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Piping Plovers and Least Terns of
the Great Plains and Nearby

A draft protocol for assessing piping plover reproductive success
on Great Plains alkali lakes

Protocol outline


  1. Review plover breeding behavior, habitat, and biology (Cairns 1982, Prindiville Gaines and Ryan 1988, Haig1992); previous plover use of local breeding sites (e.g., map records); permit stipulations; pertinent sections of this document.

  2. Census/survey breeding pairs on alkali lakes during 11-20 May and 1-10 June (use the latter if only one census is to be conducted; it may be necessary to start 3-6 days early on the largest lakes. Record distribution of pairs, single territorial adults, and other plovers on a site map (see Methodology; Section A; Appendix B).

  3. Try to locate nests and count eggs during censuses of breeding pairs. In areas of concentrated breeding (>5 pairs/km²), it may be more practical to locate nests just after censuses. Use a technique or combination of techniques appropriate for the situation (see Section B). Do not approach within 3 m (10 ft); avoid leaving footprints on soft substrates and other possible cues to predators. Mark >9 m (30 ft) away with small rock cairns, small sticks, tongue depressors, or natural features (see Section C). Record nest locations on breeding site maps and, ideally, include UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) or "Lat-Long" location by GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver.

  4. Monitor breeding pairs at least once, preferably twice, weekly through incubation and fledging or until breeding failure is confirmed. After finding and marking nests, avoid disturbing plovers on subsequent visits by observing from remote points wherever possible. If failure is suspected, check nest site closely after trying to locate adults and noting their behavior (see Section E).

  5. A nest is considered successful (i.e., ≥1 egg hatched) if chicks are observed or if indicated by eggshell fragments plus adult behavior (see Section E). It is unsuccessful if all eggs are missing >5 days before the expected hatching date, if no chicks are observed and there is evidence of predation (e.g., tracks, scat, or depredated eggs) at the nest site, or if eggs either are abandoned or sterile. If a nest cannot be assigned to either category, its fate should be classified as unknown.

  6. Allow a minimum of 1 hr under good observation conditions (cool [<25 C/<75 F], calm to light wind [<30 kmph/<20 mph], no precipitation) to account for all of a breeding pair's chicks or fledglings that should be present. If none is observed, conduct ≥1 additional observation visit on the earliest possible date for confirmation. Consider that young plovers may travel ≥100-400 m (≥0.25 mi) from nests depending on their age, distribution of other plover territories, and physical barriers. Search for and observe adults for cues on location or fate of chicks (see Section F). Check broods when young are 18-20 days old to estimate numbers of fledglings. Try to monitor young plovers through 25 days of age.

  7. Standards for determining nesting chronology and exposure-days are (these can vary; see Section D, especially regarding fledging age criterion):
    laying period 7 d
    incubation period 28 d
    nesting period total 35 d
    age for estimating fledging rate 18-20 d

  8. Maintain a chronological database of observations for each breeding pair (Appendix B).

  9. Include all breeding pairs within the selected sample or specified population as the basis for fledging rate calculation. Consider potential biases when reporting nest success (see Section I).

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