St. Louis River Alliance

Piping Plover Habitat Restoration Project

pp4-1038x460Michael Furtman photos a piping plover on Minnesota Point

St. Louis River Alliance Piping Plover Habitat Restoration Project

In 2011, the St. Louis River Alliance received a grant from the USFWS to help restore nesting piping plovers to the beaches near Superior, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota on Lake Superior. Historically, piping plovers nested along the beaches of western Lake Superior but no nests have been documented since 1987. In 2012 monitoring and restoration efforts began along the beaches of Wisconsin Point and Minnesota Point as well as Allouez Bay. The St. Louis River Alliance staff and volunteers are working closely with USFWS, Wisconsin DNR, Minnesota DNR, Douglas County, City of Superior and the City of Duluth to restore habitat and educate the public.

What is a Piping Plover?

Scientific NameCharadrius melodus

Appearance – These small, stocky shorebirds have a sand-colored upper body, a white underside, and orange legs. During the breeding season, adults have a black forehead, a black breast band, and an orange bill.

Habitat – Piping plovers use wide, flat, open, sandy beaches with very little grass or other vegetation. Nesting territories often include small creeks or wetlands.

Reproduction – The female lays four eggs in its small, shallow nest lined with pebbles or broken shells. Both parents care for the eggs and chicks. When the chicks hatch, they are able to run about and feed themselves within hours.

Feeding Habits – The plovers eat insects, spiders, and crustaceans.

Range – Piping plovers are migratory birds. In the spring and summer they breed in northern United States and Canada. There are three locations where piping plovers nest in North America: the shorelines of the Great Lakes, the shores of rivers and lakes in the Northern Great Plains, and along the Atlantic Coast. Their nesting range has become smaller over the years, especially in the Great Lakes area. In the fall, plovers migrate south and winter along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico or other southern locations. Biologists have a lot to learn about the lives of piping plovers in their winter range.

Great Lakes Piping Plover Recovery Plan

In the early 1900’s piping plovers were abundant throughout the Great Lakes. Due to historical hunting practices, use of feathers in millinery, and loss of habitat the population dropped throughout the Great Lakes. Piping plovers rebounded slightly during mid-1900’s due to the Migratory Bird Act, which prevented the hunting and millinery use of these birds. However with the continued loss of habitat, human activity and predation the population continued to decline. In 1986 the Great Lakes piping plover was listed as an endangered species. In 2003 the USFWS developed a Recovery Plan to help bring back the piping plover to the beaches of the Great Lakes.

As a result of the 2003 Recovery Plan, protective measures have been put into place to protect the piping plover from becoming extinct. USFWS has developed a monitoring program that is utilized throughout the Great Lakes, where staff from, local, state, and tribal agencies have received training that enables them to identify and recognize behavior patterns of piping plovers so that if a pair of plovers is close to establishing a nest, continual monitoring efforts will be enacted. Nests will be monitored closely to ensure both successful hatching and rearing of chicks. Structures called “exclosures” will be constructed around a piping plover nest to keep potential predators like merlin hawks, crows, fox, and dogs away from the nest.

How is the recovery going?

Each spring piping plover migrate up from the south to the shores of Lake Superior in hopes of establishing a nest and rearing their chicks. Unfortunately this can be very difficult. During migration season, which is the beginning of May until around June 15th , staff and volunteers monitor the beaches in the mornings and evenings recording data about species of shorebirds, human activity, sightings and/or evidence of predators, and dog activity.   It is important that the nesting areas are relatively free of pet and human activity because if a piping plover feels threatened it will abandon a possible nesting area or even an established nest.

Since 2012, when monitoring efforts began, piping plovers have been sighted on both Minnesota and Wisconsin points. Due to the high public use of our beaches and dog activity, no plovers have stayed to nest. Through outreach and education the St. Louis River Alliances’ goal is to bring awareness that people and shorebirds can successfully share our beautiful beaches. New educational and instructive signs have been installed to indicate where the possible nesting areas are. Some areas will be posted or roped off, and some may be closed to the public during the nesting season.

plover sz
Photo by Michael Furtman



St. Louis River Alliance staff and volunteers have developed an outreach program to educate the public about the piping plover and its threatened existence. Staff and volunteers attend many events throughout the year in the Duluth/Superior area. Events attended throughout the year are Earth Tracks at the Lake Superior Zoo, Earth Day at the Maritime Museum, River Quest, Lake Superior Days, and Harvest Festival in the fall.

An educational program that can be brought into the classroom teaches students how to identify a piping plover, how piping plovers compare to other shorebirds migrating through the area, why piping plovers are endangered, and what is being done to bring the piping plovers back to the western shores of Lake Superior. The program is interactive and includes games, habitat and plover models, activity sheets, craft activities, and even a piping plover mascot. If you would like more info on our educational program please contact the St. Louis River Alliance at

What Can I Do to Help ?

Learn more about the piping plover and other endangered and threatened species. Understand how the destruction of habitat leads to loss of endangered and threatened species and our nation’s plant and animal diversity. Tell others about what you have learned.

Protect natural coastal dune habitats by staying on boardwalks and existing trails.  If walking your dog on a beach or in other natural areas, please keep it leashed to protect nesting birds.  Pick up trash as it attracts predators.  Pay attention to posted signs and instructions while you are enjoying the beaches on Wisconsin and Minnesota Point.

Every season the St. Louis River Alliance relies heavily on volunteers to help with this project.  If you are interested in the plight of piping plover in the Twin Harbors area you will be happy to know that there are many volunteer opportunities available!  Be a part of this important work to save a critically endangered shorebird.

What does a volunteer monitor do?

Volunteer Monitors will work directly with St. Louis River Alliance staff to watch for the presence of piping plovers along the beaches of Minnesota and Wisconsin points during the spring migration and summer nesting season. Monitors collect data about habitat conditions, human disturbances, and species sightings throughout the season. When plovers are spotted, monitors will help keep detailed records of the number of birds, their locations, and the types of behavior the birds may be exhibiting. All necessary training for this volunteer position will be provided by St. Louis River Alliance staff.

What knowledge and experience do you need? 

You are encouraged to volunteer as many times during the season as your schedule permits. Each volunteer must accompany a staff monitor on a minimum of two shifts before being cleared to volunteer independently.  Monitoring shifts may occur in all weather conditions and you are responsible for providing your own clothing and protective gear for each shift.

Required skills for monitoring:

  • Ability to walk for extended periods of time over uneven or sandy terrain.
  • Ability to use binoculars to locate objects at a distance.
  • Ability to follow data collection instructions and protocol after being trained by staff.
  • Ability to identify the piping plover and differentiate it from other bird species after being trained by staff.


What are some additional ways you can help the piping plover recovery project?

If you are unable to monitor on the beach or would like to commit additional hours to educating people on plovers in our area, here are some additional ways to help the project:

  • Informational outreach – use educational materials to talk with the public about plovers.
  • Educational outreach – assist SLRA staff with education programs in area schools and at events.
  • Piping Plover mascot: attend events and promote the project dressed as a Piping Plover in our mascot costume.
  • Habitat restoration/site clean-up – attend one of our site clean-up events throughout the season or schedule volunteer time to help us remove vegetation from plover habitat.


If you would like to apply, please download and complete the application below and return via email to If you have any questions email or call the St. Louis River Alliance. (218) 733-9520