The pale plumages of Snowy Plovers, especially the less distinct ones of chicks and immatures, blend readily with dry beach sand and salt flats, making these plovers very difficult to see when crouched. The hot inland habitats, often rarely visited by birders, mean atlasing Snowy Plovers is an especially difficult task (Wise-Gervais 2005).
On ocean beaches life has become much more hazardous for Snowy Plovers in recent years. In addition to traditional predators, recreational users and their motorized “toys” take a heavy toll of nesting plovers. Successful reproduction can be a daunting task in spite of the ability of these plovers to renest as many as 5 times whene ealier nests are lost (Page et al. 1996).
DISTRIBUTION. During the 1987-1992 field work seasons of the TBBA project, observers found 26 confirmed, 6 probable and 14 possible breeding sites for Snowy Plovers, almost all west of the 97th meridian. The highest concentration of sites was on or near the south half of the Texas coast. Sites were also found on the High and Rolling Plains, Trans-Pecos and Edwards Plateau regions (see the region map in Lockwood and Freeman ). In Oklahoma, Snowy Plover nesting was found in 5 counties: Alfalfa, Cleveland, McClain, Texas and Tillman, during their 1997-2001 atlas period (Byre 2004).
Various populations of Snowy Plovers breed on all continents except Antarctica. North American breeders are found on parts of the Pacific and Gulf coasts of the United States and in scattered inland areas of the western half of this country. Breeding is also found in some coastal and inland areas of Mexico and in the Bahama Islands. In winter northern breeders move south within the United States and into Middle America, the West Indies and northern South America (Howell and Webb 1995, Page et al. 1996, Am. Ornithol. Union 1998).
SEASONAL OCCURRENCE. Snowy Plovers are very rare to casual migrants in the eastern quarter of Texas, arriving from mid-March to mid-May. They breed from mid-April to late July, based on egg collection dates between April 29 and July 11. In Colorado atlasers found breeding evidence from May 23 to August 7. Fall nigration starts in mid-July and continues to mid-October. These plovers are rare to locally uncommon along the coast in winter (Oberholser 1974, Nelson 1998, Lockwood and Freeman 2004).
BREEDING HABITAT. Snowy Plovers breed in Texas from near sea level to about 1200 m (3900 ft) on bare upper beaches and sandy flats along the coast and sandy shores of large alkaline, saline or freshwater lakes (Oberholser 1974). At other areas in their North American range, breeding also occurs on bare areas such as salt flats, levees, dredge spoil piles and sand bars in rivers. Nests are often placed near a conspicuous object such as dried kelp, a shell driftwood, cow dung or tumbleweed. The male scratches a depression in the dry ground with his feet in a few minutes. Both sexes bring small items such as pebbles, bits of shell or fish bones to line the scrape (Page et al. 1996).
Here the female lays about 3 (range 2–6) smooth, buffy eggs lightly to moderately marked with small dark brown to black spots and scrawls. On average the eggs are laid 2.4 days apart. Both sexes, with identical incubation patches, warm the eggs for about 27-28 days. The precocial young leave the nest within 3 hours after hatching, walking unsteadily and pecking at potential food items. Parents brood chicks and warn them of danger, but do not feed them. At least one parent generally remains with chicks until they are 29-47 days old or until they can fly. Coastal populations in California may raise 2 or even 3 broods per year, although Great Plains plovers are single-brooded (Page et al. 1996).
STATUS. Snowy Plovers are uncommon summer residents along the coast from Galveston County southward and rare to locally uncommon at scattered locations, mainly saline lakes, in the western half of Texas. (Lockwood and Freeman 2004). Gulf Coast populations have declined since the 1800s due to habitat alteration and increased recreational use of beaches. Populations along the Pacific Coast of the United States and Baja California, Mexico are considered Threatened by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Alabama lists Snowy Plovers as Endangered and Florida as Threatened (Page et al. 1996). These listings do note bode well for the future of the species in Texas.
Text by Robert C. Tweit (2008)
American Ornithologists’ Union. 1998. Checklist of North American birds, 7th ed. Am, Ornithol. Union, Washington, DC.
Byre V. J. 2004. Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus). In Oklahoma breeding bird atlas, pp. 136-137 (D. L. Reinking, ed.). University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.
Howell, S. N. G. and S. Webb. 1995. A guide to the birds of Mexico and northern Central America. Oxford University Press, New York.
Lockwood, M. W. and B. Freeman. 2004. The TOS handbook of Texas birds. Texas A&M University Press, College Station.
Nelson, D. L. 1998. Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus). In Colorado breeding bird atlas, pp. 164-165 (H. E. Kingery, ed.), Colorado Bird Atlas Partnership, Denver.
Oberholser, H. C. 1974. The bird life of Texas. University of Texas Press, Austin.
Page, G. W., J. S. Warriner, J. C. Warriner and P. W. Paton. 1995. Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/154
Wise-Gervais, C. 2005. Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus). In Arizona breeding bird atlas. pp. 172-173 (T. E. Corman and C. Wise-Gervais, eds.), University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.