The following is an update from NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife biologist Christina Davis on the Piping Plovers nesting on the beach in Island Beach State Park:
It's been a week of highs and lows for our plover brood! Last Saturday, 7/23, one of the two remaining chicks was observed with a moderate limp. There was no obvious cause of injury and the bird was still quite active, but its mobility was compromised. Piping Plovers (and especially chicks) do not fare particularly well in rehab so our preference is always to leave the individual in the wild, when possible. Given the condition of the chick, we decided to take a wait and see attitude.
By Monday, the limp had not improved. We had already planned to band the chicks that day (four color markers, two on each upper leg, specific to that individual) so we took the opportunity to get the bird in hand and examine the issue. We also had a veterinarian on standby ready to review photos and videos we sent her.
The problem area was the left foot, which was swollen, and the wing, which was a bit droopy. Considering that the chick is still growing (hampering efforts to treat it) , and that there were no signs of breaks or infection, a case could be made to release it. On the flip side, the chick weighed much less than its sibling (20g vs 25g) and the limp was quite pronounced. After much debate, and the appearance of a red fox seemingly attracted to the area by the chick calling, we determined the best course of action would be a stint in rehab. The healthy chick was released and the injured one taken from the site.
At the rehabilitation facility it was confirmed that there did not appear to be any breaks or fractures to the wing or the foot. This was good news as setting or immobilizing growing body parts can do more harm than good. The goal of rehab, therefore, is to allow the chick an opportunity to rest the foot and wing and to increase its weight (which is a lot easier for this species when it isn't burning calories running around).
The chick has done very well in rehab and is expected to be released soon. It has already gained 5g and is active and alert. The healthy chick has continued to do well on site. We look forward to reuniting them!
When chicks are banded researchers do usually name them. This is primarily for ease of reference as a name is easier to recall/refer to than a band code. These two chicks are named Phipps (healthy chick) and Freeman (injured chick) as a tip of our hats to Island Beach's history. They can be identified by their band colors:
Phipps - Left upper leg is a black over a red band and the upper right is a blue over a yellow band (LR:BY)
Freeman - Left upper leg is a black over red band and the upper left is a blue over a green band (LR:BG)
As you can imagine, it is a lot easier to say (and remember), "Hurray, Freeman is in great shape and almost ready for release!" than "Hurray, Black over red, blue over green is in great shape and almost ready for release!"
The chicks hit an important milestone today (Thursday, July 28), by surviving 25 days. At this point, their flight feathers are coming in and they will start trying to fly very soon. It will take them time to become competent, but just like the Wright brothers, every day forward will bring them closer to mastering this skill.
For information on beach nesting birds in New Jersey visit http://www.njfishandwildlife.com/ensp/beachnester_info.htm