Snowy plover on a sandy beach shore
Snowy Plover The snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus), a near threatened species, at Monterey Bay Aquarium, Caliifornia. © Kiliii Yuyan

Stories in Kansas

Snowy Plover

October Shorebird of the Month

Robert Penner stands with crossed arms, looking to his left and laughing.
Robert Penner Cheyenne Bottoms and Avian Programs Manager, Kansas


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at Cheyenne Bottoms


Little ghosts along the roadside is how I describe the snowy plover. Although they nest in small numbers on Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve, I have the most luck finding them during a rainy day feeding right on the dike roads that transverse the pools of the wildlife area. Since I also call shorebirds diamonds along the water's edge then I guess I have to call these little guys the gems of the roadside.

Fun Facts

Kids grow up so fast: snowy plover chicks leave the nest as early as 3 hours after hatching.

Fly-over country: just a few inland wetlands like Cheyenne Bottoms in Kansas and Utah's Great Salt Lake provide vital resources for snowy plovers that don't migrate along the coasts as well as alternative breeding locations. 

Charcoal drawing of a snowy plover
Snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus) Snowy plover was placed on the United States' State of the Birds Watch List in 2014 due to declining populations and shrinking habitat. © Robert Penner/TNC

Habitat & Range

Snowy plovers (Charadrius nivosus) feed mostly on ground, like the gravel roadsides at Cheyenne Bottoms, not in water. They're rarely found in water more than 1/2 an inch deep. Nests are on dry ground near a source for the insects and larvae they eat. Some live year-round on the eastern coasts of both North and South America and many will winter in the gulfs of California and Mexico. Only a few inland wetlands host snowy plovers for the summer breeding season, and protection of these places with suitable habitat for the declining bird is more important than ever.

Conservation Status

Near threatened. Habitat is declining and populations are decreasing. More than 40% of the snowy plover's breeding population live in just two locations - the Great Salt Lake and Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma.

Cheyenne Bottoms Area Status

Uncommon. Average first of season observation is mid-April when snowy plovers migrate through the Bottoms. A small population usually remains to nest during the summer but the highest count is only 61 from 1981. Fall migration runs begins in early September and snowy plovers can rarely been seen into October.



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Snowy plover and two chicks on a beach
Snowy plover and chicks A banded snowy plover with her chicks seen on Sanibel Island, Florida. © Liz Noffsinger
Robert Penner stands with crossed arms, looking to his left and laughing.

Rob has worked as The Nature Conservancy’s Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve Manager for 22 years, increasing habitat for migrating shorebirds and nesting grassland birds at the world-renowned wetland.

More About Robert Penner, PhD