BIRD OF THE WEEK: Dec. 04, 2015 SCIENTIFIC NAME: Charadrius nivosus
POPULATION: 38,000 individuals
TREND: Declining
HABITAT: Sandy beaches, salt flats, river sandbars

Snowy Plover map, NatureServeThe diminutive Snowy Plover can be found along sandy coastlines in North and South America and the Caribbean. It is lighter in color than the closely-related Piping Plover and also differs from that species by a partial black collar and black legs and feet.

Like other beach-nesting birds such as Black Skimmer, Least Tern, and American Oystercatcher, Snowy Plovers are ground-nesters, creating small hollows called scrapes for their nests. They will try to divert predators from their nest using alarm calls and distraction displays.

Nesting on sandy beaches leaves the Snowy Plover vulnerable to a variety of human disturbances. Conversion of habitat to coastal development, beach use by off-road vehicles, and predation by cats, dogs and other animals are among the threats these birds face.

Invasive vegetation and sea level rise caused by climate change are other threats to Snowy Plover habitat.

Multiple Broods, Different Mates

Snowy Plovers are visual foragers, hunting by pausing, running, and pecking at prey spotted on the ground. Their diet consists of small crustaceans, mollusks, marine worms, and insects.

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Snowy Plover by Kristian Bell

Snowy Plover chick, one of the most endearing of all baby birds. Photo by Kristian Bell

This species frequently raises two broods a year, and sometimes three in places where predation is low.  Chicks hatch covered with down and with open eyes. They are fully mobile and leave the nest within hours of hatching, though they still require parental care until they fledge about a month later.

Some Snowy Plover populations exhibit serial polyandry or polygyny; either the male or female bird may leave its mate soon after their chicks hatch and attempt a new brood with a different mate.

Steps to Save the Snowy Plover

American Bird Conservancy is leading a Gulf Coast conservation effort to identify and implement protective measures for Snowy Plovers and other vulnerable beach-nesting birds.  With one of our key partners, Houston Audubon, we're monitoring populations of Snowy Plovers across the upper Texas coast.

(See a video about that partnership and read a story about a plover family that survived a rock concert on the Texas coast!)

We also promote the "Fish, Swim, And Play From 50 Yards Away" program each year, which aims to educate tourists and local residents about the needs of beach-nesting bird species along the Gulf Coast.

The Snowy Plover is listed as endangered or threatened in several states and is included on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. The Western Snowy Plover, a subspecies that breeds along Pacific Coast and Baja California, was federally listed as Threatened in 1993.

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