The western snowy plover (snowy plover) is a small shorebird, approximately the size of a sparrow.The Pacific Coast population of the snowy plover is a distinct sub-population that is Federally listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The snowy plover breeding season extends March through September.Locally, snowy plovers can be seen nesting and rearing their young along the sandy shores, estuaries, and the lower stretches of the Eel River. Nests usually contain three tiny eggs, which are camouflaged to look like sand and barely visible to even the well-trained eye. While a variety of pressures make survival difficult for these birds, four factors are the most significant within Recovery Unit 2 (Del Norte, Humboldt and Mendocino Counties).
Predators are the most significant factor affecting reproductive success of snowy plovers. Small mammals, such as fox and raccoon, and birds, particularly the common raven, prey on the eggs and chicks of snowy plovers. Occasionally, birds of prey also take adults decreasing the entire population.
Loss and degradation of breeding habitat is another factor affecting snowy plovers. They prefer open, sandy areas with sparse and low lying vegetation for nesting. Due in large part to the spread of introduced plant species, principally European beach grass, the amount of suitable nesting areas has diminished.
Human activities including encounters with people, dogs and vehicles as well as trash left behind can threaten the breeding success of snowy plovers. Energy is very important to this small bird. Every time humans, dogs, or other predators cause the birds to take flight or run away, they lose precious energy that is needed to maintain their nests.Just the presence of people and dogs in close proximity can cause adults to temporarily leave nests, which increases the chance of a predator finding the eggs, sand blowing over and covering the nest, or the eggs getting cold. Litter and food scraps left behind attract predators such as ravens and raccoons which could increase predation of eggs and chicks.
Inclement weather such as winter storms, river flooding, high tides and strong winds can be detrimental to both breeding success and winter survival. Nests can be washed out during river flooding or covered by sand during strong winds. In the winter time, snowy plovers need all of their energy to stay warm and survive through extreme weather conditions.
Western Snowy Plover art by 3rd and 4th graders.
The Humboldt county beaches and dunes are home to two federally listed endangered plant species; the Humboldt Bay wallflower and the beach layia. In addition, the western snowy plover, a small shorebird, is listed as a threatened species. The coastal habitats for these species are subjected to development pressures, recreational uses including off highway vehicles, and encroachment by invasive plant species. The Endangered Species Act provides a mechanism to protect these species and the ecosystem upon which they depend. By conserving the dunes, we protect endangered species.
Humboldt County’s beaches and dunes are home to two federally listed endangered plant species: the Humboldt Bay wallflower and the beach layia. The Humboldt Bay wallflower is a subspecies of the Menzies wallflower and is unique to the Humboldt Bay dune system. The coastal habitats for this species and other native plants are subjected to development pressures, recreational uses including off- highway vehicles, and encroachment by invasive plant species. The Endangered Species Act provides a mechanism to protect these species and the ecosystem upon which they depend. By conserving the dunes, we protect endangered species.
Both the State of California and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service list this diminutive annual as endangered. Populations have been monitored since 1988. Since that time, densities have declined. Beach layia prefers open areas with sparse vegetation, and its decline coincides with the gradual and natural succession of vegetation in the dunes over time. When European beachgrass is removed and plant cover is lower, beach layia undergoes a temporary increase in density.