Snowy plovers (Charadrius nivosus) are listed as threatened or endangered with, according to the Cornell University Ornithology Department, an estimated 31,000 breeding age individuals worldwide of which 24,000 breed in the United States. Thus Leonard and I were surprised to find this snowy plover at Ash Creek Wildlife Refuge (Lassen and Modoc Counties CA) over the weekend.
Breeding male snowy plovers are generally a pale bird that blends in with its surroundings. The male is sandy brown with white undersides and black ear patches, forehead and partial breast band. The white collar is complete. The dark bill is thin and the legs are greyish. Where breeding males are black, females are more brownish.
A resident of ocean beaches, salt flats and alkaline lakes, snowy plovers winter along the Pacific and Gulf Coasts. Those that are short-distance migrants move to inland breeding sites. They forage in the sand and soft soil for invertebrates.
Snowy plover nests are scrapes in the sand or ground lined with a few pebbles or sticks. Snowy plover chicks leave the nest within a few hours of hatching and are able to forage immediately without any assistance from their parents. The parents will brood the chicks when it is cold or to protect them from predators. The female leaves the nest within a few days after the eggs hatch, leaving the male to care for the chicks while she starts a second nest with a different mate.
Fast runners, snowy plovers will run to escape before taking flight. They also rest in furrows hidden in the sand or bare ground. Numbers of snowy plovers are declining because of habitat disturbance. Since they and their exposed nests and resting sites are difficult to see, human activity also takes a large toll along beaches and other nesting areas.
C nivosus is closely related to the Old World Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus). Recent studies have determined that it is a distinct species.