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Snowy plover: Charadrius nivosus

Taxonomic Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Charadriidae
Genus/Species: Charadrius nivosus
Common Name: Snowy plover

Listing Status

Federal Status: Pacific Coast population designated Threatened under Endangered Species Act; Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. populations not Federally listed.
FL Status: State-deisgnated Threatened
FNAI Ranks: G4/S1 (Globally: Apparently Secure/State: Critically Imperiled)
IUCN Status: Not ranked

Physical Description

The snowy plover is a small shorebird that can reach a length of 6.7 inches (17 centimeters) with a wingspan of 13.4 inches (34 centimeters) (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2011).  Snowy plovers have a short, thin black bill and gray legs.  The upper body varies from grayish to light-brown, with a white belly, and black on the forehead and ears. 

Life History

The diet of the snowy plover primarily consists of small invertebrates.

In Florida, nesting occurs on open sandy beaches along the Gulf Coast between the months of February and August.  Snowy plovers are solitary ground-nesters.  Nests consist of small scrapes in the sand, sometimes with bits of shell, and are well camouflaged to avoid detection by predators.  Females usually lay three eggs during each nesting attempt (The Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2011).  Both the male and female share responsibility for incubating eggs and rearing (caring for) chicks.  Snowy plover chicks are able to leave the nest within hours of hatching, though they still require parental care until they fledge approximately 28- 35 days later. 

Habitat and Distribution

Snowy Plover Distribution MapThe snowy plover inhabits sandy beaches along coastal areas of the Americas, and some inland saline lakes and riverbeds west of the Rocky Mountains (Page et al. 2009).  This species occurs on Florida’s narrow fringe of sandy beaches along the Gulf of Mexico coast. Within Florida, the breeding population is disjunct: one group occurs in northwest Florida from Franklin County west, and the other occurs from Pasco to Collier counties in southwest Florida.

Threats:

Snowy plovers face many threats to their population as coastal areas become increasingly developed.  Their nesting on sandy beaches makes this species extremely vulnerable to disturbance and predation.  Threats to the snowy plover include increased disturbance from humans, increased population of predatorsin its range, and habitat loss.  Causes of habitat loss include development, shoreline hardening, invasive vegetation, beach raking/grooming, beach driving, and some beach renourishment activities.  Increased populations of humans may lead to increased populations of predators and more frequent disturbance to nesting adults, which increases the detectability of nests and chicks to predators.  Animals such as raccoons, opossums, rats, coyotes, crows, feral cats and off-leash dogs pose a threat to chicks, eggs, and even adult snowy plovers.  Sea level rise is also an impending threat to snowy plover habitat.  Nesting areas are compromised when water infiltrates during nesting season, and development inland prevents the shifting of sandy beach habitat to higher land in the long term.

Conservation and Management

The snowy plover is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act and as a State-designated Threatened Species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule External Website.

Biological Status Review (BSR) Adobe PDF
Supplemental Information for the BSR Adobe PDF

Other Informative Links

Bird Web External Website
Encyclopedia of Life External Website
Florida Natural Areas Inventory External Website
FWC Beach-Nesting Birds Adobe PDF
FWC Breeding Birds Atlas Adobe PDF
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology External Website

 

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References

American Bird Conservancy.  2007.  Top 20 Most Threatened Bird Habitats.  ABC Special Report.  The Plains, VA.  48 pp.

Chesser, R.T., R.C. Banks, F.K. Barker, C. Cicero, J.L. Dunn, A.W. Kratter, I.J., Lovette, P.C. Rasmussen, J.V. Remsen, J.D. Rising, D.F. Stotz, and K. Winker.  2011.  52nd supplement to the American Ornithologists' Union Check-List of North American Birds. Auk 128(3): 600-613.

Page, G.W., J.S. Warriner, J.C. Warriner and P.W. Paton.  2009. Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/154 External Website.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (2011). Snowy Plover. Retrieved March 14, 2011, from All About Birds: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Snowy_Plover/id External Website


Image Credit Photo by FWC



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