Coastal Conservation

Where's Wilson?

by Anne Mauro, Audubon Florida Panhandle Research Technician

(See News Flash Update at bottom!)

The Wilson’s plover is a medium-sized shorebird that nests along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts in the U.S. Similar to the piping and snowy plover, these plovers nest on beach habitat, making a small scrape in the sand. They may nest in the open beach, under vegetation, or among rocks or shells. Wilson’s plovers lay two or three light brown, speckled eggs that are camouflaged with their environment. The plovers incubate the eggs for about 30 days. After the 30 days, tiny, fluffy, downy chicks hatch from the egg shell. Since plover chicks are precocial, or well-developed at hatching, they almost immediately start feeding themselves after hatching. The Wilson’s plover chicks stay near their parents for about 28 days until they can fly. After the breeding season, they travel south to peninsular Florida, Caribbean islands, and coastal Central and South America.

While biologists have a general idea about their overwintering areas, there are still many unknowns about their life history. Exactly where in the Caribbean do these birds overwinter? Is there a hotspot for Wilson’s plovers in the Everglades? These questions have yet to be answered, but banding research methods may shed light on these important questions. Biologists can identify individual birds with the use of unique combinations of colored leg bands. Thanks to this method, biologists can keep track of a new addition to the Wilson’s plover population in Florida, G(4F):S//GW (read from left to right leg: Green band with alpha-numeric code: Metal Service band, Green band, White band).

Banded as a chick, the bird hatched from a nest well-hidden in morning glory plants at St. George Island State Park on May 17, 2017. With careful observation from a safe distance, biologists observed this bird growing up on the shores of Apalachicola Bay. After weeks of learning foraging skills and predator avoidance, the chick grew old enough to fly. On June 22, 2017, the plover was observed flying a short distance over the bay and in the first week of July, the bird was seen foraging at an ephemeral pool with a flock of snowy plovers, sanderlings, and black skimmers.

Now that G:S//GW is fledged, we are back to the big question; where will this bird travel to in the winter? Will it be observed in the Bahamas or Everglades? Luckily, you can help! If you ever spot a Wilson’s plover while taking a stroll on the beach, stop and look at its legs. If you see a banded bird, record the date, location, and band combination and report it to USGS Bird Banding Laboratory at: .

If you see a banded bird in the state of Florida, you can report the sighting to the Facebook group; Florida Banded Bird Resightings. It’s a simple step that helps biologists with shorebird conservation. By reporting banded birds, you can help biologists learn about individual bird movement, survivability, population estimates, and individual nest success. Your report is very valuable to the scientific community.

Winter and migration can be challenging for Wilson’s plovers and other shorebird species. They face many threats including raptors, off-leash dogs, and habitat loss due to human development and climate change. When visiting a beach, remember to observe the birds from a safe distance and do not flush foraging or resting birds. If a bird reacts to your presence, you are too close. Also, remember to keep pets on leashes, clean up trash and fishing line, and refrain from feeding wildlife. Following these guidelines will help the elusive Wilson’s plover and other shorebirds survive.

NEW FLASH: On August 23rd, Danny Sauvageau photographed G(4F):S//GW on Anclote Key, about 200 miles southeast of St. George Island State Park. The bird was with 52 Wilson's plovers and other migratory shorebirds. Will "Wilson" spend the winter around Anclote Key or move farther south and be noticed by other observers? Stay tuned...

How you can help, right now