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Facts About the Snowy Plover

Kulbhushaan Raghuvanshi
The diminishing population of the snowy plover has made this bird quite famous in recent times. So what's threatening this member of the plover family? The reason, and many other interesting facts, are enlisted in this story.

Did You Know?

Although the snowy plover is considered to be a subspecies of the Kentish Plover, recent research suggests that the snowy plover should be considered a distinct species. The American Ornithologists' Union and the International Ornithological Congress also support this claim.
The snowy plover is a small wading bird distinguished from other members of the plover family by its small size; pale brown back, wings, and tail; dark gray legs and feet; and a white neck and stomach area.

The bird inhabits the Pacific Coast, that includes Washington to Baja California, and the Gulf Coast, from Florida to the Yucatán Peninsula. It has also been spotted in the West Indies, and in certain Southwestern states in the U.S. The snowy plover usually makes coastal beaches and areas near shallow lakes its home.

Classification of the Snowy Plover

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Charadriidae
Genus: Charadrius
Species: C. nivosus
Binomial name: Charadrius nivosus

What Threatens the Snowy Plover?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services lists the snowy plover as a threatened species, and the main reason for its diminishing population is the increase in human and environmental impacts on its habitat. These impacts have also forced the bird to migrate to different areas in order to survive.
Many snowy plovers have migrated to the Great Salt Lake during their breeding season to escape habitat destruction. The coasts of America, in recent times, have seen extensive real estate development, and this has forced the snowy plover to move away in search of a new home to avoid stress on its breeding behavior.
Also, the usage of beach grass to stabilize the dunes along the Pacific coast has drastically affected these birds, as the grass takes up the space which the birds use for nesting.

Important Snowy Plover Facts

► A healthy adult snowy plover weighs around 1.2 to 2 ounces, and stands about 5.9 to 6.6 inches tall. Its average lifespan in the wild is 2 to 4 years.
► North America is home to two subspecies of the snowy plover - the Western Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus) and the Cuban Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus tenuirostris). The Western Snowy Plover can be found to the west of the Rocky Mountains, while the Cuban Snowy Plover can be found on the Gulf Coast, from Western Florida to Texas.
► Snowy plovers prey on beetles, flies, worms, crabs, clams, sand hoppers, and other aquatic insects. They are foragers by nature, and use the run-pause-peck method to capture their food. They have also been noticed to run in a swarm of bees with their bills open to grab a bite, and to dash in and out of the waves looking for aquatic insects or crustaceans.
► The time and length of the breeding season varies geographically, but generally lasts from January to September. Males mark their territories, and start constructing a number of scrapes in their territory. As soon as the male spots a female, he will puff his chest to impress her. If the female approves, they then build a nest together, and defend it against intruders.
► The nest of this bird is a simple scrape on the ground, with bits of plants, pebbles, shells, and even salt crystals. Snowy plovers camouflage their nests to look like sand so that they are barely visible to predators.
► The female usually lays around three to four eggs, and both parents take turns to incubate the eggs. The females usually incubate during the day, while the males take on the duty at night.
► Snowy plovers are known to produce multiple clutches during the breeding season. They have been known to travel long distances to find a new mate or an ideal location for breeding and starting a new family.
► The eggs hatch after 25 to 30 days of incubation, and the young ones leave the nest within hours of hatching. Parents are known to defend the young ones for almost a month, until they learn to fly and survive on their own.
Owls, ravens, crows, falcons, raccoons, and coyotes are natural predators of the snowy plover. Humans come in the list of predators too, because they drive their cars, ride bikes, fly kites, and often bring their dogs to the beach which harms or frightens the snowy plover.
So, the next time you are on a beach, make sure you are not causing any trouble to these small birds. Learn to share the shore, so that your fun isn't threatening the natural environment at the same time.