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Snowy Plover Life History

Habitat

Habitat Shorelines

The Snowy Plover is primarily found in open, sandy areas adjacent to water. This includes ocean beaches and barrier islands as well as barren shores of saline lakes inland. They will also use wastewater ponds, reservoir margins, dredge spoils, gravel or sand bars in rivers, salt evaporation ponds, and occasionally in disused parking lots.

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Food

Food Aquatic invertebrates

Snowy Plovers eat invertebrates including insects and crustaceans. These include juvenile mole crabs, brine fly larvae, beetles, flies, snails, clams, polychaete worms, and amphipods. Snowy Plovers are active foragers, walking or running across their sandy habitat. At beaches they may forage on dry sand or in wetter areas recently exposed by the tide. Like other plovers, they are visual predators that employ a distinctive foraging style with quick bursts of movement interspersed with abrupt pauses to look around for prey. They sometimes rush through swarms of kelp flies, snapping them up in midair.

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Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest Ground

Snowy Plovers nest on sand in open areas, often near a conspicuous feature such as a piece of kelp or a particular shell. In areas where there is high nest predation, Snowy Plovers may place their nests under overhanging plants or flotsam.

Nest Description

A slight depression in dry ground, often lined with pebbles, shell fragments or fish bones.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-6 eggs
Number of Broods:1-3 broods
Egg Length:1.1-1.3 in (2.8-3.4 cm)
Egg Width:0.8-0.9 in (2.1-2.4 cm)
Incubation Period:26-33 days
Egg Description:Buffy background, lightly to moderately covered with small spots and scrawls.
Condition at Hatching:Downy and active, able to leave nest as soon as down dries.
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Behavior

Behavior Ground Forager

Male Snowy Plovers aggressively maintain territories, lowering their head and charging at rivals including other shorebird species. They attract females by standing and calling from their territories. Once a female appears interested the male quickly runs to previously chosen nest sites and begins to scrape a depression. If receptive, the female situates herself in the prepared nest site while the male bows and spreads his wings and tail prior to copulation. Snowy Plovers are often polyandrous, meaning that females may desert their mates and broods after hatching. While the male rears her chicks, the female finds a new mate and initiates a new nest, sometimes two or three times a season. Chicks are able to feed independently almost immediately upon hatching. Despite their territorial nature during the breeding season, Snowy Plovers can be gregarious in migration and during the winter, occasionally forming flocks numbering into the low hundreds.

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Conservation

Conservation Declining

Snowy Plover populations are listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 31,000, of which an estimated 24,000 breed in the U.S. The group ranks the species a 15 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and places it on the Yellow Watch List for species with declining populations. The Pacific coast population (subspecies nivosus) is federally listed as Threatened in the U.S. The primary conservation concern for the Snowy Plover is habitat alteration and degradation from beachfront development and recreation. Snowy Plovers are especially sensitive to disturbance while nesting. Nests can be destroyed by people stepping on them, deliberately taking eggs, crushing eggs with horses or vehicles, or other forms of disturbance including camping and walking dogs off leash. On some beaches, nesting success has been increased by blocking off access to beaches or enclosing nests in wire cages that exclude mammalian predators.

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Credits

Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2021.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2021.

Page, Gary W., Lynne E. Stenzel, J. S. Warriner, J. C. Warriner and P. W. Paton. (2009). Snowy Plover (Charadrius nivosus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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