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A photo of a Snowy Plover (Charadrius nivosus), male
Snowy Plover, Male

Snowy Plover

Charadrius nivosus

The Snowy Plover, Anarhynchus nivosus, is a diminutive shorebird, a member of the family Charadriidae. It is characterized by its pale brown upperparts and white underparts, with a distinctive white band on the hind neck. During the breeding season, males sport black patches behind the eye and on the side of the neck, which are separated, not forming a continuous breast band as seen in many other plovers. This species is further identified by its all-black slender bill and gray to black legs.

Identification Tips

Adult Snowy Plovers measure 15 to 17 cm in length, with a wingspan of 34 to 43.2 cm, and weigh between 40 to 43 g. They have a large head, short neck and tail, and compared to other plovers, they possess relatively long legs and short wings. The bill is black, the iris dark brown, and the legs range from gray to black. Outside the breeding season, the neck and ear patches are pale, and the forehead patch is absent, making the sexes indistinguishable.

Habitat

The Snowy Plover favors open areas with sparse or no vegetation, such as coastal sand beaches and shores of salt or soda lakes. It also occupies river bars near the coast and human-made habitats like wastewater and salt evaporation ponds, dammed lakes, and dredge spoils. The species requires proximity to water, even if only minimal.

Distribution

This species is found along the Pacific coast of North and South America, in inland areas of the US and Mexico, along the Gulf of Mexico coast, and on Caribbean islands and Bermuda. Coastal populations include both migratory and residential birds, while inland populations are mostly migratory.

Behaviour

Snowy Plovers exhibit a polygamous mating system, with females sometimes deserting their brood soon after hatching to re-mate, leaving the male to rear the chicks. This behavior is possibly a strategy to maximize breeding success. They are also known for their territoriality during the breeding season, with males establishing and defending territories to attract females.

Song & Calls

The Snowy Plover's typical call is a "tu-wheet" used in various contexts, including advertisement, courtship, and alarm. Other calls include a "purrt" during the breeding season and a "ti" when disturbed outside of breeding season. Chicks communicate with a "peep" call even before hatching.

Breeding

Males create multiple nest scrapes as part of courtship, with one eventually chosen for breeding. The species lays an average of three eggs per clutch, with incubation shared between the male and female. Chicks are precocial and can walk and swim shortly after hatching.

Similar Species

The Snowy Plover can be distinguished from similar species like the Piping Plover, Collared Plover, Semipalmated Plover, and Wilson's Plover by its slender black bill, gray to black legs, and the "broken" breast band pattern.

Diet and Feeding

The diet consists of invertebrates such as crustaceans, worms, beetles, and flies. Snowy Plovers forage by running and pecking, probing the substrate, and employing techniques like "foot trembling" to stir up prey.

Conservation status

The Snowy Plover is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN due to habitat degradation, human disturbance, and other threats. Conservation measures include roping off breeding areas, removing invasive beach grasses, and protecting against egg predators. While global populations are in decline, local conservation efforts have led to population increases in some areas.

Snowy Plover Sounds

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Snowy Plover Fun Facts

Did you know?
Snowy Plovers chicks leave the nest within 3 hours of hatching and are able to forage unassised almost immediately.

Snowy Plovers on Birda

Sightings

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