Snowy Plover

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Common Name: Snowy or Kentish Plover
Scientific Name: Charadrius alexandrinus

Size: 5-7 inches (13-18 cm)

Habitat: North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia; In North America it is restricted to the Gulf and Pacific coasts of the United States, and scattered inland localities from Saskatchewan to California and Texas. Found on beaches, lagoons, and salt-evaporation ponds on coasts and barren to sparsely vegetated salt flats and braided river channels inland.

Status: Threatened. Global population: 300,000-460,000. Despite this species’ breeding tenacity, its numbers are small. Only about 21,000 individuals inhabit the United States; numbers in the rest of North America are largely undocumented but probably small. Along the U.S. Pacific and Gulf coasts, the population is shrinking because of habitat degradation and expanding recreational use of beaches. The spread of European beachgrass has reduced nesting habitat along the coast.

The Pacific Coast population (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus) has been listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 1973. This plover is a Bird Species of Special Concern in California. Snowy plovers were listed as endangered under Washington Department of Game Policy No. 402 in 1981, and as threatened by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission in 1975. The threatened status in Oregon was reaffirmed in 1989 under the Oregon Endangered Species Act.

Each summer, breeding populations of the Western Snowy Plovers are monitored by State Parks, Audubon chapters, PRBO Conservation Science, Department of Defense, and many others. Hundreds of volunteers, including many Audubon members, have assisted with nesting season data collection and community outreach and restoration. In California, protection efforts for breeding birds which have halted the decline documented in the 1980s can be attributed to habitat restoration, predator management, leash laws, symbolic fencing, and controlled off-road vehicle use. Despite some local success stories, plovers remain at risk from habitat loss, predation, and disturbance, and are still absent from many locations in their historic range.

Diet: Small crustaceans, mollusks, marine worms, and insects. They typically forage by pausing, running, and pecking at the ground.

Nesting: Snowy Plovers breed in loose colonies, and they are gregarious in winter. During courtship, the male displays for the female by scraping a nest and bowing next to the female while flashing the white on his tail. Breeding adults defend their nesting territory, but may forage away from defended areas with other Snowy Plovers.

Snowy Plovers nest in the open on the ground. Males construct a shallow scrape nest on open, bare ground, sometimes near a clump of grass or piece of driftwood. The nest is lined with shell fragments and other bits of debris. Females typically lay three eggs, and both parents incubate. Males incubate at night and females during the day. Their clutches frequently are destroyed by predators, people, or weather, but they renest readily after these losses, up to six times in some locations. Double brooding is common and triple brooding regular where the breeding season is long. In such circumstances, females desert their mates and broods about the time the chicks hatch and initiate new breeding attempts with other mates.

Pairs typically separate following hatching, and the female finds a new mate to breed with for a second brood that season. Adult Snowy Plovers usually run when approached by humans or predators, but may fly if startled. Adults sometimes feign injury to distract intruders away from nests or chicks.

Cool Facts: The Snowy Plover, known as the Kentish Plover in Europe, is a cosmopolitan species with at least five races over a range that includes portions of North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Young Snowy Plovers leave their nest within three hours of hatching. They flatten themselves on the ground when a parent signals the approach of people or potential predators. They walk, run, and swim well and forage unassisted by parents, but require periodic brooding for many days after hatching.

Found in Songbird ReMix Shorebirds Volume 3: Small Waders

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