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Is It a Rock? No, It's a Bird!
June 2008 | by Ed Mirsky


A plover rests in a cup of sand.
Windswept shore.
The first breath of life.

Have you ever seen a rock scamper across the beach sand? I have! Have you ever seen a small bird move hesitantly, then squat down seemingly turning itself into a rock? I have! If you want to see such things, look across the sand and beach rocks above the high-tide line, and you too will see this happen. For this is the realm of the Snowy Plover. A diminutive bird of sand and shore.

And during the breeding season there are other sights to behold. You may see wind-blown sand sweep across the beach and over the head and back of a female Snowy Plover (let's call her Snowy) crouching in a shallow depression sculptured in the sand. Snowy's eyes are almost closed; her head is held low. She remains motionless, cryptic, frozen in stillness, her pale sandy-beige plumage making her nearly invisible. It's early March, and she is keeping three to six eggs warm against the skin of her belly. They are probably mostly her eggs, though some may be eggs of one of her neighbors who may have stolen into her nest when she wasn't looking. The eggs will hatch in a few days and the precocial chicks will move hesitantly on the sand, giving the impression of pebbles rolling free until they bump up against a small stone or a mound of beach kelp.

Snowy walked out on her mate after the eggs hatched, leaving him to raise the kids (sorry chicks). He will remain faithful to his chicks protecting them from potential predators by employing an innate broken-wing or a tail-drag display to lead them away from the chicks. And although he will not feed the chicks, he will lead them to suitable feeding areas. Within a month the young will be able to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, after leaving her ex to raise the young-uns, Snowy has taken up with a new beau and is raising another family just down the beach. But rumor has it that not all of the eggs in her nest are hers, but rather those of another female who caught the fancy of her new beau. After all, serial polyandry is common in Southern California , even among demure little beach birds.



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