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Wilson’s Plovers Will Soon Get a Different Name

June 11, 2024
wilson's plover

Last year, the American Ornithological Society announced that all birds named after people will be getting new names more suited to describing the bird. Wilson’s plovers (Anarhynchus wilsonia) are one of seven bird species named after ornithologist Alexander Wilson that will soon bear new names. 

Wilson’s plover range map

This medium-sized shorebird inhabits beaches in the southern U.S. — including Southwest Florida — the Caribbean, and coastal South America. They have black bills and a full brown collar.

“Although a formal name change has not been announced, many suspect the Wilson’s plover will revert back to its former descriptive name, the thick-billed plover,” said SCCF Shorebird Technician Aaron White.

About the Species

Most Wilson’s plovers in Lee County are likely non-migrants, spending their entire lives in this region.

Wilson’s plovers can sometimes be confused with the bigger and louder killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) due to their similar appearance, but there are several distinguishing features. Killdeers possess a double black collar and red eye ring, while Wilson’s plovers have a single breast band. 

Killdeer also do not show significant differences between males and females, while Wilson’s plovers differ in appearance during breeding season, with the males’ breast bands being slightly darker and more prominent. 

In recent years, Wilson’s plovers have ceased nesting on Sanibel but continue to nest and successfully fledge young at nearby sites such as Fort Myers Beach and Bunche Beach, said SCCF Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht.

“We can’t say for sure why they’ve stopped nesting on the island, but it may have to do with the habitat they use changing frequently during storms, or perhaps increased pressure from predators,” Albrecht said.

Wilson’s Plover Nesting

Wilson’s plover nesting season in Florida is officially April 15 through Aug. 31, though nests are often found sooner. These plovers normally nest in dry, sandy, and shelly areas, where males dig out multiple nest bowls (known as scrapes) for females to choose from. 

“Although they nest in dry sand, they’re often found near mudflats, which provide great food sources — especially fiddler crabs — for themselves and their future chicks,” White said. 

Wilson’s plovers typically lay three eggs, but clutch size can vary from two to four eggs. The SCCF shorebird team discovered a four-egg nest earlier this year! 

Incubation of the nest is performed by both parents for 23 to 25 days. Usually, the female incubates the eggs during the day, and the male incubates at night. 

Wilson's plover chick
A Wilson’s plover chick

“Wilson’s plovers chicks are precocial, meaning they develop quickly and are on their feet and foraging for themselves within a few hours of hatching — though they still rely on their parents for protection and warmth,” White said. 

Threats to Wilson’s Plovers

Like many species, both feathered and furred, habitat loss poses the biggest threat to Wilson’s plovers. Globally, Wilson’s plover populations are declining, and the species is listed as threatened or endangered in some states, but not Florida. 

Last year, Audubon Florida petitioned the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission to designate the Wilson’s plover as a state-designated threatened species

Plovers and their nests are small and well camouflaged, so humans can have a major impact on the survival of their eggs and chicks without even realizing it.

Help Protect Wilson’s Plovers & Other Beach-Nesting Birds

  • Obey signs at posted nesting areas
  • Keep your dog on a controlled leash
  • Observe birds from an appropriate distance
  • Properly dispose of trash and fishing materials
  • Advocate for the protection of coastal habitats 


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