Factors affecting Wilson's Plover (Charadrius wilsonia) demography and habitat use at Onslow Beach, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
The Wilson’s Plover (Charadrius wilsonia) is a species of concern in most southeastern U.S. coastal states, where it breeds and winters. The U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan listed this species as a Species of High Concern (Prioritization Category 4), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated it as a Bird of Conservation Concern (BCC). Despite its conservation status, Wilson’s Plover population trends are poorly understood and little research has been conducted examining habitat factors affecting this species’ breeding and foraging ecology. I collected Wilson’s Plover demographic data and explored which habitat characteristics influenced breeding success and foraging site selection among three coastal habitat types (i.e. fiddler crab (Uca spp.) mud flats, beach front, and interdune sand flats) at Onslow Beach, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, 2008-2009. I observed little difference between years in nest success (≥ 1 egg hatched), failure, and overall nest survival. The majority of nest failures were caused by mammalian predators. For those nests that hatched successfully, greater proportions were located in clumped vegetation than on bare ground or sparsely vegetated areas. In-season chick survival for both years was higher for nests that hatched earlier in the season, and for nests farthest from the broods’ final foraging territory. Productivity estimates (chicks fledged per breeding pair) were not significantly different between years (0.88 ± 0.26 fledged/pair in 2008, 1.00 ± 0.25 fledged/pair in 2009) despite a shift in foraging behavior, possibly related to habitat alterations and availability in 2009. My findings indicate that Wilson’s Plover adults and broods were flexible in establishing final foraging territories; in 2008 all final brood foraging territories were on fiddler flats while in 2009, final foraging territories were sometimes split between fiddler flats, beach front, and interdune sand flats. For those Wilson’s Plovers establishing territories on fiddler flats, area of the flat was the most important feature explaining use versus non-use of a particular flat; area ≥ 1250 m² was preferred. Close proximity to water and vegetative cover were also important habitat features in foraging site selection on fiddler crab mud flats, and in all habitat types combined. My findings will directly contribute to population and habitat research goals outlined in the U.S. Shorebird Plan and will supplement limited data about foraging and habitat use related to Wilson’s Plover breeding ecology.