Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)
Florida Population

by Hugh J McLaughlin

Snowy Plover

There are approximately 200 breeding pairs of Snowy Plovers in the State of Florida, all of which are located on the beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. The breeding season runs from March through mid-summer and nests are located on the open beach, somewhat back from the waterline. The State of Florida considers the Snowy Plover to be endangered; the Federal Government does not.

During the courtship ritual, the male and female will make a ‘scrape’ in the sand and then line it with broken pieces of shells. This forms the nest site. Over a 5-10 day period, the female will lay 3 eggs, which is considered to be a full clutch. The male and female then take turns incubating the eggs, which takes 28 days.

Snowy Plover Nest

Snowy Plover on Nest

As soon as an egg hatches, the adults takes the empty shell far away from the nest site as it will attract fire ants that could attack the chicks.

Snowy Plover carrying an empty egg shell

Normally, all three eggs hatch the same morning. If they hatch over a 12 hour or longer period, this is considered to be an asynchronous hatching and has a high mortality rate for the last hatched chick. In the image below, two eggs hatched the afternoon before this chick. As the food supply is away from the nest site, the adult must provide protection for the 2 older chicks as they forage, but return periodically to brood this chick and to encourage it to leave the nest site. This chick is about 45 minutes out of the egg and, unfortunately, did not survive.

Snowy Plover with newly hatched chick

Snowy Plover chicks are ‘precocial’. This designation means that the adults do not feed the chicks. Shortly after hatching, the chicks leave the nest for brief periods seeking invertebrates to feed on. The adults provide protection from predators and are very aggressive when other birds enter the area where the chicks are foraging.

Snowy Plover hatchling

The adults also must ‘brood’ the chicks. Brooding is where the adult provides body heat or shade as the chicks are unable to regulate their own body temperature. The chicks periodically must seek refuge under the adult.

Snowy Plover brooding chick

The adults remain with the chicks for the next 30-45 days, or until the chicks have fledged. It is not unusual for Snowy Plovers to re-nest after the first brood has fledged. At times, shortly after the chicks have hatched, the male takes over protection and brooding duties and the female starts another nest with a new mate.

The chicks spend all deal foraging and grow quite quickly. In the two images below, the first is of a newly hatched chick; the second image shows a chick at 30 days:

Snowy Plover with chick

Snowy Plover chick several weeks old

Snowy Plover chicks become sexually mature during their first year and can find a mate and start a family the next season.

My photography has taken on a whole new meaning by concentrating on Snowy Plovers during two breeding seasons, learning as much as I could about their behavior and spending many hours on the beach observing them. Last year I visited the nesting area every seven days to document their hatching, brooding, foraging, growth and success in fledging. The beach where they nest is quite popular for those looking for sea shells, walking dogs, fishing and exercising so they have become quite used to the people frequenting the beach.

NOTE: If you do come across birds on the beach, especially chicks, and wish to take photographs, do not chase the chicks or do anything that frightens the chicks and/or the adults.

Home | Discuss

Related Articles