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Abandoned critically endangered shorebird eggs given a fighting chance in captive rearing


Friday, June 23, Port Rowan, ON – As Ontario’s endangered Piping Plover population continues to decline, Birds Canada and partners have taken extraordinary steps to save nearly 50% of Ontario’s abandoned eggs this year.

It started with the death of “Flash,” a 5-year-old Piping Plover that has been breeding in the Tiny Township since 2019. After Flash’s sudden disappearance and suspected predation, his mate was left with 4 eggs to raise alone.

“Piping Plovers rarely tend to a nest as a solo parent. They work as a team. The male and female incubate the eggs together and the male plays a very large role in raising the chicks once they hatch,” explains Andrea Gress, Ontario Piping Plover Conservation Program Coordinator with Birds Canada.

The Toronto Zoo handing eggs off to the Canadian Wildlife Service for their transport to Michigan, a 1000km journey from Tiny Township to captive rearing. Credit: Canadian Wildlife Service

Left alone, the female abandoned the nest.

In the past, those eggs would have been lost, but thanks to newly granted permits and a cross-border collaboration, Birds Canada was able to salvage the abandoned eggs and take them to the Toronto Zoo for temporary artificial incubation. From there, with the assistance of the Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the eggs were then taken across the U.S. border to the Detroit Zoo. The Detroit Zoo then took the eggs to their Piping Plover captive rearing facility, located in northern Michigan.

“There are only 5 pairs across the province this season, the lowest number in 10 years. Without this collaborative effort to salvage abandoned eggs, nearly 50% of Ontario’s eggs would have been lost this season,” adds Gress.

Birds Canada collecting Flash’s eggs for captive rearing. Credit: Birds Canada

The captive rearing facility has raised and released over 300 Piping Plover fledglings since its establishment in 2002. This is the first year that Ontario chicks will be counted in those numbers.

Flash’s nest was not the only one salvaged from Ontario this year. A total of 11 eggs have been abandoned due to various circumstances, all of which will be given a second chance in captive rearing.

“Although we can’t guarantee that 100% of our eggs will hatch and fledge in captive rearing, this gives them a fighting chance,” says Gress. “Even ‘Flash’ himself was hatched from the captive rearing facility in 2018, after one of his parents was predated by a Snowy Owl, which gave him a chance to have a family of his own.”

Ontario’s first Piping Plover to hatch in captive rearing. Nicknamed “Woody” for Woodland Beach, where the eggs originated in Tiny Township. Credit: Detroit Zoo/University of Michigan Biological Station

This conservation action is significant for a species whose breeding population has been declining in Ontario since 2016.  Captive rearing is a monumental advancement for the conservation of endangered Piping Plovers in Ontario.

The Birds Canada Ontario Piping Plover Conservation program is made possible thanks to caring volunteers, and community partners such as Tiny Township and Wasaga Beach Provincial Park, and funding support from Environment and Climate Change Canada.


“Flash” the Piping Plover that started it all. Flash himself was hatched from the captive rearing facility in 2018, after one of his parents was predated by a Snowy Owl. Credit: Sydney Shepherd, Birds Canada

Media Contact: Kyla Makela Vice President, Public Support Birds Canada
(519) 586-3531 ext 113

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