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.