Snowy plovers live on Oregon beaches. These fluffy birds are hard to notice because they blend in. These birds nearly vanished decades ago.
Biologists, volunteers, and educated beachgoers along the Oregon Coast have helped the Western Snowy Plover recover.
Kathy Castelein and Dave Lauten led this endeavor. Bandon biologists studied plovers in Oregon 26 years ago. “We were hired for one year, but we enjoyed it so much we did it again.” Lauten: “Then it was 26 years.”
Biologists study the birds by finding their nests of a few small eggs in the sand. They watch nests and mating birds. Biologists put colorful bands on baby birds’ legs to track them.
“It’s interesting to watch the individual birds at each beach and understand population dynamics,” Castelein added. Lauten and Castelein have worked for the Nature Conservancy and Oregon State University.
Dedication to birds and wildlife drives them. Summer is 7-days-a-week for us. You have to love birds to get up at 5 a.m. every day, Lauten remarked. “It’s like a game because you get clues about where the birds are nesting, where to find them, and if the brood is still active. For him, it’s a struggle to make it fun. Biologists say not everyone understands Oregon’s coast has endangered species.
Lauten: “Many people don’t realize these birds exist or don’t grasp what’s happening.” “But it’s now.”
Snowy Plovers are endangered. Only 70 snowy plovers remained on Oregon Coast beaches. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created a plan to increase snowy plovers to 250 on the Oregon Coast and the southern tip of Washington.
Snowy plovers have exceeded that objective since 2015, with 613 breeding birds estimated in 2021, according to Newport fish and wildlife biologist Cheryl Strong.
“They have better years than others, but overall they’re doing well,” Strong added. Federal, state, and NGOs like Audubon have helped rescue the snowy plover.
“They’re a tight-knit team,” Strong reported a coordinated effort to revive this species in Oregon.
When Lauten and Castelein began working with plovers, their habitat was limited to southern beaches. Now they nest in every Oregon Coast county, which is a success, they added.
Snowy Plovers face several interrelated problems. Loss of habitat, more predators, and human disturbance contribute.
Snowy Plovers live through concealment and predator detection. They prefer open areas where they can see approaching predators.
Invasive grasses help predators hunt snowy plovers.
“Grass can attract raccoons, skunks, foxes, and weasels. Castelein stated they couldn’t hide in that ecosystem 100 years ago.
Ravens and crows are other predators.
Lauten: “There are more than ever because they utilize human resources like trash, dumpsters, and farms.” Ravens are smart omnivores who eat a variety of foods, he noted. Snowy plover eggs are included.
“They’re smart and efficient at finding plover nests and the ‘amazing delicious egg.'” Lauten remarked it has a lot of protein and doesn’t bite.
Because plovers live and lay eggs on the beach, their nests are at risk of being trampled by beachgoers, dogs, horses, and ATVs. Human interaction can make snowy plovers leave their nests, and wind or predators can swoop in while they’re gone.
State and federal agencies post signs to notify beachgoers of plovers and rope-off areas where they nest.
“There are signs for a purpose. It raises awareness, Castelein remarked. When you go to the parking lot, read the signs to learn the restrictions. Because we attempt to give recreation space even where snowy plovers are.”
The 30 seconds it takes to notice snowy plovers can affect a human interaction outcome. Snowy plovers can live with humans provided they allow them space, say, researchers.
We get public cooperation generally. People who don’t obey the regulations are either new to the beach or don’t pay attention, or they repeat violators. “There’s not much you can do except call the police,” Lauten said.
“We’d rather educate,” Castelein said. “When we ask folks to stay on moist sand, they don’t always get it.”
“I think people imagine plovers nest on the grass and not on the beach, and that’s harder to explain. Literally, their nest is just three “rocks” on the sand, so it’s easy to step on it – or for a dog, horse, ATV, or bike to do so, Lauten added.
Since they devote so much time to snowy plover recovery, biologists say it’s sad to see eggs or a nest damaged by humans. It’s avoidable since state parks have hosts who move ropes and educate visitors, Castelein said.
People should be free to use the beaches and plovers should be able to nest, she said. To “Share the Shore” Enjoying nature while conserving it.
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