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Snowy plovers return to Sanibel for another year of nesting season

Posted at 1:13 PM, Apr 17, 2024

SANIBEL, Fla. — While our traditional birds may be starting to head north, our snowy plovers are just starting to make their nests here on Sanibel. Meteorologist Andrew Shipley spoke to members of SCCF about how this threatened species is doing on the island.

Every morning Aaron White with Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation walks the beach on Sanibel looking at these cute little birds called snowy plovers.

"We are kind of paying attention to their behavior,” said White, a shorebird technician with SCCF. “Their behavior kind of tells us what they are doing and if they are nesting."

This snowy plover is the first to make a nest on Sanibel this year. Unlike other shorebirds that nest together in large numbers, snowy plovers are territorial.

"If they are kind of fighting with each other, they are trying to establish territory,” said White. “So, they are doing to in a certain area for days on end consistently, we know to keep an eye on that area, because might nest in that area."

And like human couples, plover pairs have an interesting dynamic.

"They kind of share duties of the stages of the nest,” said White. “They both share building the nest together. They decorate the nest together; they like to put shells in there. And once all eggs, the full clutch 3 eggs, female will primarily incubate the eggs. And once those eggs are hatched the male primarily take care of the chicks."

But raising a nest can be difficult, and dangerous. While Andrew Shipley was getting video of the nest, a crow kept dive bombing the plover.

"Crows can take their eggs,” said White. “Crows can take their chicks, whenever they have the chicks. So, a defensive tactic for them is to run off the nest."

White says they do it to distract predators. And we can help them by keeping an eye out.

"If you are looking at a nest and you see a crow, come by maybe kind of walk off kind of throw the crow off your trail,” White. “Because otherwise they might be able to home in on where that nest is."

You can also help by keeping dogs away from their nests.

While studying the behavior of these birds, sccf noticed something interesting in the wake of hurricane ian. With fewer people and more places to hide, the plovers thrived and began fledging, or venturing out of their nests 8 to 12 days sooner.

"Those gullies really provided a lot of sources for those birds, a lot of protection,” said White. “They were able to stay in those gullies away from people, because they weren't going to go in there. And that allowed the birds to grow really fast."

Remember, shorebird nesting starts in the Spring and runs through the summer months.