Rehabbed Snowy Plovers Are Released

August 25, 2006

The rare birds recently hatched at the Oregon Coast Aquarium

Two Western Snowy Plovers that hatched at the Oregon Coast Aquarium last June were released this week by US Fish & Wildlife biologists. The rare birds were released where their eggs were originally abandoned; one near Willapa Bay in Washington and another near Florence in Oregon. The abandoned eggs were hatched and the chicks were reared in the Aquarium’s new Western Snowy Plover Exhibit. A second pair of eggs that hatched plover chicks after being abandoned will also be released after they have matured sufficiently. The new Western Snowy Plover Exhibit doubles as a rehabilitation facility for abandoned eggs or rescued birds. The resident adult plovers in the exhibit parent the chicks and socialize them which enables aviculturists to release the birds back into the wild.

One of the birds was found as a hatchling north of Florence. When it was found, one of its siblings was dead and there were no adults present. It appeared to have been a predation event. “Before we released it, we color banded it so it could be identified in the future,” said biologist David Lauten, Oregon State University Faculty Research Assistant and the Oregon Natural Heritage Information Center. “This is not the first one we’ve done, but it’s always good to see a bird make it to fledging and get released,” said Lauten.

The Western Snowy Plover is a native shore bird that lives on the beach year-round. Recent counts indicate that only a total of about 150-200 birds remain on the entire coast of Oregon. The main reason for their declining population is loss of habitat. Snowy plovers need flat continuous areas of sand with no grass. They used to inhabit Oregon’s beaches up and down the coastline, but developments and introduced European beach grass have destroyed much of their habitat.

The Aquarium’s new Western Snowy Plover Exhibit was designed and constructed in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Western Snowy Plover Working Team. The exhibit will inform the public about the threats facing the Western Snowy Plover in Oregon and throughout the range and provide the opportunity for the public to observe Snowy Plovers in a natural setting.

Aquarium Director of Animal Husbandry Jim Burke said the snowy plover exhibit and care has been challenging. “However, we did not do this alone.” Burke credited scientists at both ODFW and USFWS. “This interagency cooperation provided assistance both scientifically and financially and will benefit the Aquarium for years to come. Excellence in conservation is something we talk about a lot and strive for, and this is a great example of it.”

The Aquarium’s Curator of Birds, Karen Anderson, says she hopes the exhibit will introduce people to this remarkable bird and show how we can restore their dwindling population. “The birds do well when we give them a little room—they’re actually very hardy,” says Anderson, who has been involved in the rescue and rehabilitation of several other Snowy Plovers in the past few years. In 2002 a rescued hatchling was raised and returned to Bandon where it was later seen nesting. In 2004 two adult birds were brought in with leg injuries. They both needed amputation of a leg, and both recovered and began bearing weight on the remaining limb immediately. They made amazingly quick recoveries and were released back into the wild, and one has since been seen tending a nest. In August 2004, the Aquarium cared for two abandoned hatchlings rescued from Ledbetter Point in Washington. They were also released back into the wild. These are success stories that Anderson cites as the impetus for an on-going project to rescue and rehabilitate snowy plovers at the aquarium and the new Western Snowy Plover exhibit. The exhibit is located in a sunny spot and is enclosed by a mesh that contains the birds, yet allows visitors to see them.