A pair of endangered birds has been spotted on a Duluth beach this spring, and their appearance could mark a historic event for the North Shore.
Two piping plovers have been hanging out around Duluth's Park Point Beach in the past week, which has officials hoping they'll settle down and nest – the area hasn't seen a nesting pair of plovers in more than three decades, the St. Louis River Alliance said on Facebook.
"That has not been documented to have happened for a very, very long time," Kris Eilers, project manager with the St. Louis River Alliance, told the Duluth News Tribune. "Usually they will stop by for a day and then they will move on."
Although the two plovers haven't been seen together and bird watchers haven't observed nesting behaviors, officials still have hope they'll get together, reports note.
That's why the St. Louis River Alliance, which is leading the Piping Plover Habitat Restoration Project in the area, and officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are asking people who use the beach near the airport to give the birds their space and be sure to leash their dogs.
"The City of Duluth would really like to see this bird nest down there and they're hoping people would be very cautious and kind of avoid that area and give it some space if possible," Eilers told Northland's NewsCenter.
Plover population plumets
Piping plovers are robin-sized birds that nest on wide, open beaches that are free of disturbances. But as shoreline has developed, the birds have lost much of their habitat around the Great Lakes, MPR News reports.
The piping plover population declined throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and by 1986 the Great Lakes was designated as a critical habitat for piping plovers, the state Department of Natural Resources notes.
The nesting piping plover population in Duluth was extirpated in the 1980s, the DNR says, while a single population of the birds still exists in Lake of the Woods County. However, the number of breeding pairs there is critically low, with just one or two in recent years, the DNR adds.
The number of nesting plovers has also declined throughout the Midwest. In 1990, there were only 12 nesting pairs around the Great Lakes, the USFWS notes. But thanks to the USFWS' recovery plan (enacted in 2003) the number of nesting piping plover pairs have grown to around 70, and their breeding habitat has expanded from Michigan to include Wisconsin and Canada, the USFWS notes.
The closest pair of breeding piping plovers is on the Apostle Islands in northwest Wisconsin, with Eilers telling MPR News the piping plovers may be in Duluth looking for nesting sites with less competition.