RIVERDALE, N.D. - Some areas around Lake Sakakawea where piping plovers typically nest are inaccessible during this year's nesting season due to current lake levels. Park rangers and biologists from several agencies have observed many of the birds at area boat ramps.
The piping plover is federally listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A threatened species is one likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. Federal and state agencies are working together to recover the piping plover so it can be removed from the list of federally threatened or endangered species.
To help the birds breed successfully, biologists cage nests to protect the eggs while they are incubating. Biologists may also fence off nesting areas to protect them from public disturbance. Once eggs hatch, larger areas may be closed to provide the chicks the space they need to feed.
Plovers in the Great Plains make their nests on open, sparsely vegetated sand or gravel beaches adjacent to alkali wetlands and reservoirs, on sand bars, and dredged material islands of major river systems.
As the mountain snowpack begins to melt and the runoff arrives at Lake Sakakawea, rising lake elevations reduce the available nesting habitat near the lake and lead to birds nesting in marina parking lots and boat ramp areas.
Plovers typically begin nesting at this time of year and will lay three to four eggs in shallow scraped depressions lined with light colored pebbles and shell fragments. The eggs are well camouflaged and blend extremely well with their surroundings.
Piping plover nests are susceptible to be accidentally stepped on or crushed by people and vehicles. The presence of people also may cause the birds to desert the nest, exposing eggs or chicks to the sun and predators. Interruption of feeding may stress juvenile birds during critical periods in their life cycle. Pets, especially dogs, may harass or kill the birds. As a reminder, pets must be kept on a leash not longer than 6 feet and be attended at all times.
If you discover what appears to be a plover nest along Lake Sakakawea, or have questions about piping plovers, please call the USACE office in Riverdale at 701-654-7759.