Chances of survival weren't good for four piping plover chicks that hatched this summer along the Lake Michigan shoreline in Lake County.
The male parent, which typically cares for the young, had disappeared, possibly preyed upon by a hawk or a coyote — and the young had not yet fledged, making them a potential meal for the same or other predators.
But at least one of these chicks has made the more than 850-mile flight to Georgia where it is now spending the winter.
"One of the chicks has been found wintering down on Jekyll Island in Georgia, a known wintering spot for piping plovers" said Vince Cavalieri, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) biologist and Great Lakes Piping Plover recovery coordinator.
The species is federally endangered — and nest in small numbers on the Atlantic Coast, in the northern Great Plains and in the Great Lakes region, where they are most imperiled, Cavalieri said. They winter along the Gulf Coast.
Adult piping plovers are about 7 inches long with sandy-colored backs, white breasts with black bands, orange-yellow legs and black-tipped orange bills. Their downy young are sprinkled with brown to blend in with the pebbly beaches where the species nests.
When Cavalieri learned about the discovery of the Illinois chick wintering in Georgia, he said, "I was super excited."
If a pair of piping plovers is successful at nesting, "there's a very high chance the parents will return," to the same spot — and that means they might be back breeding in Lake County this coming summer, Cavalieri said.
The last time the piping plover attempted nesting in Illinois was in 2009 and the eggs were abandoned and removed to hatch at Lincoln Park Zoo, then released at an established breeding area at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park in Michigan.