The Western snowy plover is a very small, rare, shorebird that breeds and lives on the Pacific coast along various beaches. The Western snowy plover Pacific coast population has been listed as a Threatened Species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS). These six inch shorebirds were have been listed on the ESA since 1993. Even though they are making some progress in coming back, the threatened Western snowy plover is still listed under the ESA.
Their major threats to survival as a species and cause of their decreased population over the years are due to habitat loss (beach erosion), human disturbance, and even predation. These challenges make it very difficult for this small population that breed and nest on beaches to have successful breeding and nesting seasons.
About Western Snowy Plovers
Snowy plovers breed and nests specifically on beaches. They create small nooks or divots in the sand to lay their eggs and use those for their nest. Snowy plovers lay an average of three buff colored eggs. Their breeding and nesting season is from March through September. Two or three broods may be produced in a year.
This small shorebird’s predators consist of raccoons, coyotes, red foxes, owls, falcons, crows, ravens and, especially, domestic cats and dogs. The following will eat Western snowy plover eggs or chicks and sometimes will even eat adults: ants, snakes, crows, night herons, raccoons, gulls, and ghost crabs.
The Western snowy plover’s diet consists of invertebrates including insects and crustaceans. These include juvenile mole crabs, brine fly larvae, beetles, flies, snails, clams, and amphipods. Snowy Plovers are active and restless foragers, walking or running across their sandy habitat. They often display a stop-and-go foraging pattern. These small plovers do not tend to chase waves as the Sanderlings do. You will find the Snowy Plovers foraging a little higher on the beach.
Share the Shore Campaign
Since the summer months are the busiest time of the year for beaches, human disturbance is major threat to plovers and, especially, the threatened Western snowy plovers. This human disturbance includes activities such as walking, running, walking pets and vehicle use on the beach. When approached, this plover will scurry away from its nest leaving the nest exposed, possibly for hours, before the adult plovers will return back to the nest.
“Share the Love, Share the Shore” is Audubon’s campaign effort to help protect federally and state-threatened shorebirds that depend on local beaches to nest successfully. Sharing the shore with the snowy plovers and other wildlife will help preserve this shoreline habitat along the coast. In addition, having no dogs allowed on State Park Beaches or in nesting area closures will help provide a safer environment for the species that nest and breed on the beaches.
Audubon encourages beachgoers to #SharetheShore and asks to give birds at least 100 feet of distance when encountering birds on the beach. We all must do our part to make beaches safer for nesting birds especially the threatened Western snowy plovers.
Here Are 5 Ways to Make the Beaches Safer for Western Snowy Plovers:
- Show respect for all signs or roped off areas for breeding Snowy Plovers.
- Avoid using large or loud flying objects such as drones or kites that the Western Snowy Plovers would assume to be a predator.
- If you come upon eggs in a shallow divot on the beach outside a roped off area, please do not approach, and please, back away from the nest site. Allow the adult Snowy Plovers to return to their nest to continue to incubate their eggs.
- Educate and inspire beachgoers to #SharetheShore with the Western Snowy Plovers and other birds.
- Keep dogs away from nesting site areas on beaches and keep dogs on a leash.
By following the above tips, we can all help in protecting the threatened Western snowy plover. We must all share our seashores and protect this critical habitat for this threatened shorebird species. During their breeding season, which is March through September, be especially mindful when going out to the beach in the Western United States. Respect and obey the restricted nesting signs, and please keep dogs on a leash and away from the Western snowy plover nesting areas.
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