Snowy Plovers Continue to Winter in Alameda

Tom Bennett, Golden Gate Audubon Volunteer    A snowy plover nestles in a sand depression on Alameda’s Crown Memorial State Beach.

It’s easy to miss the cryptic-colored snowy plovers on Crown Beach, even if you’re intent on finding them. They’re small enough to fit in the palm of the hand, and their pale tan backs and snowy white bellies blend in perfectly with the sand. 

To many Alamedans’ delight, this threatened shorebird continues to take up winter residence at Crown Memorial State Beach. 

Plover history at Crown Beach
Six years ago, a team of winter shorebird surveyors discovered 17 plovers nestled in the sand at Crown Beach. Each year since, the team has observed plovers in gradually increasing numbers at the original Shore Line Drive and Harbor Light Road location. In 2019, the winter shorebird team recorded a high of 37 birds at this same site. 

Plover behavior
For six years now, the birds have arrived at Crown Beach in September at the end of their breeding season. They depart early spring, to build their nests in more secluded sandy areas like Point Reyes and Half Moon and Monterey Bays. 

Scientists believe this is good breeding strategy because the increased human activity at Crown Beach in spring and summer would disturb the nesting plovers, potentially causing them to abandon their nests, eggs and hatchlings. 

If visiting a coastal nesting area, here are some interesting facts. A plover nest is not a typical bird nest built with sticks and mud, but instead is a small scratching in the sand, where usually three, speckled eggs are laid. Newly hatched plovers look like tiny cotton balls with toothpick-sized legs. After the eggs hatch, dad plover takes over the responsibility of raising the chicks until the fledglings leave the nest, while mom plover heads off to find another mate. 

Spotting plovers on Crown Beach
Each fall, the East Bay Regional Park District sets up a roped-off area (or symbolic fencing) around the plovers. This establishes a protected area for the birds. Accessibility to this area creates a great plover viewing opportunity. Look for the birds inside or near the roped-off area. When walking by the water, look for plovers running between the surf and high tide line, searching for their favorite food — small sand flies. 

Showing respect for wildlife
Plovers do not seem bothered by visitors who maintain their distance. As with all wildlife, treat the plovers with respect and relish the fact that they continue to use Crown Beach for their overwintering site. Although the plovers can be found in or near the symbolic-fence area, use binoculars to get a closeup view of the plovers and other shorebirds. 

Plover courtesy
A few courtesies to remember while viewing the plovers: 

  • Respect their habitat and do not enter the symbolic-fenced area.
  • Do not bring dogs on the beach as they can be a nuisance to the plovers. 
  • Dispose of trash properly as garbage attracts plover predators.
  • Share your appreciation and knowledge of the threatened plovers with others.
  • Report any disturbances to the plover colony by calling EBRPD at 881-1121.

Thanks to all Alamedans for respecting the birds’ protected area and not bringing dogs on the beach. Thanks also to East Bay Regional Park District for providing a protected beach habitat where plovers return each year. With proper stewardship, the snowy plover population has the best opportunity to flourish at Crown Beach. 

Diane Bennett is a Golden Gate Audubon Society board member and volunteer.