Western Snowy Plover

The Western Snowy Plover was listed as threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act 1993. In Oregon, this species historically bred at a minimum of 21 locations on the coast but by 2003 Western Snowy Plover were only nesting at seven sites and none on the North Coast. Currently, population recovery efforts for this species have shown strong signs of success with a population estimate of 50 in 1990 improving to 468 resident plovers counted in 2017.

A small shorebird in the plover family, the Western Snowy Plover is the Pacific Coast population of the Snowy Plover and breeds primarily along coast beaches from southern Washington to southern Baja California. They forage for small invertebrates on sandy beaches, river gravel bars and similar habitats. Their breeding season lasts from early March through September and they typically lay 3 eggs in shallow scrapes or depressions in the sand.  Snowy plovers that nest at inland sites are not considered part of the Pacific coast population, although they may migrate to coastal areas during winter months.

Western Snowy Plover, photo by Mick Thompson

Threats to the Western Snowy Plover

The Western Snowy Plover has experienced rangewide declines of between 40-65% depending on the region.  Since implementation of recovery efforts for this species in the past 20 years declines have slowed, and in some cases reversed, and some recolonization of traditional nesting areas has occurred. However, the bird is still challenged by a number of threats.  

Poor breeding success, resulting from human disturbance, predation, and inclement weather, combined with loss of nesting habitat to encroachment of non-native European beachgrass and urban development have all been factors in this species population declines.  Intensive beach use by people and pets often results in nest abandonment and overall reduction of nesting opportunities and success.

Portland Audubon’s work to protect Western Snowy Plovers

Portland Audubon advocated for strong protection measures and increased outreach effort during the process to develop Oregon’s Western Snowy Plover Habitat Conservation Plan which was developed to help implement the range-wide federal Western Snowy Plover Pacific Coast Population Recovery Plan developed in 2007.  Currently, Portland Audubon is partnering with Oregon Parks and Recreation Department on a community science project (Snowy Plover Patrol) to monitor plovers at five sites on the North Coast as part of recovery efforts.  We are also coordinating with coastal Audubon chapters on Snowy Plover outreach and education efforts.

How you can help