Snowy Plover is an endangered species of North America which inhabits both beaches and inland habitats. This tiny ‘beach runner’ is currently on the ‘Yellow’ list of the US Watchlist which is a joint project between American Bird Conservancy and the National Audubon Society. It aims to provide the actual conservation status of each species of the United States. Yellow list birds are declining but at much slower rates than those in the red category. As the official description says “these typically are birds of national conservation concern, and those that can be saved most cost effectively”. Still there are evidences of population decline not only locally but across the continent. The U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan lists the Snowy Plovers to be either a “species of high concern” or “highly imperiled“, depending on which breeding population we are talking about.
Like many of the beach nesting shorebirds, the Snowy Plover also suffers from the increasing human and pet disturbance which results a very low reproduction rate. Parents often abandon their nest. Their habitat is often destroyed by beach developments, parking cars at the edge of the water line of popular beaches.
In our modern world the demand of building resorts just within a walking distance from the beach is higher than ever. Beach development fragments the traditional sandy breeding sites of beach nesting birds like American Oystercatchers, Least Terns, Wilson’s and Piping Plovers and of course the Snowy Plovers.
The ‘Western’ race of Snowy Plover – often considered as a separate species from Snowy Plover – along the Pacific coast of the United States is listed as threatened by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where it is suffering population decline mainly from beach developments and habitat degradation.
Andrea Jones, who is the Director of the Coastal Stewardship Program at Audubon California, highlights a bunch of recovery actions of the Recovery Plan made by the USFWS in 2007.
The most common programs include roping off nesting areas using symbolic fencing and sometimes protecting nests with exclosures, restoring dune habitats by removing non-native plant species, and managing public access to key wintering and nesting areas.
As always, conservation would not be possible without extensive monitoring. The entire western breeding population is monitored annually using the same methodology from Washington to California..
Amanda Hackney, the Coastal Program Manager of Audubon Texas says:
Audubon divides the U.S. into flyway categories for coordinated management. The Pacific, Central, Mississippi and Atlantic flyways each has a list of priority species and conservation goals. The Snowy Plover is one of the few species that is listed as a priority for all flyways.
In the case of many beach nesting and foraging species, Audubon is committed to protecting the vital habitat along America’s coasts where people and birds intersect. Audubon promotes beach stewardship programs in many states to help protect nesting sites. We are also constantly expanding the Important Bird Area (IBA) program, a global initiative with BirdLife International to identify and conserve areas that are vital to birds and other biodiversity.
These actions are necessary for maintaining local populations especially on those key sites which holds at least 1% of the global population of the Snowy Plover. These important sites must be monitored more frequently however funding is not always available to run these projects every year.
Will Snowy Plover in North America be listed in the Red WatchList anytime soon? Beaches intensively used by humans will keep them vulnerable to further population declines. The recent nationwide population estimate suggests inland sites of increased importance, such as the Salt Plains NWR. While these areas remain sensitive to the annual weather patterns (fluctuating and unpredictable water levels) they still could play a key role in balancing trends of the Snowy Plover populations. Amanda says,
The population breeding along the Pacific Coast of the United States and Baja, California is listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Other states list the species as endangered or threatened. These designations have led to a variety of conservation efforts, including closing nesting beaches, monitoring nests, roping off or fencing in breeding sites, posting educational signs, removing predators, and banning pets and vehicle use. California has explored captive breeding. The Snowy Plover is identified on Audubon’s WatchList as a declining yellow list species.
I hope that the species does not go to the Red List. In the U.S. many of our beach nesting species are threatened by habitat loss, relative sea level rise and human disturbance. More and more people are moving to coastal areas for the beauty and majesty of living near the ocean. Wildlife management is often “human” management. For the Snowy Plover and other nesting shorebirds like Piping Plover and American Oystercatcher to survive we need to continue to educate the public about these species and maintain and expand our efforts to protect vital nesting areas from disturbance and destruction.
For the very same question Andrea Jones expresses her doubt about the future of the western population of the Snowy Plover.
Despite all the efforts with this population, the population doesn’t appear to be reaching its recovery goal. It has essentially remained stable with a lot of on the ground efforts. USFWS recently mapped critical habitat for this population which may allow the birds to expand into new beaches if restoration and management programs are conducted at sites that historically contained breeding or wintering birds, but currently do not.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issued an action plan for five imperiled beach-nesting species including the Snowy Plover. The study recommends actions to be taken to improve or at least preserve the current population along the beaches of Florida. Just to mention a few key elements of the conservation plan: identifying important breeding sites annually; developing a Shorebird/Seabird Management Program; collaboration between relevant parties to implement restrictions of beach developments; site-specific management plans. The Florida plan clearly shows where to focus to sustain or improve breeding numbers along the entire coastal breeding population of the Snowy Plover.
When “Machi,” a Whimbrel carrying a satellite transmitter, was shot and killed in Guadeloupe in September 2011, the international bird conservation community had a rude wake-up call about what was happening to migrating shorebirds in the French West Indies. The fact was that tens of thousands of shorebirds representing several species were being shot by hunters each fall. Swift action by the Society for the Conservation of Caribbean Birds (SCSCB) and its members and partners, including AMAZONA (the local bird conservation organization), has resulted in significant progress on the issue of shorebird hunting.
Whimbrels are amazing long distance migrants. Machi had been tracked for over 27,000 miles (44,000 km) back and forth between the breeding grounds in the Hudson Bay Lowlands of Canada to wintering grounds on the coast of Brazil. In 2011, we had learned from the satellite tracking study being conducted by the Center for Conservation Biology that Machi, after hunkering down in Montserrat during Tropical Storm Maria, flew to Guadeloupe where she met her end. Ongoing tracking studies have shown that Whimbrels like Machi and other shorebirds utilize the Caribbean islands to rest and refuel, take refuge from dangerous storms, or spend the winter. However, the journey ends for many that attempt to stop in Guadeloupe, Martinique, or Barbados, where sport hunting of shorebirds remains a popular tradition.
At the time when Machi and a second satellite-tagged Whimbrel named Goshen were killed, there were no daily bag limits in the French West Indies, and no protection for species of conservation concern, such as the Red Knot. Thankfully, due to proactive advocacy, there have been some positive changes in hunting regulations since Machi’s death.
Following the shooting of the two shorebirds and in light of the fact that populations of many shorebird species are declining in the Americas, SCSCB organized a letter writing campaign targeting decision makers in environmental departments of the French government as well as other key authorities and international organizations. Many SCSCB members and partners sent letters to these officials, urging them to take actions in support of a more sustainable and responsible harvest. They also wrote about the issue in their local newspapers, websites, and blogs (see links to some of these below).
As a result of this international campaign and months of dedicated work by the National Hunting and Wildlife Agency (ONCFS) together with other departments and local hunters, there has been a change in policy which benefits migratory shorebirds that rely on these islands’ mangroves and wetlands as wintering and critical stopover sites during their long migrations.
The Ministère de l’Environnement and the Fédération Départementale des Chasseurs de la Guadeloupe and Fédération Départementale des Chasseurs de la Martinique have acted to place some restrictions on shorebird harvest: First, the Red Knot (beginning in 2012) and Solitary Sandpiper (2013) were closed to hunting on Guadeloupe and the Red Knot was closed to hunting on Martinique in 2013. The Ministère de l’Environnement in Paris is also considering long-term removal of the Red Knot from the list of hunted species. Second, a bag limit of 20 birds per day per hunter was instituted in Guadeloupe in 2013. This action of setting bag limits, initiated by an Overseas Department, is a rare action for the French hunting community and regulatory agency. Finally, a three-year moratorium on the shooting of Whimbrels and Hudsonian Godwits was put in place in Martinique in 2013.
The SCSCB community is encouraged by these outcomes. Lisa Sorenson, Executive Director of SCSCB commented, “Machi’s death drew attention to the fate that awaits hundreds of thousands of other shorebirds that pass through the Caribbean in the future, and provided an opportunity to encourage these governments to adopt more sustainable hunting regulations. There is still much work to be done, but we consider the change in hunting laws to be a very important and significant conservation outcome. Machi did not die in vain.”
“We applaud the French government’s and the Fédérations des Chasseurs of Guadeloupe and Martinique actions on this issue, and we want to thank our members and partners for their help in bringing about this positive change.” – said Howard Nelson, President of SCSCB
“We all need to remain vigilant about issues like this throughout the region as we continue to work to conserve resident and migratory birds for future generations to enjoy.” – he added
Nelson remarked that the Society supports broader social and ecological values of shorebirds and that in the longer term, he was hopeful that this would support meaningful behavior change on the islands.
The critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper has been given desperately needed financial help by German optics company, Leica Camera AG.
The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and their partners are attempting to stabilise the Spoon-billed Sandpiper population, which numbers fewer than 100 pairs in the wild, but working on the birds’ remote Russian breeding grounds and undertaking conservation breeding is expensive.
As well as financial help, Leica is providing optical equipment to help field workers locate the breeding Spoon-billed Sandpipers and record their behaviour.
WWT Director of Conservation Dr Debbie Pain said:
“WWT is delighted that Leica has chosen to support the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. We’re desperately trying to secure a future for this charismatic and unique bird, and tackle the problems it faces from trapping and the loss of wetlands.”
Leica will showcase the Spoon-billed Sandpiper and the efforts to save it at their stand at the Birdfair in Rutland between 16 and 18 August.
Mr. Stephan Albrecht, Division Manager Sport Optics of the Leica Camera AG
“Leica binoculars and telescopes offer incomparable viewing experiences of nature. Time and time again we experience how fragile and endangered nature is. That is why the Leica Camera AG chooses to take part in selected conservation projects – WWT’s mission to save the Spoon-billed Sandpiper from extinction is one such project. In addition to the protection of this incredible bird the people living in its wintering grounds are being supported. People acting together for nature on a long-term and sustainable basis is important for us, because passion you can only share together.”
Every spring, David Mizrahi sees fewer of the tiny shorebirds arriving to eat horseshoe crab eggs on the Delaware Bay. His expeditions to South America are documenting a similar decline on their wintering grounds.
But the bird is not a Red Knot.
Mizrahi, vice president of research and monitoring for the New Jersey Audubon Society, is tracking a shorebird called the semi-palmated sandpiper. He began studying it in 1995, when he was working toward his doctorate, and he continued his studies after being hired by the society 13 years ago.
The red knot, a state-endangered bird under consideration for federal listing, migrates from South America, stopping locally along the Delaware Bay to eat horseshoe crab eggs to gain enough weight to continue its trek to Arctic nesting grounds. A decline in its numbers, from perhaps 90,000 birds in the 1980s to just 26,000 today, gets most of the media attention.
It is — or was — a long-legged shorebird about the size of a mourning dove, with mottled brown feathers and a distinctively long, thin, downward-curving beak.
For the Eskimo curlew, a once-plentiful species of sandpiper that’s eerily linked in history to a better-known North American bird — the passenger pigeon — this is a watershed year.
Before the end of this summer, exactly 50 years will have passed since the last time an Eskimo Curlew was seen alive anywhere in its vast range between Arctic Canada — where all that ever lived were hatched in northwest tundra breeding grounds — and its winter home on the pampas of Argentina.