26 Jun Endangered Species on the Niobrara River- Piping Plover by Leona
Here at Niobrara National Scenic River, I have had the opportunity to accompany the wildlife biologist on piping plover (Charadrius melodus) surveys along the river. During these surveys, we float down the river and watch for banks or sandbars that might make suitable nesting habitats for the plovers. We then get on the bank and look for nests. When we find nests, we count eggs and adult birds and record the coordinates of the nest to monitor their nesting success throughout the season.
Piping plovers are an endangered shorebird found on the Niobrara River. They are endangered due to increased recreation on the rivers as well as habitat loss. They require sparsely vegetated sandbars and shores for nesting, and these are lost due to decreased river flow caused by dams and other factors. Due to the national scenic river designation of the Niobrara, it is protected from new development. Still, this designation only happened after several dams could be erected, resulting in some habitat loss. Due to their ground nesting behavior, their nests are vulnerable to predation, floods, and human disruption. They also exhibit nest defense by luring predators away from the nest by pretending to have an injured wing. This behavior is called feigning.
We surveyed a section of the river with more suitable sandbars and much less tourism. We noticed that the plovers were laying eggs later in the year than usual, and after a large storm, we were worried that the nests would be washed away. What we found instead was a sandbar with six nests boasting a total of 26 eggs!