Audubon Florida has officially petitioned the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to list the Wilson’s Plover as a state-designated Threatened species under Florida’s Imperiled Species Rule (68A-27.0012, Florida Administrative Code). If additional protective action is not taken, this coastal bird species could disappear from Florida’s shorelines forever.
With an estimated population of fewer than 1,000 Florida birds, informed by Audubon science and that of the FWC’s own researchers, Wilson’s Plovers and their habitats need the additional protections afforded to state-designated Threatened Species. Audubon’s petition asserts that they exceed the criteria for Threatened status due to their small and declining population size combined with the increasing vulnerability of their habitat to development, disturbance, and sea level rise.
Designating the Wilson's Plover as state-Threatened would confer additional protections on the birds, their eggs, nests, and habitat. Activities that harm Wilson's Plovers or degrade their habitat would require an Incidental Take Permit from the FWC, which in turn requires that the permit applicant minimize and mitigate for any harm and harassment they cause.
“This would be a critical step in halting declines of the Wilson’s Plover,” said Audrey DeRose-Wilson, Director of Bird Conservation at Audubon Florida. “Listing the Wilson’s Plover as Threatened will extend urgently needed protections to this vulnerable species and its coastal habitat.”
Wilson’s Plovers are shorebirds, dependent upon natural coastal habitat to find food and raise their families. They are the length of a human hand, weigh about two ounces, and primarily feed on fiddler crabs.
In 2012, a North American population assessment estimated 8,000-8,600 breeding Wilson’s Plovers with approximately 6,400 individuals on the U.S. Gulf Coast and another 2,200 on the U.S. Atlantic Coast. In Florida, more recent efforts by the FWC using statewide data collected by the Florida Shorebird Alliance estimated only 917 breeding adults remaining in 2021.
This population decline is driven by habitat loss and disturbance. Coastal development and sea level rise continue to dramatically reduce the extent of the beach and marsh habitat this species requires to survive. Disturbance by recreational beachgoers flushes adults from their nests, where unsheltered eggs can cook quickly in the intense Florida sun and chicks are vulnerable to opportunistic predators like crows and gulls.
Audubon Florida works to protect the Wilson’s Plover through boots-on-the-ground monitoring and protection—especially during nesting season—as well as through continued advocacy for conservation of Florida’s natural places. Audubon’s coastal biologists and volunteers actively works at 300+ sites across Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts to create a more resilient future not only for Wilson’s Plovers, but for other state-listed species, including the Least Tern, Black Skimmer, Snowy Plover, and American Oystercatcher.
“Threatened status is a high bar, but the data are clear: Wilson’s Plovers are in trouble in Florida,” said Julie Wraithmell, Executive Director of Audubon Florida. “With the common sense protections of Threatened status, we will have a better chance of ensuring this part of Florida’s natural heritage has a place in Florida’s future.”