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Custer County new home for Missouri River flood refugees

July 7, 2011

A banded piping plover tends its nest with three chicks and one egg in June. This bird nested successfully this year after losing its nesting habitat to the flooded Missouri River. Photo by Ben Wheeler

By Ben Wheeler,
Pheasants Forever Coordinating Wildlife Biologist

The recent floods of the Missouri River have not only displaced people, but also wildlife.
Federally threatened piping plovers typically nest on open, elevated sandbars in several of Nebraska’s river systems, including the Missouri.
Because of the high water on the Missouri River, the sandbars where these birds establish nests are under water, leaving them with no nesting habitat. In order for these birds to produce a successful clutch, they had to find suitable nesting habitat somewhere else.
In June, a piping plover from the Missouri River was observed tending a nest at the Paulsen sand and gravel operation just near Gates along the Middle Loup River. Based upon the color combination of the bands, wildlife biologist Kelsi Hunt with Virginia Tech University was able to confirm that this piping plover was banded along the Missouri River.
In areas where bare elevated sandbars are not readily available, piping plovers will often use spill piles at sand and gravel operations as alternative nesting locations.
The nest that the banded piping plover was tending had three eggs which were due to hatch at the end of June. According to Mary Brown, director of the Tern and Plover Conservation Partnership, “if the nest was successful this year, odds are very good that this bird could return to the Custer County area next year.”
The Paulsen sand and gravel operation has hosted nests of threatened piping plovers and endangered least terns alongside their daily mining activities for several years.

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