Wilson's Plovers

A small brown birds stands on a beach of sand and broken sea shells.
Wilson's plover (Charadrius wilsonia)

NPS Photo

Wilson’s plovers migrate a short distance from southern Florida to breed in the panhandle area at Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Wilson’s Plover are slightly larger than its plover relatives, with moderately long legs, brown back and white underparts with one thick dark band on its chest. Their strong black bill is also a distinguishing feature when comparing Wilson’s plover to other plovers.
These birds can be found along the Florida northwest/gulf coast, then southwest along the Gulf Coast to Mexico. The northwestern population nest along the Gulf of California. They also occur in the Caribbean and can reach as far south as Brazil. The Florida population are thought to be permanent residents.

Wilson’s plover diet usually consists of clams, fiddler crabs, sand hoppers, seeds and marine worms. To catch prey, they typically run a few steps, pause and then run again, plucking at the ground when they spot food. Their prey are also typically are larger than that of their plover relatives which can also aid in correct identification.

They come to Gulf Islands National Seashore to nest either in pairs or loose colonies. In courtship, the male makes multiple nest-scrapes and the female choses one. Nests are extremely hard to see, which wilson's plovers use as a defense mechanism. The shallow scrape on open ground is surrounded by pebbles, shell fragments and other debris allowing the nest to blend in with the rest of the beach. Wilson’s plover eggs are buff, blotched with brown and black.
The biggest threat to Wilson’s plovers is habitat loss. Development in nesting habitats threatens snowy plover breeding. The national seashore closes off areas around nests because interference with the nest can cause adult birds to abandon their nests and leave eggs unprotected from predators. Natural predators of Wilson’s plovers include foxes, snakes, large birds and ghost crabs. Development pushes new predators such as crows and coyotes closer to the nesting habitats of these birds.
If you come across a shorebird nest you should back out of the area, retracing your steps and let a national park ranger or volunteer know. Remain outside of closure areas. Be sure to observe posted speed limits during March-September and watch for birds flying across the road or traveling along the roadway. Many shorebird chicks are difficult to see on the road so be cautious on the roads during their breeding season. Bicyclists, walkers, and joggers are encouraged to be aware of bird behaviors along the roadways near posted nesting areas.

All About Birds. “Wilson’s Plover: Life History.” Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Wilsons_Plover/lifehistory

"Wilson's Plover." Audubon. March 21, 2019. Accessed March 22, 2019. https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/wilsons-plover.

"Wilson's Plover Charadrius Wilsonia." Wilson's Plover - Introduction | Neotropical Birds Online. Accessed March 22, 2019. https://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/Species-Account/nb/species/wilplo/overview.

Last updated: March 5, 2020

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