Endangered Species in Santa Cruz County - Birds

Western Snowy Plover

Western Snowy Plover

Scientific Name: Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus

Status: T, CH

The Western Snowy Plover is a small shorebird which lives primarily on beaches, dry mud or salt flats, sandy shores of rivers, lakes, and ponds. It is pale in coloring with a sand-colored dorsum, white venter, thin dark bill, dark or grayish feet and legs, and (in adults) a partial breast band and dark ear patch (females may lack the black areas in the plumage); immatures have light edges on dorsal body feathers, resulting in a scaly pattern.

The main foods eaten by snowy plovers are terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates. On the Pacific Coast of North America, these include mole crabs, polychaetes, amphipods, sand hoppers, tanadacians, flies, beetles, clams and ostracods; in the San Francisco Bay area, diet may also include flies, beetles, moths, and lepidopteran caterpillars.

Nests on the ground on broad open beaches or salt or dry mud flats, where vegetation is sparse or absent (small clumps of vegetation are used for cover by chicks); nests beside or under object or in open (Page et al. 1985). Nests often are subject to flooding.

Snowy plovers sleep with the bill and the front of the head tucked under their feathers. While sleeping, they will only stand on one leg, especially when the weather is cold. Periodically, they will close their eyes while sleeping. Other observed behaviors include preening, head scratching, stretching one leg or one wing, and bathing in water.

Threats: human disturbance (including mechanical raking of beaches) is a major problem; in addition, much habitat has been lost to development, and spread of introduced beach grass limits the amount of suitable nesting habitat; increasingly vulnerable to native and introduced predators, particularly gulls, common raven, red fox, skunk, raccoon, and/or coyote.

To Learn More:

  • Animal Diversity Web
    Brief easy-to-read summaries (most with photos) describing habitat, geographic range, behavior, food and current conservation status.
  • NatureServe Explorer
    Detailed description of habitat behavior, food, current conservation status, ecological and distribution data, with citations to relevant management reports.
  • Santa Cruz Public Libraries - Local Resources
    Search SCPL's online catalog for local documents and other information about this species.
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
    Documents describing protection for this species under the Endangered Species Act. General information about the species as well as plans both to protect it and to help it recover.

Last updated by villasenora on April 21, 2015

Browse by Status Key

E — Endangered

T — Threatened

CH — Critical Habitat

PE — Taxa proposed for listing as endangered

PT — Taxa proposed for listing as threatened

PCH — Critical habitat which has been proposed

C — Candidate species for which the Fish and Wildlife Service has on file sufficient information on the biological vulnerability and threats to support proposals to list as endangered or threatened

D — Delisted due to Recovery