It’s Courtship Season for the Snowy Plover

by Cara Gates, Coastal Community Science Biologist

Avian courtship is a fascinating ritual that varies wildly by species and can involve elaborate dancing, wing displays, construction projects, and all sorts of vocalizations. Early spring is courtship season for the Western Snowy Plover on Oregon’s sandy beaches. While some individuals are year-round residents, others migrate short distances from elsewhere on the West Coast to nest in Oregon. Western Snowy Plovers are generally faithful to their nesting sites, especially where they have been previously successful.

After the birds arrive on their nesting beaches in late winter and early spring, they start to pair up, with either a new partner or a previous mate. To woo a female, a male performs a bowing display while flashing the white of his tail, or he may crouch in a horizontal posture. He also utters sweet, trilling purrt calls and rising, whistled tur-wheit calls to beckon a potential mate.

In this species, males are the nest builders, and females are the nest choosers. A male builds several nest scrapes, simple depressions in the sand made by lying on his breast and kicking back sand with his feet. He waits eagerly while she steps into the scrape, checks it out, and scrapes it a bit herself. If he impresses her, copulation will follow, and the first egg arrives not long after.

If you visit Western Snowy Plover nesting beaches in early spring, you may be lucky enough to witness this captivating behavior. Remember to give the birds plenty of space, and respect the recreation restrictions by staying on the wet sand in Snowy Plover Management Areas from March 15 to September 15.