After 20 years of recovery efforts, the population of western snowy plovers in Oregon is increasing, but the small shorebird is still vulnerable.
The plover’s numbers had decreased for decades, mainly due to the loss of nesting habitat to non-native European beachgrass, but also because of predators, such as fox, crows, ravens and skunks. Direct human disturbance and human development also contributed to the bird’s decline.
Recovery efforts have included predator eradication and habitat restoration, as well as beach closures to keep humans, pets and vehicles away from nesting areas during breeding season.
According to data from a 2009 survey, approximately 208 individual plovers were counted along Oregon beaches between April and September, the highest number detected since monitoring began in 1990 when biologists estimated there were only 50 adult plovers in the same area.
“This year’s data is really encouraging,” said Dave Lauten, a wildlife biologist with Oregon State University’s Oregon Natural Heritage Information Center, which monitors plovers and their nests on the southern Oregon coast. “It appears that the work we’ve been doing with habitat and predator management is helping. A lot of the thanks has to go to beach visitors who help out by observing signs and leashing their dogs to give plovers space to successfully nest and rear their young.”
Human cooperation during the annual beach closures is appreciated because, as Megan Harper of the Bureau of Land Management said, “It’s an easy step that yields big results. People are doing a great job adhering to the beach closures and staying out of the plover nesting areas; it’s definitely helping with the recovery.” In the New River area, which is managed by the BLM, observers this year recorded the existence of 40 plover nests and 20 fledglings — birds that survive their first month of life and learn to fly. Thirty-one nests and six fledglings were counted in the state-managed Bandon State Natural Area, which runs south from China Creek off Beach Loop Drive.
...it was the fourth time in the past six years that Oregon has produced 100 fledglings or more. In years just prior to that, Oregon plovers had been producing only about 30 fledglings annually.
...“This has had a good impact not just on plovers, but on the seabirds at Coquille Point, as well,” said Lauten. “We also started to control the ravens and crows.”
...The average life span of the western snowy plover is two to five years. The female plover can lay up to 12 eggs a year and may renest several times during a single season.
Plovers feed on insects found on the beach in the summer. During winter months, insect numbers go down, so plovers seek out blood worms near the water’s edge, like sandpipers do.
...“The goal of the recovery plan is to have a total of 250 breeding plovers between the states of Oregon (200) and Washington (50) combined,” Lauten said. “Oregon may be the first of the three states (the third is California) that actually meets recovery goals.”