If you didn’t know to look, you might not notice the diminuitive Wilson’s plovers nesting on South Carolina beaches.
These little guys are falling victim to a process known as “coastal squeeze”, where development pressures and rising seas have narrowed the availability for suitable nesting habitat. Unlike the piping plover, who visits us during migration, the Wilson’s Plover actually nests right here.
You have to be Paying Attention to Notice Them: Usually
Wilson’s Plovers are easy to miss on the beach~ they don’t want you to see them, so they may stay very still. Their nesting strategy is to hide the eggs in a mix of sand and shell, right on the sand where they blend right in. Their cryptic background also helps them blend in.
But Sometimes they TRY to get your attention
If there’s a Wilson’s Plover that doesn’t want you to notice eggs or chicks, they’ll stand atop a high ridge, sometimes peeping for your attention. They have a sharp peep and a rattly rasp that means “step back” to me, although they might be telling youngsters to freeze.
Eggs are Laid Right on the Sand
While these plovers don’t really build nests, I did see one bird rearranging the shells to create a border around a small depression right on the beach. The eggs are sometimes right out in the open and sometimes tucked into bits of vegetation.
Eggs and Chicks can Cook in Minutes in the Hot Sun
In the photo below, the mother is alert but shading her eggs from the hot sun. It’s really important that people don’t cause these little mamas to fly off, because the eggs can literally cook in the hot sand and sun in just a few minutes. In addition, the bird doesn’t recognize a dog leash as a safety mechanism, so they perceive all dogs as predators and take off, leaving the eggs exposed.
Expert fakers of Injury
Like many plovers, Wilson’s Plovers will try to get your attention by faking an injury or broken wing. One observer saw such an enthusiastic demonstration she described it as a feathered tumbleweed. When the bird does this, they want you to focus on them, and not their nest. SO, you want to stop and back away carefully.
Chicks are Precocious and Cryptic
The chicks can run and pick food off the ground within hours of hatching, unlike other birds which are born without feathers and dependent on adults. In addition, they are colored in ways to help them blend in with their surroundings. Can you find the chick in the below photo?
This sibling is easier to see because of the grass behind it.
Parents watch over chicks for a while, and you might even miss these little puffballs on the beach. Again, if you see a chick, you might want to freeze and watch your feet. They will also freeze as a camouflage mechanism, so keep an eye on the ground when you’re walking.
Shorebird Stewards help Educate the Beachgoing Public
Audubon South Carolina has a neat program which enlists volunteers to hang out on the beach with photos, scopes, and information to teach beachgoers how to limit their impact on habitat and behavior, called Shorebird Stewards.
They’ll provide training and supplies, and you’ll learn so much from the experience. Contact Nolan Schillerstrom or Allyssa Zebrowski.