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Plover and out! 11 chicks released into the wild in Goleta

11 Snowy Plover chicks were released on Tuesday as part of a conservation program
Santa Barbara Zoo
Will Huebner
11 Snowy Plover chicks were released on Tuesday as part of a conservation program

They are endangered small shorebirds which live along our coastline.

Among the seagulls and the pelicans along this part of the South Coast, you could easily miss a smaller, cuter, fluffier shorebird - the Snowy Plover.

Eleven snowy plover chicks, which were taken care of as part of a partnership between the Santa Barbara Zoo, UC Santa Barbara and US Fish and Wildlife Service are being released into the wild.

"Giving them a chance that they never would have had is the most rewarding part," says Nadya Seal Faith, the Conservation and Science Associate for the Santa Barbara Zoo. Without conservation efforts, says Seal Faith, these chicks almost certainly wouldn’t be alive.

"These birds came to us as eggs that were not going to survive, you know, almost a 100% chance that they would not have made it through to chick stage," said Seal Faith.

The chicks dart out of their wire carrier, hesitant at first, before experimenting with using their wings to fly.

"It's amazing to see them out here on the beach. I was actually just watching one of the very first birds that we banded last week, and it was very neat to just see see it walking around and just take off," said Seal Faith, as she watches them from a distance though a pair of binoculars.

The chicks were released at Coal Oil Point Reserve in Goleta
Caroline Feraday
The chicks were released at Coal Oil Point Reserve in Goleta

This protected beach dune habitat is a way to protect the plovers, and other wildlife, from the dangers of habitat loss, and other human pressures, said Jessica Gray, the Conservation Specialist at Coal Oil Point Reserve.

"Western Snowy Plover is a threatened species, and which means that it's listed on the endangered species list and requires protection in order to survive," said Gray. "And so this area here at Coal Oil Point Reserve is 800m of protected beach for these plovers. And everything you see behind the fence line is protected habitat for plovers to lay their eggs right in the sand and be free from disturbance from humans and dogs, and unfortunately, not necessarily predators. But we do our best to deter predators from going after the eggs as well."

"Right now there are about 70 adult snowy plovers and we have 13 nests and 33 chicks," explained Gray. "We do monitor several times a week during the nesting season to keep track of the population and see how the nests are doing. And that way, since we're monitoring so frequently, we're able to determine when eggs have been abandoned or washed out by tide or buried by wind. And these are the cases in which we would collect those eggs and bring them to the Santa Barbara Zoo, to be raised in captivity until they're ready for release into the wild."

The plover rehabilitation program is one earmarked to eventually move to the new Cal State Channel Islands and Santa Barbara Zoo Conservation Center, once it’s built. Julie Barnes, Vice President of Animal Care and Health at the Santa Barbara Zoo says the extra space for conservation efforts cannot come soon enough.

"We have absolutely run out of space," said Barnes. "Our plover program is seasonal, so we managed to make that work at Santa Barbara Zoo, but we could expand our contribution to the program if we had more space. And that's why we're looking to build this conservation center."

And hopefully it’s another step in ensuring the snowy plovers are still here in the wild for generations to come.

Caroline joined KCLU in October 2020. She won LA Press Club's Audio Journalist of the Year Award in 2022, 2023 and 2024.

Since joining the station she's won 10 Golden Mike Awards, 6 Los Angeles Press Club Awards, 2 National Arts & Entertainment Awards and a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Writing.

She started her broadcasting career in the UK, in both radio and television for BBC News, 95.8 Capital FM and Sky News and was awarded the Prince Philip Medal for her services to radio and journalism in 2007.

She has lived in California for eleven years and is both an American and British citizen - and a very proud mom to her daughter, Elsie.