Conservation of rare populations requires managing habitat throughout the year, especially during winter when northern populations may be limited by food and predation. Consequently, we examined distribution of nonbreeding western snowy plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus), including individually marked birds that were year-round residents and others that were migrants, in coastal northern California. Over 2 years, banded plovers exhibited high site faithfulness, occupying small linear stretches of beach (752 ± 626 m). Sites occupied by plovers had more brown algae (e.g., Macrocystis, Nereocystis, Postelsia, and Fucus) and associated invertebrates (e.g., amphipods, and flies), were wider, and had less vegetation than unoccupied sites. Our findings suggest that wintering plovers select habitats with more food and where they could more easily detect predators. Maintaining habitat with attributes that support abundant food (i.e., brown algae) and reduce predation risk (i.e., wide beaches, limited obstructive cover) may be important to individual survival and maintaining the Pacific Coast population of snowy plovers. Protecting occupied sites from human disturbance, which adversely alters nonbreeding habitat (i.e., beach grooming) and directly causes mortality, may be essential for conserving the Pacific coast population of the snowy plover, and it may benefit other shorebirds.
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Vol. 75 • No. 4