Snowy plovers are small pale shorebirds that run along white beaches or on the beds of salt lakes. They have a short black beak, snowy white bellies, and grey legs. During the breeding season, males have black ear patches, black crown, and a black neck collar; in females, these are dark in color rather than black.
Snowy plovers breed in the southern and western United States, Central America, western South America, and the Caribbean. Populations that breed in warmer countries are largely sedentary, but northern and inland populations are migratory, wintering south to the tropics. These birds are found along sandy coasts, estuaries, lagoons, brackish inland lakes, open mudflats, reservoirs, and ponds.
Snowy plovers live along white beaches. When they move inland they do not travel very far in order to stay in the correct climate and they are able to easily move back to the coast. They hunt by a run-and-pause technique and consume many different small crustaceans that wash up on the sandy beach. While inland, they look to consume mainly insects. Snowy plovers have an acute sense of sight and they are intelligent, whenever they see something that could be edible they pick it up and move the creature across the sand; they do this in order to startle the creature into moving which assures the plovers that what they caught is edible. These small birds are most active during cool early mornings and the rest of the day they spend resting. Snowy plovers are social and sometimes may form flocks of up to 300 individuals. During the breeding season, they often gather at small ponds to bathe, drink and feed together.
Snowy plovers have a polyandrous mating system where females mate with more than one male during one breeding season. They nest in a ground scrape and line it with shell fragments, some vegetation, or pebbles. The female lays 3 to 5 eggs and both parents incubate them for 26-32 days. The chicks are precocial and leave the nest soon after hatching. Parents lead them to a suitable feeding area where the young feed themselves. In some areas, the female leaves her brood a few days after hatching and the male raises the young, while she finds a new mate to produce a new clutch. Young Snowy plovers remain dependent on their parents until they can fly; this usually occurs at the age of 28 to 32 days.
The major threat to Snowy plovers is human disturbances. In many parts of their range, it has become difficult for these small shorebirds to breed on beaches because of disturbance from the activities of humans or their animals. Snowy plovers also suffer from the loss of their wetland habitats, pollution, changes in climate, and predation.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Snowy plover is around 36,000-38,000 individuals, roughly equating to 25,000-26,000 mature individuals. Specific populations have been estimated in such areas: the North American population - 25,869 individuals; in western South America - 8,000-10,000 individuals; on the Gulf Coast, Bahamas, and Caribbean - around 2,500 individuals. Overall, currently, Snowy plovers are classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red LIst and its numbers today are decreasing.