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Rare birds nesting in Ohio for the first time in more than 80 years

A pair of Piping Plovers is at Maumee Bay State Park.
Updated: Jun. 7, 2021 at 6:40 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Two Piping Plovers have set up shop along the shores of Lake Erie in Oregon, and they’ve captured attention from all over.

There hasn’t been a pair of nesting Piping Plovers in Ohio for more than 80 years. The birds are endangered in the Great Lakes region, so experts say this nest is important on many levels.

The two tiny birds created quite a stir in the birding world and beyond when they built a nest at an inland lake at Maumee Bay State Park. While the location is roped off, everyone will have a chance to get a look at the rare nest.

“We’ll have spotting scopes available for everyone to look through,” explains Kimberly Kaufman, Executive Director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. “Sometimes when the bird stands up you can see the eggs in there. It is a great opportunity to share the birds with the public. People have been coming out in droves to see them. It really is wonderful to be able to show people something this rare.

Kaufman added that normal activities won’t be affected by the nest.

“People are able to swim on the beach right next to them and to go to the lake beaches,” Kaufman said. “You can do all the usual things at the park, and see a historic nest all in one day.”

Three Piping Plovers were first spotted at the park in May. Another female was hanging out too, but she has apparently moved on.

“The great lakes population of this species has plummeted to less than 200 individuals,” explains Kaufman, who says a few Piping Plovers migrate through the area every year, but they usually don’t stick around.

Because of those numbers, cameras and volunteers will be focused on the nest at all times.

“Every egg and every bird in this small population is so precious, so the nest will be watched 24-hours-a-day,” says Kaufman. “In addition to the security cameras there are people watching the nest at all times, and you don’t have to have birding experience to volunteer.”

Federal bands and color marks made it possible to learn the bird’s backstories. They were both born last year. They spent time in Florida just a few miles from one another over the winter months. The male has been named Nish, and the female is Nellie.

“The male hatched at Montrose Beach in Chicago and the female hatched at Presque Isle in Erie, Pennsylvania,” says Kaufman.

There are now four eggs in the nest. Each one is a chance to help the birds rebound in our region, and Kaufman hopes that this will continue to be a place we have a chance to co-exist with the Piping Plover.

“They have what’s called site fidelity so if we can be successful they could come back to this site next year,” she says. “We certainly hope so. The loss of anything in the food web will eventually impact all of us. So saving this bird is critical.”

“It’s amazing seeing how much emotion one egg can bring to a person,” says Kaufman, who has dedicated decades of her life to bird research, education, and conservation. “It really is the culmination of 30 years of effort to see these tiny birds doing their thing. To be able to document the first nest in Ohio in 83 years is an amazing experience.”

Once the babies hatch, they’re able to run around within minutes of their feathers drying off. They’re able to fly within a few weeks. The eggs are expected to hatch sometime in July.

The nest is on a man-made beach, not natural sand, so Kaufman says researchers will be studying that aspect of this story too.

If you’d like to learn more about Nellie and Nish, or volunteer to be part of their security detail go to Maumee Bay Piping Plovers.

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