Species Fact Sheet Western snowy (coastal) plover Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus
STATUS: THREATENED CRITICAL HABITAT: DESIGNATED
Western snowy (coastal) plover potentially occurs in these Oregon counties: Clatsop, Coos, Curry, Douglas, Lane, Lincoln, Tillamook (Map may reflect historical as well as recent sightings)
The western snowy plover is listed as threatened in 1993. Critical habitat
was designated in 2005 for 32 areas along the coasts of California,
Oregon and Washington. A recovery plan was finalized in September
2007. On December 17, 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with other federal agencies and the State of Oregon signed off on a statewide Habitat Conservation Plan. On March 22, 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a revision to the critical habitat designation. A final rule on the proposed revision is due on June 5, 2012.
The western snowy plover is a small shorebird distinguished from
other plovers (family Charadriidae) by its small size, pale brown
upper parts, dark patches on either side of the upper breast, and dark
gray to blackish legs. Snowy plovers weigh between 1.2 and 2 ounces. They
are about 5.9 to 6.6 inches long.
Historical Status and
The Pacific coast population of the western snowy plover is defined
as those individuals that nest beside or near tidal waters, and
includes all nesting colonies on the mainland coast, peninsulas,
offshore islands, adjacent bays and estuaries from southern Washington
to southern Baja California, Mexico. Historic records indicate
that western snowy plovers nested in at least 29 locations on the
Oregon coast. Currently, only eight locations in Oregon support
nesting western snowy plovers, a 72 percent reduction in active
As early as the 1970s, observers suspected a decline in plover
numbers. The primary cause of decline is loss and degradation
of habitat. The introduced European beachgrass (Ammophila
contributes to habitat loss by reducing the amount of open, sandy
habitat and contributing to steepened beaches and increased habitat
for predators. Urban development has reduced the available habitat
for western snowy plovers while increasing the intensity of human
use, resulting in increased disturbance to nesting plovers.
The Pacific coast population of western snowy plovers breeds
on coastal beaches from southern Washington to southern Baja California,
Mexico. Plovers lay their eggs in shallow depressions in sandy
or salty areas that generally do not have much vegetation. Because
the sites they choose are in loose sand or soil, nesting habitat
is constantly changing under the influence of wind, waves, storms,
and encroaching plants.
The nesting season extends from early March through late September.
The breeding season generally begins earlier in more southerly
latitudes, and may be two to four weeks earlier in southern California
than in Oregon and Washington. Fledging (reaching flying age)
of late-season broods may extend into the third week of September
throughout the breeding range. Nests typically occur in flat,
open areas with sandy or saline substrates. Vegetation and driftwood
are usually sparse or absent. The typical clutch size is three
eggs but can range from two, and in rare cases, up to six eggs.
Snowy plover chicks leave the nest within hours after hatching
to search for food. They are not able to fly for approximately
four weeks after hatching, during which time they are especially
vulnerable to predation. Adult plovers do not feed their chicks,
but lead them to suitable feeding areas. Adults use distraction
displays to lure predators and people away from chicks. Adult
plovers signal the chicks to crouch, with calls, as another way
to protect them. They may also lead chicks, especially larger
ones, away from predators. Most chick mortality occurs within
six days after hatching.
Snowy plovers are primarily visual foragers. They forage on invertebrates
in the wet sand and among surf-cast kelp within the intertidal
zone, in dry, sandy areas above the high tide, on salt pans, and
along the edges of salt marshes, salt ponds, and lagoons. They
nest in open, flat, sparsely vegetated beaches and sand spits
above the high tide. Plovers often return to the same breeding
sites year after year.
In the eight areas of the Oregon coast that are currently used
for nesting by the snowy plover, seasonal restrictions on beach
use are implemented in an effort to reduce disturbance to breeding
plovers. Activities that may adversely affect plovers include
dune stabilization using vegetation or fencing, construction of
breakwaters and jetties, sand deposition, and driving off-road
vehicles near nesting areas. Recreational activities near nests,
such as dog walking, horseback riding,
kite-flying, and picnicking may result in abandonment of the
nest by adult plovers. Trash or food left on the beach may attract
The public can help in the increase the chance of plover survival
and breeding success by:
staying out of the signed nesting areas
"sharing the beach" by recreating away from plovers
and using the wet sand
keeping dogs pets on leash or leaving them at home
removing litter from beaches to discourage predators
flying kites, which may be mistaken for avian predators by
plovers, on non-nesting plover beaches
volunteering to monitor plovers or to provide educational
other beach users
leaving the area immediately and contacting the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service or the Oregon Department of Fish and
Wildlife if a plover nest is found in an unprotected area
In addition to seasonal closures, there are other management
tools used to help recover the western snowy plover.
USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Oregon Department
of Parks and Recreation Department, in partnership with U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and
others, restore habitat in areas with a history of plover use. Habitat
restoration includes removal of European beachgrass, leveling
steep dunes that formed as a result of beachgrass introduction,
or placement of shell material in areas which are selected
to provide high quality nesting habitat with minimal beach use conflicts.
Predator management in the form of nest exclosures
(mesh fences that surround a nest and act to keep out predators)
and trapping and removing predators such as ravens, crows, foxes,
raccoons, and feral cats are also management tools. The Oregon Natural
Heritage Information Center (and previously, The Nature Conservancy)
has been monitoring plover reproduction and survival since
References and Links
Lauten, D. J., K. A. Castelein, R. Pruner, M. Friel, and E. Gaines.
2007. The Distribution and Reproductive Success of the Western Snowy
Plover along the Oregon Coast - 2007. Unpublished report. Prepared
for Coos Bay District Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Dunes National
Recreational Area, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Department
of Fish and Wildlife, and Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation
Page, G.W., L.E. Stenzel, W.D. Shuford, and C.R. Bruce. 1991.
Distribution and abundance of the snowy plover on its western
North American breeding grounds. J. Field Ornithology. 62(2):245-255.
Page, G.W., J. S. Warriner, J. C. Warriner and P. W. C. Paton.
1995. Snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrinus). In: The Birds of
North America, No. 154 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy
of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists
Union, Washington, DC.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1993. Determination of Threatened
Status for the Pacific Coast Population of the Western Snowy Plover.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2005. Designation of Critical Habitat
for the Pacific Coast Population of the Western Snowy Plover; Final
U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service. 2007. Recovery Plan for the Pacific Coast
Population of the Western Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus
nivosus). In two volumes. Sacramento, California. xiv + 751pp.