Snowy Plovers and Survey Modifications

Updated March 2022

Western Snowy Plovers are federally listed as a threatened species, and their breeding range is carefully monitored to support the recovery of the species. Plovers nest between March and September on the Pacific Coast, and particular efforts to monitor nesting beaches are ongoing in California and southern Oregon.

To support Snowy Plover research and conservation, COASSTers modify their beach survey area between March and September to avoid disturbing nearly-invisible nesting indentations on the high parts of the beach. 

Photo credit: N. Maine/North Coast Land Conservancy

How to survey responsibly during plover breeding season

COASSTers should always observe posted signs indicating beach closures due to nesting activity. Our surveys for beached birds should never take priority over the safety of live birds.

In addition, during the plover breeding season COASSTers in potential plover breeding areas survey only from the surf through the wrack zone, where active tides make the low beach less-than-ideal for a nest with plover eggs or chicks. Above the highest wrack line, the beach is more stable during the spring and summer months – it is in this soft, dry High beach area that plovers may make their nests for breeding season. 

Modified surveys are limited to the low beach where active tides prevent plovers from establishing nests.

When COASSTers record beach measurements during modified plover season surveys, the data sheets should all have UM for ‘unmeasured’ recorded for the bare and wood zones. That’s because when we don’t walk an area of beach, we don’t search that area either. The UM measurement lets us know that the beach area was restricted to the lower beach on that survey.

Record UM (= un-measured) for the high beach zones on a modified plover breeding season survey

Plover Awareness Training

All COASST surveyors in California are asked to annually review the following video and pamphlet at the start of plover breeding season:

Surveyors outside of California are welcome to review these materials as well. Plovers have been found on coastal beaches as far north as Ocean Shores in recent years, so COASST participants in the lower 48 can all benefit from familiarity with plover identification and conservation practices.

If you would like to learn more about these birds, we also released a refresher Digital Deep Dive video about them last year. This is an overview of plover conservation, with key identification tips provided by our own Charlie Wright (starting around minute 18).

Western Snowy Plovers

In this video we talk about identification, natural history and conservation of Western snowy plovers, as well as considerations for surveys on beaches where they breed.

Play Video

1 thought on “Snowy Plovers and Survey Modifications

  1. Snowy Plovers are one of my favorite birds. I love their small size and I had the opportunity to see them at several California beaches several times. And I remember one interesting thing I discovered about them is that Snowy Plovers’ nests look like sand and are often hard to see. It was disturbing to hear that they were listed as threatened. But it’s good to have some information and methods regarding their protection and awareness as such. Thanks for useful information.

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