Written by Clemens Küpper
Snowy Plovers Charadrius nivosus are small waders that breed at sandy beaches and coastal wetlands across the Americas. Over the last decades many coastal Snowy Plover populations have declined principally because human use of their breeding habitat has been intensified. Fortunately, conservation efforts have been stepped up to halt the decline of many North American populations. However, the conservation efforts that include beach closure for the public are often controversial and contested.
Male and Female Snowy Plover at Bahía de Ceuta, Mexico. Both sexes are very similar, although males have usually darker ornaments than females. The female in this picture wears a red colour ring. © Clemens Küpper
Most of the conservation efforts to save the Snowy Plover are right now concentrated to the coastal populations of the US. In contrast, in Latin America conservation and study of Snowy Plovers is still in its infancy and often lacking all ingredients except for motivation. In 2006 we have started a program to study and conserve Snowy Plovers at Bahía de Ceuta, a coastal wetland in Sinaloa Mexico. The entire Snowy Plover population in Mexico is estimated to be about 2,000 plovers and Bahía de Ceuta holds about 10% of this population. The beaches of Bahía de Ceuta are not only important for birds since the endangered Olive Ridley Turtle is also breeding at these beaches. However, the wetland and the beaches are continuously threatened by uncontrolled visitor disturbance during the breeding season, illegal deforestation, rubbish dumping and development of nearby beach properties. Over the last years hurricanes, severe weathers and the closure of the former salt works have altered the hydrology of the site resulting in strong fluctuations of breeding success of the ground nesting shorebirds.
Female Snowy Plover incubating clutch. Male and female care together for the eggs, but soon after the hatching often one of the parents abandons the brood. © Clemens Küpper
The Snowy Plovers are not only valuable because they are threatened but they have also a peculiar breeding behaviour that can certainly compete with your favourite TV soap opera / telenovela. Over the years we have become witnesses of males and females deserting the family to pair up with their new lovers, family mixing, chick adoption, chicks starving to death, violent conflicts and much more. We even have seen Snowy Plovers temporally caring for tern chicks!
3 freshly hatched Snowy Plover chicks. A few hours after hatching these fluffy cotton balls will run around and explore the world. © Clemens Küpper
To let you participate better with and the fate of the Ceuta Snowy Plovers we have set up online resources to learn more their fascinating life and struggle for survival. Our hope is that by generating more interest and understanding for the cause of Snowy Plovers we will be able to improve step-by- step the conditions at Bahía de Ceuta. Check out our website (www.chorlito.org) and get involved. During the breeding season you can follow us on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ceuta-Snowy-Plover-Project/195255797181809) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/#!/chorlnev).