Snowy plover chicks are about the size of a person's thumb when they hatch. | Credit: Chuck Graham

For the first time since 1960, the western snowy plover has successfully nested on Carpinteria State Beach.

The single nest with three eggs was discovered by scientists on May 10 and roped and caged off to protect it from a busy RV campground nearby. Warning signs were posted as well.

“I was excited,” said John Callendar, one of the founders of the Carpinteria Birdwatchers and the author of “I happened to be birding and ran into the enclosure.”

Most suitable western snowy plover habitat along the California coast has been altered and replaced by beachfront homes and harbors. Just a few viable locations for the threatened species remain, including in Santa Barbara County and around Santa Rosa Island. Crows, owls, gulls, skunks, raccoons, unleashed dogs, and throngs of beachgoers are the biggest threats to a family of plovers, especially leading into a busy summer season on Carpinteria State Beach.

A year ago, another nesting attempt took place on the same stretch of sand, but high tides wiped it out. The new nest site has already survived some big tides with the high watermark just a few feet away.

The female of the pair was born and tagged as a chick on the rugged coastline of Vandenberg Air Force Base. The father is not tagged, and his origins are unknown.

Just after 8 a.m. on June 8, all three eggs hatched. The tiny, fuzzy chicks were mobile straight out of the egg, their big feet allowing them to maneuver in the soft sand.

Now the hard part begins. The chicks won’t be able to fly for another 30 days. They’ll be foraging on their own for food ― mainly kelp flies and beach hoppers along the wrack line of tattered kelp and splintered driftwood ― and susceptible to threats.

But “just one day after hatching, they’ve shown more foraging ability,” said Callender. “So, I’m hopeful.”

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