Published: February 1995
Author(s): Scott A. Richardson
Washington harbors a small population of the snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) , an inhabitant of sandy shores and barren flats. Since at least 1899, small numbers of this cryptic shorebird have nested on the shifting sand spits and peninsulas of the Washington coast, which constitutes the northern limit of the species' range. Historically, at least five areas in the state supported nesting snowy plovers, but the species now is restricted to two sites: Damon Point and Oyhut Wildlife Area at Ocean Shores, Grays Harbor County; and Leadbetter Point in Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, Pacific County. Monitoring by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife indicates the state population has declined within the past decade, with a current population of about seven breeding pairs.
The snowy plover was listed by the Washington Wildlife Commission as a State Endangered species in 1981. The Pacific coast population of the western snowy plover was listed as Threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act in April 1993.
Snowy plovers lay their three eggs in depressions scraped in the sand of beaches, dunes, or salt flats. Parents share the incubation duties until hatching, which occurs after four weeks. The young birds are precocial and walk within a few hours. They fend for themselves to eat, but are brooded for a few weeks, usually by the male parent. Females often move within a week to a new territory to mate with another male. Juveniles are able to fly a month after hatching.
Factors such as predation and adverse weather are natural pressures on the plover population, but during the past several decades coastal development has posed additional threats to the species' ability to raise young. Shoreline modification and dune stabilization programs for recreational, urban, and industrial development have created deleterious conditions for snowy plovers. Recreational activities ranging from beachcombing to off-road vehicle traffic have elevated the number of human intrusions into plover nesting habitat, which reduces nesting success.
For recovery of the snowy plover population to a level where it may be delisted, pedestrian and vehicular incursions into snowy plover habitat should be eliminated and development in the vicinity of current or potential plover habitat should be discouraged. An aggressive vegetation control program should be initiated to improve current nesting areas and to provide for expansion of the population into historic breeding sites.
The snowy plover will be considered for downlisting to threatened when the state supports a 4-year average of at least 25 breeding pairs, fledging at least one young per pair per year, at two or more nesting areas with secure habitat. Delisting will be considered when the average population reaches 40 breeding pairs at three or more secure nesting areas.