Protecting the Plovers!

Hello everyone! I hope all is well, I’m excited to check back in with some of the wonderful projects I’ve been involved with. In my previous post, I briefly mentioned that our dunes are home to some of the Western Snowy Plover’s nesting sites. Over the past few months, I’ve been lucky enough to help with some of these protection efforts.

To start off though, I’ll tell you a little more about these adorable little puffballs! The Western Snowy Plover is a threatened shorebird species found throughout our coasts in Oregon (and other areas ranging from Washington to Mexico!). They’re tiny, about 6 inches long, have dark thin bills, and long stilt-like legs. Their sandy coloring allows them to camouflage in with the surrounding dunes when on ground. When in flight, their white underbelly helps them blend in with the sky above.

Photo Credit: Mick Thompson

The Western Snowy Plover was listed as threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act in 1993. In 2003, only 7 nesting sites (out of the former historical 21+ locations) were found on our coasts. This decline can be attributed to habitat loss, human disturbance, urbanization, and predation. One of the largest contributing factors to habitat loss is the spread of European Beach Grass, which can be seen in the featured photo. This wide-spread grass is taking over the dunes and stabilizing the sand. This leaves less foredune areas for nesting sites, and provides more cover for predators to hide in. Due to all of these pressures, multiple protection plans and restrictions were put into place during their nesting season to aid in recovery.

Photo Credit: Tillamook County Pioneer

I’ve been informing the public about these restrictions and explaining how/why specific stretches of beaches are roped off from March 15th – September 15th. These areas also have dog, drone, vehicle, and kite restrictions during this period to ensure that plover nesting goes smoothly! Plovers view dogs as predators, which can scare them off their nest. The unprotected eggs can go cold or get covered by sand if left alone for too long. Kites and drones can also be mistaken for large birds, which can also lead to nest abandonment. Explaining these issues to beachgoers has been incredibly successful and even encourages some people to help spread the word!

Aside from outreach, I’ve also been able to assist in putting up plover ropes! These ropes are placed around potential and confirmed nesting sites. This provides a safe spot for plover parents to raise and protect their chicks in peace. It’s incredibly windy near our shores, so going out regularly and making sure our ropes and signs aren’t buried under giant dunes is an important task to keep up with.

Photo Credit: USDA

Due to these collaborative restorative efforts, the Western Snowy Plovers are bouncing back! About 468 resident plovers were counted as of 2017. Restoration projects are still underway to promote a successful recovery, and the future is looking bright. I’m glad I’ve been able to help in these efforts, and I can’t wait to continue working alongside the public and the Forest Service to protect the plovers!

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