Seven an unlucky number for piping plovers


TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS archives The population of piping plovers is dwindling in Manitoba, to only seven]piping plovers

FOR a bird on the endangered species list, seven is not necessarily a lucky number.

According to those tracking the piping plover, only seven of the stocky shorebirds have been identified to date in the province.

“Last year, we had seven birds, and in 2006… we counted eight birds,” said Ken Porteous, Manitoba co-ordinator of the 2011 International Piping Plover Breeding Census.

Porteous noted that as far back as the 1930s, biologists were warning the situation facing the piping plover was critical.

The piping plover, which nests on beaches around Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba and formerly at West Shoal Lake, is a little smaller than a robin, with a white breast, abdomen and rump and pale brown to grey back, head and wings, like the colour of dry sand. It has a black forehead and neck band and orange legs and bill.

Alas, piping plover nests are extremely vulnerable to predation and human disturbance.

“Threats to piping plovers include loss of nesting habitat, all terrain vehicles, sunbathers or other recreationalists, encroachment of vegetation and flooding of nests or feeding areas by periodic high water levels,” says Porteous.

“The nest itself is a mere scrape in the sand, lined with and camouflaged by larger pebbles. Piping plover predators include gulls, crows, northern harriers, skunks, raccoons, foxes and coyotes.”

In recent years, piping plover protection has become a part of the Grand Beach Provincial Park Management Plan, with park staff helping to protect the birds by fencing off nesting areas.

“With the number of piping plovers declining, it’s a safe indication that something isn’t in balance in the environment,” said Porteous. “I really don’t know what that is. There is no villain here. We are simply in a high water cycle.

“But, in this day and age, there just shouldn’t be an excuse to lose a species in a country as rich and diverse as Canada. And yet, we add species to our endangered species list every year.”

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 28, 2011 A2