I have seen dozens of Snowy Plovers and other shorebirds along the Emerald Coast of Florida, but until last week I had never seen their chicks! Nesting season has been underway for weeks here, and I was becoming worried I would never catch a glimpse of their tiny forms.
Luckily, I met with wildlife staff from Eglin Air Force Base as part of my job, and they agreed to take me on one of their nest surveys. Early Friday morning, I met them at the gate leading to the military-only area of Okaloosa Island.
Unsurprisingly, this area is more pristine than many others along the coast. For the most part it remains undeveloped, with rolling dunes, long beaches, and green marshes. My two guides had marked the Snowy Plover nests before, and we made a bee-line for them.
Snowy Plover Chick
It is important to note that I would never have approached the nest without the wildlife staff, as doing so inevitably bothers the parents. When we arrived at the first nest, they immediately commenced with their broken-wing display. Peeping and dragging one or both wings along the sand, they definitely attracted attention. If we had been predators, their actions would have (hopefully) led us away from the nest, keeping their eggs and chicks safe.
We were in luck – a chick had just hatched. So recently in fact, that its feathers were still wet! Next to it lay an egg, the baby inside fervently pecking and tapping until it too could break the shell and emerge onto the dunes. So far so good for these parents. Unfortunately, my guides no longer band chicks on Okaloosa Island, and there is no way of knowing if these two survive past hatching. Still, it’s a good sign that the parents successfully protected them through this stage, and I cross my fingers that they’ll both make it to adulthood.
Killdeer Standing Over its Nest
Snowy Plovers aren’t the only birds nesting on the dunes. In another area – near an abandoned military building – a pair of Killdeer had nested next to the remnants of a dirt road. Like the plovers before them, one Killdeer parent acted out a convincing broken-wing display, while the other remained over her eggs, screeching at us loudly. There was no need for us to push her off her nest, so we merely marveled at both her protective instincts and the collection of mottled eggs below her. While not as adorable as chicks, I still love to see bird eggs!