Snowy Plover species (shorebird) wiped out

POSTED: 06/8/14 11:50 PM

St. Maarten – Research carried out by Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (Epic) shows that a shorebird, the Snowy Plover, Charadrius nivosus, has been wiped out on St. Maarten. The plover was once widespread in the Caribbean but populations have been in decline throughout the region with an overall population estimated at just 2000 pairs. Epic published the results of its research recently in the Journal of Caribbean Ornithology,

The Snowy Plover is a small shorebird that once inhabited the island’s shorelines and ponds feeding on insects and small crustaceans. Snowy Plovers nest on the ground, where they place their camouflaged eggs in a nest that may consist of just a few shell fragments. This strategy served them well throughout history but St. Maarten’s rapid and widespread development in recent decades has proven the downfall of this species, Epic said in a press release.

The research paper, authored by Epic’s Adam Brown, notes that the Snowy Plover was once found throughout St. Maarten and had been documented nesting on many of the ponds that once dotted the island.  “Bird studies through the 20th century on St. Maarten regularly recorded breeding Snowy Plovers. When Epic began its bird surveys in 2001, it appeared the Snowy Plover’s range was already restricted as we only observed plovers on the northeast side of the island. As our studies continued, sightings of breeding plovers became less frequent. Our last recorded sighting of a nesting Snowy Plover was at Saline d ’Orient in 2005,” Brown writes in his study.

Brown also describes the likely causes of the disappearance of the species, including habitat loss due to development of the island’s coastlines as well as the filling in of wetlands for development. Introduced mammals such as rats, mongoose, cats, and dogs are also known to prey upon wildlife, especially ground nesting species such as shorebirds like Snowy Plovers. Their eggs and young chicks are also threatened by recreational use of shorelines, such as off road vehicles, horses, and hikers which can crush them.

Epic has been conducting bird surveys on St. Maarten for over a decade. The Foundation’s bird research on St. Maarten has documented numerous first species records for the island and has tracked population trends of dozens of bird species. Notably, Epic’s work has led to the establishment of a number of internationally recognized Important Bird Areas (IBAs) on St. Maarten.

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