Once upon a time there were thousands of sparrow-size shorebirds all along the sandy beaches of the West coast, including Washington, Oregon and California even down to Baja California in Mexico. They used to breed in over 29 sites down the coast of Oregon and now only 11 or so exist. Their unique “run, stop, peck” feeding behavior along the high tide lines would attract the curious individual walking on the beach but the unleashed dog would quickly run toward the birds and scare them away. There used to be thousands of males making a small scrape or depression on the sand and decorating the edges to attract the female. After mating she would then lay three grape-size eggs. Both the male and female would incubate the eggs while staying alert for any possible signs of predators such as hawks and owls and even coyotes. But the adults required lots of energy to drive away predators. Therefore, when more people arrived on the beaches with their dogs and their kites and even drove around on the sand the sparrow-size shorebirds could not handle it and flew away never to be seen again. This is the story of the Western Snowy Plover which today their population size is down to less than 2,000 birds.
Fortunately people are starting to realize how fascinating these shorebirds are. They are beginning to appreciate their super camouflaging powers and the parents’ amazing dedication to their broods. But more than that, people are realizing how we as everyday beach goers can take action to protect them and their habitat. The Western Snowy Plovers are key indicators of the health and diversity of sandy beach ecosystems since they require relatively undisturbed beaches and dunes where they can nest and feed on invertebrates. This season, I got incredibly lucky to be able to work with this unique species. When I am out in the field monitoring their nests I am always amazed at their incredible intelligence and their ability to handle the harsh weather conditions of the west coast. For being such a small bird, they are resilient and of course extremely adorable. The last time I was out in the field a group asked what I had seen with my scope. I told them the story of the snowy plover and showed them some pictures on my phone. They were shocked to know such a tiny bird existed and finally understood why the signs were there. Positive interactions like this makes a great difference and I am so happy when I get to share my field work experiences with people and tell them about the fascinating story of the sparrow-size shorebird.