Platte River Recovery Implementation Program News

December 29, 2019

Each summer the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (Program) and its partners survey the river and off-channel nesting habitat to document least tern and piping plover abundance and productivity within the ( ) for the Program. Monitoring typically occurs from 1 May – 1 August; however, the monitoring season has been extended when least terns or piping plovers are known to be within the outside of this range of dates.

Similar to previous years, there was a good distribution of nests across off-channel sand and water (OCSW) and sandpit sites throughout the , but no in-channel nesting was observed during 2019. The number of breeding pairs observed during 2019 was high and comparable to other years that the Program did not add any more off-channel nesting habitat. This season was a moderately successful year for least tern nests as 51% (67 of 132) of least tern nests hatched. Piping plover nests were moderately successful as well with 52% (31 of 60) of nests hatching. However, chick success for both species was poor, largely due to predation and major flooding, both factors that also affected nest success.  The overall fledge ratio for least terns was 0.75 fledglings per breeding pair, which was an all-time low since 2007.  Piping Plovers had an overall fledge ratio of 0.67 fledglings per breeding pair in 2019, which was slightly higher than in 2018. 

Least tern and piping plover breeding pair counts and productivity, 2001-2019.

Breeding pair counts for both species have increased steadily since 2009 when the Program began acquiring and restoring off-channel nesting sites (top plot). Fledge ratios for least terns (middle plot) were at an all-time low during 2019. The plots show a 3-year running average that smooths out the curve, allowing us to better observe trends, so this all-time low is not visible in the plot. Piping plover fledge ratios have shown a decline in the past few years, though their fledge ratio for 2019 was slightly higher than in 2018 (bottom plot). Once again, this is not obvious in the plot as it represents a running average.

July 10, 2018

Every spring and fall the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (Program) implements systematic aerial flights and ground searches to document the presence of whooping cranes within the ( ) for the Program. This monitoring typically occurs from 6 March – 29 April in the spring and 9 October – 15 November in the fall; however, the monitoring seasons have been initiated early or extended when whooping cranes are known to be within the outside of these ranges of dates.

In spring 2019, located 8 unique whooping crane groups made up of just 9 individual cranes using the . Given the relatively small number when compared to the spring of 2018, we still had 76 crane use days. The low numbers were likely due to the very wet and cold spring we had. 

Between 9 October and 15 November, 2019, a total of 42 whooping cranes were detected by the Program's monitoring efforts. These birds accumulated a total of 120 whooping crane use days. 

Graph that shows the proportion of overall population observed using the Platte river by PRRIP.

Since 2001, the proportion of the whooping crane population observed within the has increased significantly during the spring and has remained fairly steady during the fall.

Map showing use of the Platte river.

During the spring and fall of 2019 monitoring seasons many of the whooping cranes observed during systematic surveys were located on Program or other conservation organization owned lands.