Snowy Plover With Chicks

A snowy plover sits with its freshly hatched brood of three chicks
A snowy plover sits with its freshly hatched brood of three chicks

Recently I had the opportunity to photograph a new snowy plover family nesting along the Pacific side of the San Francisco peninsula. Snowy plovers nest up and down the coast of the US in open sand. Well-known nesting grounds are often closed to the public during sensitive nesting periods, but this family managed to survive on a public, widely-used beach.

A snowy plover chick explores a seemingly massive clump of seaweed.
A snowy plover chick explores a seemingly massive clump of seaweed.

Capturing this vulnerable family on camera was a delicate operation. I had to be very careful not to get too close or spend too much time in contact with the family, or risk stressing out the mother or the chicks and causing irreparable harm to them. I paid close attention to the mother, looking for signs of stress or protective behavior.

Two snowy plover siblings explore their new world together
Two snowy plover siblings explore their new world together

I had been looking for an opportunity to photograph snowy plover chicks for over two years. At that time I found and photographed a nesting plover, but never was able to make it back for the hatchlings. The first thing I realized when I found these ones were how quickly they moved! They would each run at a full out sprint in opposite directions. I loved watching their antics and they poked around towering driftwood or climbed mountainous piles of foot-tall seaweed – quite an effort for their inch-tall frames.

Soon however, they found their way back to mom, and attempted to squeeze themselves underneath her protective tent of feathers.

Two snowy plover chicks struggle to push into the protective care of their parent, while a third sibling is already occupying this feathered embrace.
Two snowy plover chicks struggle to push into the protective care of their parent, while a third sibling is already occupying this feathered embrace.

Here the mother already has one chick nestled in her feathers, while the remaining two siblings try to push their way in.

I limited my time with them to only 10 minutes, and made sure to keep my distance. I wanted to make sure the little ones were spending their precious energy foraging for food instead of running from a giant with a camera!

A snowy plover stands along the beach with two newly hatched chicks
A snowy plover stands along the beach with two newly hatched chicks

It was great to see life thriving, especially outside of protected areas. It seems at least this one family was able to adapt to their environment and raise three chicks on a busy beach.

  • Great shots of one of my favorite local shorebirds. Amazing that the nest survived people and (presumably) dogs, not to mention ravens and rats!

  • Thanks John!  I agree – it is amazing to see these little guys amidst all the potential obstacles to survival.  I saw more than one raven on the same beach poking around for goodies that beach-goers left behind.  Maybe there is enough refuse to keep them occupied so that the plovers can grow up in peace.

  • Frances Bidstrup

    Gorgeous photos!  Could you be specific about location of these plovers, beach name perhaps?  Point Reyes Bird Observatory closely monitors all areas known to have nesting snowy plovers, I can’t be sure where you saw these birds by your description. Please e-mail at address below.

    Thanks,
    Frances Bidstrup
    Research Associate
    PRBO
    francesbid@directcon.net

  • Update – its a dad!  After contacting Frances Bidstrup at the Point Reyes Bird Observatory (see comment below) and providing him with banding information, he alerted me that the parent in the photos above is a male, not a female as I assumed.  Not only that, but he was able to tell me that he was banded as a chick last year at Salinas NWR and was soon after seen in Ventura County, at McGrath State Beach. 

    Once hatched, snowy plover chicks can be raised by either the father or mother (I knew this fact when I wrote the post above, but refered to the adult as “mother” for narrative purposes).  This is definitely not a deadbeat dad, successfully raising three chicks on a well populated beach.  In fact, this is the first nesting recorded here in over 25 years! 

    Thanks Frances for the insightful information and the great work you do. 

    Note that the mother may have been present on the beach, but I only ever saw one adult tending to the chicks.

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