SANTA MONICA—On Monday, May 8, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that the rare, threatened western snowy plover has been discovered nesting on Los Angeles County beaches, for the first time in 68 years. Though western snowy plovers have been known to roost on Los Angeles County beaches in the winter, the last active nest in the area was documented at Manhattan Beach in 1949.
The first nest was found on Santa Monica State Beach on April 18. Another nest was discovered on Dockweiler State Beach on April 27, and two more were spotted on Malibu Lagoon State Beach on April 28 and May 4, by staff of the Los Angeles Audubon Society and the Bay Foundation.
“This is a sign that, against all odds, western snowy plovers are making a comeback, and we really need the cooperation of beachgoers to help give them the space they need to nest and raise their young,” said Chris Dellith, Senior Fish and Wildlife Biologist with the USFWS Ventura office, in a statement. “I’m hopeful that we can find a balance between beach recreation and habitat restoration, which will allow humans and shorebirds like the western snowy plover to peacefully exist along our coastline.”
Following the discoveries, Wildlife Service biologists placed wire cages around each nest to protect them from disturbances. The nest at Santa Monica State Beach was lost to high winds, and one of the nests at Malibu Lagoon State Beach was lost for unknown reasons. Two viable nests remain.
Western snowy plovers are about 6 inches long and weigh up to 2 ounces, with short necks, moderately long legs, tan backs, and paler undersides. The Pacific Coast population is reported to extend from Baja California, Mexico, to Washington, according to the USFWS. The breeding and nesting season lasts from March to September, during which they lay their eggs in depressions on the beach.
In 1993, the western snowy plover was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). At the time, the California population was estimated at about 1,300 adults. The population had increased to about 1,800 adults in 2016. Local and statewide agencies, including Santa Monica Bay Audubon, the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors, and California State Parks, have long been part of a conservancy effort to protect the plovers, according to the USFWS report.
The USFWS asks for the public’s cooperation in respecting the nesting areas at Malibu and Dockweiler State Beaches and ensuring the eggs’ safety. Beachgoers are reminded to keep dogs and unauthorized vehicles away from the nests. For further guidelines, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service here.