We recognize that it’s important to save all kinds of species from extinction, but come on. Doesn’t it help when they’re adorable? Scientists have found out information that might allow them to help an incredibly cute bird that you’ll actually care about.
Look at this bird. It looks like someone gave a pebble a fur coat and the ability to love. This is a recently-hatched snowy plover. Even the name is cute. It sounds like it should be the name of a quirky librarian at Hogwarts. This bird does everything adorably. It lives all the way down the west coast of North and South America, and everywhere it lives, it’s crushingly adorable. Obviously, it’s a ridiculously fluffy, sandy-looking chick, but check out how it is when it grows up.
Look how it walks! Look how round its body is! The bird looks like a tennis ball that’s late for an appointment. Run, little guy!
Even the snowy plover’s nests are cute. Check this picturesque little scene.
They lay their eggs right in the sand, which is why the snowy plover population took a dive. As more and more people came to the beach, the plovers were pushed out and their eggs were smashed. To help the populations recover rangers and scientists roped off areas of beaches. They soon realized that they needed volunteers to watch over the roped-off sections of beach, since people, being assholes, would often decide that they needed to picnic and play touch football on exactly the section they were asked not to come into.
Still, the snowy plover remained a threatened species, and because of a long-term population study, scientists think they might know why. Although plovers in all areas reproduced, about 13% of the population produced half the offspring. The main problem was that picturesque nest. It’s on sand. And while sand is nice and soft, it doesn’t provide the camouflage for the exposed eggs and offspring that gravel does. Researchers found that snowy plovers which laid their eggs on gravel were much more successful in terms of hiding their eggs and their chicks from predators like shore birds and rodents.
That might be good news. No one is clamoring to picnic or play around on gravel, so increasing the amount gravel available for plovers might help them recover better than increasing the more human-friendly sand.
[Source: Lifetime Reproductive Success of Snowy Plovers in Coastal Northern California]