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Snowy Plover
Charadrius nivosus
– Family
Authors: Page, G. W., J. S. Warriner, J. C. Warriner, and P. W. Paton
Revisors: Page, Gary W., and Lynne E. Stenzel

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Juvenile Snowy Plover, Summer Lake, OR, August
Figure 1. Distribution of the Snowy Plover in North America.
Adult male Snowy Plover, breeding plumage, Sanibel Is, FL, February
Adult female Snowy Plover on nest, Lido Key, FL, April

Editor’s Note: Formerly treated as conspecific with C. alexandrinus, the Kentish Plover of Eurasia, the Snowy Plover is now separated on the basis of differences in male calls, morphology, and mitochondrial and nuclear DNA. See Systematcis and the 52nd Supplement to the AOU Checklist of North American Birds for details. Future revisions of this account will reflect these changes.

The Snowy Plover is a ground nesting bird found primarily on unvegetated to sparsely vegetated coastal beaches and shores of inland alkaline lakes. An estimated 18,000 Snowy Plovers breed in North America, where U.S. Pacific and Gulf coasts populations are imperiled by degradation of their habitat from development, human recreation and invasive species. The Pacific coast population is listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as threatened and the Gulf coast population is state-listed as endangered in Mississippi and threatened in Florida.

Since 1995, study of the Pacific coast population has generated considerable information on reproductive success (Powell and Collier 2000, Colwell et al. 2005), juvenile survival and dispersal (Stenzel et al. 2007, Colwell et al. 2007a, b), adult survival (Mullin 2006), effectiveness of management techniques (Neuman et al. 2004, Hardy et al. 2008), and effect of recreation on behavior and reproduction (Lafferty 2001, Ruhlen et al. 2003). Although Snowy Plovers frequently lose their nests to predators, people, or weather, they relay rapidly and readily (Warriner et al. 1986).

The Snowy Plover and Kentish Plover (C. a. alexandrinus) of Eurasia employ an unusual facultative polygamous breeding system in many which females in some populations, and less frequently males, desert first broods soon after hatching to renest with new mates (Lessells 1984, Warriner et al 1986, Fraga and Amat 1996), sometimes hundreds of kilometers from their first nests (Stenzel. et al. 1994). Brood desertion and polygamous mating have been the foci of many studies of the Kentish Plover in Eurasia (e.g. Amat et al. 1999c, Székely and Cuthill 1999).

We have included the results of these studies and others on the ecology of Kentish Plover (especially by T. Székely and J. A. Amat: see Bibliography) in this account for comparison with the Snowy Plover. This comparison should improve our understanding of the behavior and the ecology of the North American Snowy Plover, even though recent phenotypic and genetic analyses suggest the two species are divergent taxonomically (Küpper et al. 2009).