Western Snowy Plover

Charadrius nivosus nivosus (Birds)

Species Description

The Western Snowy Plover became known to science through specimens collected by early explorers in what is now the GGNP. Once quite common, the population of this diminutive shorebird has been greatly reduced as a result of habitat degradation due to human disturbance, urban development, introduced beachgrass, and expanding predator populations.

To make matters more complex, the very places the Western Snowy Plover needs to survive are also areas that are in high demand for human activities. California’s sunny beaches and dune habitats are important roosting and nesting areas for the species, and when we stop acting like good neighbors by letting our pets chase birds, by leaving trash at the beach, or even by driving through the bird’s habitats, the Western Snowy Plover’s population suffers.

The Western Snowy Plover was protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1993 as a “distinct population segment,” which means that only a portion of the entire species—the portion that nests on coastal beaches and adjacent bays—are currently protected. Biologists are concerned that if the Western Snowy Plover is lost from these coastal areas, the entire subspecies could be placed in jeopardy.

However, some have tried to claim that because Western Snowy Plovers can be found in other areas, the subspecies should lose protection in coastal areas. This reasoning was rejected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2006, which upheld the protected status for the species and found that the continued protection of the Endangered Species Act is warranted.

Throughout the legal wrangling, the Western Snowy Plover has clung to existence at the GGNP. At both Ocean Beach and Crissy Field, the species can be seen roosting throughout most of the year, save a short window in the summer when it migrates to other areas.

With the help of the Endangered Species Act, a multi-agency recovery effort to stabilize and maintain a healthy Western Snowy Plover population has been initiated. To date, there have been many conservation successes for the species, but the Western Snowy Plover’s population is not yet fully recovered. If human disturbance of the Western Snowy Plover can be reduced at the GGNP, local naturalists believe that the Western Snowy Plover could even begin breeding within the Park, bringing the species that much closer to recovery.

  • Img_2944_small
  • 3_small
  • Img_2910_small
  • Img_2977_small

Conservation Action Item

Get your voice heard:
Protect the Western Snowy Plover by asking for stronger leash laws

Off leash dogs present a great threat for the Western Snowy Plover. These small birds nest on shallow burrows in the sand where they can be easily trampled by an over excited pooch. Help protect The Snowy Plover by writing a letter to the National Park Service asking for stronger leash laws in sensitive habitat. Send us a copy to complete your quest.

Big Year Competitors have reported 0 sightings and taken 1 action to help this species recover so far this year.


  • None scheduled

Log in to participate in Big Year!


  1. Liam O'Brien — 14 January 2010 - 14:27

    Returned to Chrissy Field yesterday with Matt Zlatunich. Along with a girl namewd Laura, the three of us filled a 5-gallon bucket of trash out of the habitat. Found a piece of fish net, which Matt explained is the worst thing for the small bird’s to become entangled in. We were rewarded with one lone Snowy Plover sighted there. Thrilling!

  2. Kate — 10 March 2010 - 18:24

    The law about leashing dogs in snowy plover habitat can be a very complex emotional issue, as I have observed, so I asked a volunteer at Crissy Field if she had trouble with dog owners when she asked them to leash their dogs. Her response was no because she first ask if the person was aware they were in a Nat’l Rec Area, to which they always answered, no. This gave the person a chance to claim ignorance about the leash laws – no backing them into corners they couldn’t escape without a lot of emotional backlash. She would then explain about the snowy plovers and give the suggestion that the dog could be unleashed in another area. This diplomatic approach is much more effective than demanding dogs be leashed. There are many ways to ask a dog owner to leash their dog and non emotional ways could lead someone to continue to leash their animal in the future. We all want what is best for the birds and diplomacy is a great approach when dealing with ignorance.

  3. Margaret Goodale — 15 November 2012 - 13:24

    Snowy plovers have been on Pacifica State Beach at Linda Mar since mid-August. In October we had up to eight, inluding a year’s hatch juvenile from 520 miles north in Oregon, tracked by his bands. Our maximum to date was 8 birds, but that fell to 5 after the November 11 holidays when there were hundreds of people on the beach and in the dunes along with untold numbers of unleashed dogs and their oblivious owners. We’ve dubbed them OLOs (off leash owners!). Saturday morning, Nov 17, at 9:00 or thereabouts and again around 12:30 I’ll be on the beach with a scope to check if any of our banded birds remain. But only if it’s not too wet… We’re hoping that by lobbying our newly elected council members we may be able to get a council majority to insist to staff that they must stop resisting FWS recommendations for seasonal symbolic fencing on the beach.

If you sign up and log in, you can post comments.