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How to identify Snowy Plover

Identify Snowy Plover
Snowy Plover, breeding adult male. April in Galveston County, Texas. Photo by Brian E. Small

The plover family includes at least two dozen species around the world that are small with a single black ring, partial or complete, from the sides of the neck across the chest. Most have brown backs — the color of wet mud — but a few are much paler, the color of dry sand. North America has two species of small, pale-backed plovers of this group. The Piping Plover gets the most attention because it’s an endangered species found close to major centers of human population. The Snowy Plover, a more widespread bird, is more often ignored.

Indeed, the Snowy Plover is easy to overlook. It’s the smallest plover in North America (half the bulk of an American Robin) and one of the plainest. Adult males in breeding plumage show a black bar across the forehead, dusky cheeks, and a black mark at each side of the neck; these marks are less distinct on adult females and lacking on juveniles and winter birds. Snowy Plovers are also inconspicuous because they tend to stand motionless, or to move slowly and hesitantly, when humans are nearby. Their pale, drab color blends well with their usual surroundings. Their callnotes are mostly soft, and the birds often remain silent.

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Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman is an expert birder and naturalist, a talented artist and photographer, a world traveler, and the author of many books about birds and other wildlife. His column “ID Tips” appears in every issue of BirdWatching. Kenn is also a field editor for Audubon Magazine and a contributor to Birds and Blooms. His work first appeared in Birder’s World (now BirdWatching) in April 1988. Visit his website, Kaufman Field Guides.

Kenn Kaufman on social media

Brian E. Small

Brian E. Small

Brian Small is a Los Angeles-based bird and nature photographer whose photos appear in the “ID Tips” column in every issue of BirdWatching. His work has been published in Time, The New York Times, Audubon, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation, and many other publications. His photos also illustrate many field guides, including Kenn Kaufman’s Birds of North America, a series of state bird identification guides published with the American Birding Association, and his own Eastern and Western photographic field guides to the birds of North America published in 2009 with author Paul Sterry and Princeton University Press.

Brian E. Small on social media