SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The number of Western snowy plover in its overwintering grounds in San Francisco has quadrupled this year but experts say the increase doesn’t mean the snowy plover population is growing.
The average count at the bird’s overwintering ground in Crissy Field Wildlife Protection Area and Ocean Beach is usually between 20 and 30 birds but this January as many as 104 plovers were counted in a single day, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Saturday.
“They had a really good reproductive year which far exceeded previous years. This is really unusual, and it’s very exciting,” said Dan Murphy, a hobby birder who has been following the species for nearly 30 years.
The population has remained steady with about 2,100 white-breasted shorebirds living in the West Coast, said Andrea Jones, director of bird conservation for Audubon California.
“The population hasn’t been increasing or decreasing as a general trend,” Jones said. “That is both good and bad. There is a ton that goes into protecting these birds in their nesting habitats. At the same time, the population isn’t getting to where it needs to be.”
The 6-inch shorebird with dark patches on its back — with 85 percent in California, and some in Oregon and Washington — remains threatened by habitat loss, predation and human population growth, experts said.
It has been tough for the species to recover because the snowy plover breeds and overwinters in different places, said Cindy Margulis, executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society. The birds breed in coastal dune habitats in areas like Monterey and the Point Reyes National Seashore, and then rest in San Francisco during July through April.
“It’s amazing to be able to see a whole flock of a threatened species, nearly 6 percent of the entire population of this species, in one area on the edge of a major city. But it’s a reminder of how precarious their existence is,” she said.