Small snowy plovers are found along America’s western coastline from Washington to Baja California, are usually only six inches long and barely tip the scale at two ounces. They have also been federally protected as a threatened species since 1993.
Breeding season from March to September is an especially critical time for the birds. They lay their eggs in small depressions in the sandy area of beaches with easy access to the water—the same prime real estate sought after by beach-goers for picnicking, walking pets and jogging. The birds’ nesting habitats are also vulnerable to urban development and other competing conditions like invasive plant species, predators, beach erosion, high tides and severe weather.
Western snowy plovers have lost a significant amount of habitat due to human intrusion and general development along the coast. The birds excavate their nests on the beach – their eggs blending in with the sand. This makes the nests very vulnerable to trampling by beach goers if the nests are not in a protected area.
The birds typically nest in a sort of ‘sweet spot’ on the beach. But those sweet spots have been diminishing over the years as humans have moved in and trampled areas where beach grass grows – prime habitat for snowy plover nesting.
When beach-goers are aware of the rare species they share their shores with, it can benefit themselves and the plovers greatly,” This knowledge can help create the balance between enjoying your beaches and understanding why some protections are necessary for rare species to persist. Coexisting with snowy plovers on our public beaches creates a wonderful learning opportunity. Citizens can become advocates for rare species by understanding the snowy plovers life cycle and nesting behaviors.
The Service offers the following tips for beach visitors and their friends to help protect Western snowy plovers during breeding season:
• Take trash with you when you leave, or place trash in covered trash bins
• Keep your pet on a leash
• Keep your distance from Western snowy plovers to avoid disturbing them
• Respect posted signage and fencing that identifies nesting areas