in 2019, but took Miss Howard away. But do not worry; They met again in 2020.

They had an incredibly successful year raising all four chicks to migrate – a first for the couple and Darlington!

2021: the year of love

Blue returned to Darlington on April 25 and waited patiently for Miss Howard. She arrived on April 29.

Miss Howard laid her first egg on May 8th. They completed their clutch of four eggs on May 14 and laid an egg every other day.

See also  Eyes in the sky - December

nest of plover eggsNest of four eggs. Photo taken by authorized researchers.

Once a plover nest is started, Ontario Parks staff get to work. They fence the area and install a predator barrier over the nest.

This protects the eggs and incubating parents from disturbance by humans and animals such as raccoons, skunks, foxes and seagulls.

fenced areaA protected nesting area for the plover. Please stay back!

As Piping Plover partners do, Blue and Miss Howard shared incubation duties. This gives each bird a chance to forage for food and stretch its wings.

Cue the drama

Our power couple wasn’t alone on the beach this year.

They were joined by three more plovers on May 3, a total of five plovers on Darlington Beach!

Taking a break from parenting, busy bird Blue interacted with two of the plovers: Chewie and 086. They both mated with Blue and made their own nests.

plover086. Photo: Tom St Jean

Considering that Blue already had a nest, these are called “extra pair copulations.” Chewie and 086 hatched their eggs alone, without Blue’s help.

Because plover mates share incubation duties, it may be difficult for these additional nests to hatch. When the incubating bird leaves the nest to look for food, the eggs are exposed to the elements.

After a solitary incubation, 086 abandoned its nesting attempt. He continued to stay in Darlington for the rest of the summer.

ploverChewie. Photo: Tom St Jean

Chewie held on for a long time, incubating her nest beyond the normal 27 days it normally takes to hatch. He probably took longer because he didn’t have a mate to incubate with while he foraged.

Unfortunately, one morning a small bird (possibly a red-winged blackbird or cutthroat deer) hatched three of Chewie’s four eggs. Although one egg was still intact, it was abandoned.

Chewie and 086 began their southward migration the next day.

Although it was a sad end for both nests, Chewie and 086 left safely. We hope you can come back next year to try again.

Welcome baby plovers

While these love triangles developed, Miss Howard and Blue continued to diligently incubate their eggs.

The couple became proud parents when all four eggs hatched on June 9.

The chicks began exploring their new world between 12 and 24 hours after emerging from their shells.

four plover chicksThe four plover chicks. Photo: Tom St Jean

See also  Exploring the history of logging and loggers in Ontario

Plover chicks are very independent. They leave the nest shortly after hatching and can even feed themselves. They still depend on mom and dad to keep them safe and warm.

This is always a vulnerable time for plover families. It is important that we give them the space they need.

They grow so fast

These four balls of fluff go from about the size of a golf ball to almost full growth in about 23 days. Its actual size is approximately that of a robin.

At this point, they can fly approximately 50 m, and we call them “experts.” Our chicks fledged on July 2nd.

They continued to eat, grow, and develop their flying skills.

novice piping ploverOne of four newbies to Darlington’s Piping Plover. Photo: Sydney Shepherd

Blue and Miss Howard continued to keep an eye on the rookies. Miss Howard relinquished parental duties to her a little earlier. This is typical of female plovers, as they provide more energy early in the season to lay eggs.

Miss Howard began her migration on July 6 and Blue followed on July 11. Each of the four fledglings took turns beginning their southward migration. The last one, known as Red Dot, left us on August 6.

fledglingRed Dot ready to take off. Photo: Tom St Jean

Red Dot even said “goodbye” just before we saw them fly directly south over Lake Ontario.

Will the power couple return?

Plovers often return to a beach where they successfully nested.

plover Miss Howard looks for food. Photo: Tom St Jean

Although we cannot say with certainty that we will see our beloved plover friends again, we can continue to preserve the natural beach habitat they need to complete their breeding cycle.

We hope that Blue and Miss Howard have a safe migration and return to Darlington next year.

What can you do to help?

When you see us on the beach watching for piping plovers, please come talk to us!

staff standing next to plover sign

We love educating our visitors about this special species that calls Darlington their home during the summer.

sign on the beach Plover protected nesting area in Darlington. Photo: Monica Fromberger

To do your part, we encourage you to:

  • leave your pets at home (our beach is pet-free)
  • clean up trash and food waste (attracts unwanted predators!)
  • Give the plovers their space by staying outside the protected area.

And lastly, share your story and spread the love for plovers!

Learn more about plover recovery efforts in Ontario and how you can help.