Red fox makes orphans of endangered snowy plover chicks

Red fox makes orphans of endangered snowy plover chicks
Three snowy plover chicks are in good health after hatching. The chicks are being cared for at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport and will be released after they fledge, in about 28 days. Photo by Cindy Hanson, Oregon Coast Aquarium

NEWPORT, Ore. - Three abandoned Western snowy plover chicks are receiving care at the Oregon Coast Aquarium this week after their parents were killed by a red fox at Bandon State Natural Area. 

The birds, currently listed as threatened under the Oregon Endangered Species Act, were found by snowy plover monitors from Institute for Natural Resources, Portland State University. 

One had already hatched, one hatched en route to the Aquarium and the third chick hatched shortly after arriving at the Aquarium. Biologists deducted it was a red fox because it left tracks and the dead parents were found nearby.

The snowy plover is a native shore bird that lives on the beach year-round. Recent counts indicate that about 247-253 birds currently survive in Oregon, an increase from a record low of 28 birds in 1992. The main reason for their declining population is loss of habitat.

Snowy plovers need flat continuous areas of sand with no grass. They used to inhabit Oregon’s beaches up and down the coastline, but developments and beach grass have destroyed much of their habitat. 

Biologists hope to add vital information on how to restore plover populations, according to Laura Todd, Field Supervisor, Newport Field Office of US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS). 

“We lost two adults in this incident and hope to keep these chicks in the population. Ultimately, we hope to learn more about how to care for plover chicks. The partnerships that form from these efforts help to conserve the species over the long term,” said Todd.

“Our goal at the Aquarium is to release the birds in 28 days after they have fledged,” said CJ McCarty, Aquarium Curator of Birds. “The Service will release them in same area they were found.” McCarty said she believed they have a good chance of surviving because they have a lot of instincts and were chasing crickets and eating worms shortly after being hatched. “We’ll make a point to limit interaction with them so they don’t become habituated to humans.”

McCarty said the Aquarium has been a part of the plover recovery program and this is the first time in five years they have been called upon to assist with plover chicks.  “We can also provide public education about the plovers by interpreting the process.”

The plovers are the second animal rescue in the past week for the Aquarium and the Service. It is also currently rehabilitating a male Green sea turtle found stranded at Moolack Beach in Newport. “The Aquarium and its staff try to be good stewards of our ‘back yard,’ the Oregon Coast.,” said Jim Burke, Aquarium Director of Animal Husbandry. “We play a specialized role and aid the federal agencies in protecting populations of endangered and threatened species.  When asked, we utilize our expertise to the best of our ability to help rehabilitate with the goal of reintroduction of these animals. “