The Western Snowy Plover- A Closer Look

Today I would like to take a closer look at the Western snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus nivosus). I became inspired to learn more about this elusive bird by a very close interaction that I had with two plovers up North on the Central Coast over at Surf Beach, Lompoc (see down below for more information)

The Western snowy plover is a wader and one of the smallest shorebirds in Southern California, as it is only the size of a sparrow. The chicks are so tiny that they can easily be mistaken for cotton balls!

Bird Species of Special Conservation Concern in California

scientific classification snowy plover

Due to low population and habitat loss, the Western snowy plover was listed by the federal government as threatened on March 5, 1993. They prefer to nest on beaches, estuaries, peninsulas, bays, salt pans, and rivers in Oregon and California.

Camouflaged nests render the most eagle-eyed observer helpless amongst the beach wrack on the shore, making this a prime reason for a roped shoreline seen on several beaches on the coast of San Diego.

Plovers like to nest next to the federally endangered California least tern. Biologists take advantage of this fact, which allows a threatened species to nest next to an endangered species.

Let’s now take a deeper dive into the characteristics of the Western snowy plover.

Characteristics of the Western Snowy Plover

western snowy plover surf beach lompoc


The birds are less than 6 inches tall (16 cm) with a pale sandy upper body with darker patches on the shoulders and head, a partial black neck ring and a thin, pointed black bill, and dark gray to black legs. The darker legs distinguish the Western snowy plovers from other plover species.

  • During the summer, the male has a black bar across his forehead, a dark eye patch, and a dark partial neck ring; on the other hand, the female is light brown all over.
  • In the winter, both the male and the female look similar (light brown all over)
  • Juveniles look like females but with pale gray legs


  • sandy beaches or alkaline lakes


  • The plover feeds by rapidly running, picking up food, or foraging at the surf line or beach.
  • Their preferred food source are marine worms, small crustaceans, and insects.


  • In the Powel et al. 2002 study, it was noted that the plovers nest much more frequently in Northern California compared to Southern California
  • On the West Coast, the Western snowy plovers can have up to two broods per mating season.
  • They nest in shallow depressions (scapes), on the open beach, dunes, or salt flats
    • males press their chest into the sand and use their feet to scrape out a shallow bowl
    • the nest is made out of any beach debris: seaweed, driftwood, shells, and even human footprints – eggs are loosely covered with sand
  • usually have 2 to 3 eggs in a clutch that are brownish-yellow with dark marks and incubate them for 25 to 30 days
  • The female will leave the chick after six days in the male’s care, then renests with a new male. The male may also choose to renest with a new female.
  • they often return to the same nesting site year after year
  • males take care of the young into they fledge, which is about a month, and then will nest with another female


  • low whistled flight call that sounds like- “Ku-wheet

Natural Predators-

  • coyotes, foxes, hawks, falcons, raccoons, owls, and humans
  • the nests are so small and inconspicuous that they are quickly stomped on, mainly because the height of the season is summer. Also, due to off-road vehicles, beach walking, and playing sports.

Two Western Snowy Plovers at Surf Beach

So, now I would love to share an experience with you.

My husband and I took a short trip to his hometown of Lompoc, California, just north of Santa Barbara.

Early Friday morning, we took off to stroll Surf Beach.

I can not tell you how excited I was to stumble upon these two little birds on the beach!

San Diego County Western Snowy Plover Protected Areas

Trestles snowy plover sign san onofre

Before I leave you, I have listed some prime spots where you can hopefully see these cute little birds from a reasonable distance with a nice pair of binoculars.

The best places in San Diego to see Western snowy plover are at the San Elijo Lagoon in Encinitas, along the Silver Strand State Beach in Imperial Beach, and over at the Tijuana Estuary as well as-

  • Trestles
  • Camp Pendleton
  • San Luis Rey River Mouth
  • Agua Hedionda Lagoon
  • Batiquitos Lagoon
  • San Elijo Lagoon/ Cardiff State Beach
  • San Dieguito Lagoon
  • Los Penasquitos Lagoon
  • Fiesta Island
  • Mariner’s Point
  • Bonito Coves
  • South Mission Bay
  • San Diego River Channel
  • North Island
  • Coronado Beach
  • Silver Strand
  • Chula Vista Wildlife Reserve
  • Western Salt Company South San Diego Bay
  • San Diego National Wildlife Reserve, South Bay
  • Tijuana Estuary and Beach

Helpful Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *