Injured Snowy Plover Cared for at Aquarium

Snowy Plover

plover in handAt Tahkenitch Creek, south of Florence, OR, a Western snowy plover was released this morning after a brief convalescence at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. The adult female shorebird had been entangled in thread-like beach debris, likely of human-origin; two toes on her right foot were lifeless and amputated to prevent infection or additional injury.

Daniel Farrar and Adam Kotaich, two shorebird monitors with Oregon Biodiversity Information Center, noticed the injured plover—a federally threatened species—on Monday, July 25 at Tahkenitch Creek and contacted U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to coordinate the bird’s capture and rehabilitation. The bird was taken to the Aquarium that afternoon, and staff veterinarians from Animal Medical Care of Newport, OR, provided treatment. The bird remained under the care of aviculturist staff at the Aquarium until its release.

“Despite losing two of her three right toes to issues stemming from entanglement, she will likely return to plover life as usual, based on numerous observations and reports of other wild plovers with similar foot disabilities,” said Daniel Elbert, USFWS biologist at the Newport field office. “If she hadn’t been captured and treated, it’s possible she could’ve lost her entire foot, or worse.”

Aquarium staff monitored the bird’s condition since its arrival Monday, ensuring that it ate properly and received antibiotics for its foot. The Aquarium’s Director of Animal Husbandry, Jim Burke, even went so far as to procure live sand fleas and juvenile mole crabs from the beach to supplement the plover’s diet. “Going through rehabilitation and having toes amputated is very stressful, so we wanted to provide the plover with as much creature-comforts as we could: prey it naturally eats in the wild, and plenty of it,” he said.

A second veterinary check-up Wednesday morning confirmed that the plover was in good health and fit for Friday’s release. Weighing in at 36 grams—about as much as eight Hershey’s Kisses—and measuring about six inches from bill to tail, she is an average-sized representative of her species. “Snowy plovers spend a lot of time on their feet, and unfortunately they are susceptible to foot-entanglement issues,” said Elbert. “It highlights the importance of keeping Oregon’s beaches clear of human-made debris, for the safety of wildlife that shares these places with us.”
The Western snowy plover is a native shorebird that lives year-round on sandy beaches along the Pacific coast. Recent counts indicate about 450 adult birds are in Oregon, a substantial increase from the record-low 28 birds in 1992. The main reason for their decline was loss of habitat, excessive predation and human-related disturbance, Elbert said.

Snowy plovers need flat, continuous areas of sand with no grass that are relatively undisturbed by humans, pets, vehicles and human-attracted predators. These shorebirds once inhabited Oregon’s beaches up and down the coastline, but development and introduced beach grass have destroyed much of their habitat and allowed predator numbers to rise. Recovery efforts since the 1990’s have dramatically increased the plover population in Oregon, with current levels near recovery goals in Oregon and Washington.

Several Western snowy plovers have been rehabilitated at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in years past. The facility relies on visitor-related revenues, grants, and donations to finance its annual operations, including its wildlife rehabilitation activities. Additional funding for these projects comes directly out of the money budgeted for the care of the Aquarium’s 15,000 marine animals, and from limited federal endangered-species-recovery funds when available. To help support the Aquarium’s rehabilitation efforts, please call (541) 867-4931.

Information and photo provided by Oregon Coast Aquarium