Wilson’s Plover and chicks

Before I start the rest of this post I feel that it is important to address the ethics on photographing nesting birds or birds with chicks in light of the fact that very soon birds will be nesting for the season. Sure, chicks are cute but that isn’t a reason to endanger, harass or distress chicks and their parents. EVER. In bird, wildlife and nature photography the subject is always more important than a photograph.

Ethics on photographing nesting birds:

  • Do not approach too closely
  • If the birds show any sign of distress, back away
  • Don’t trim leaves, twigs or branches to get a clearer shot, you may inadvertently attract predators or cause the eggs/chicks to over heat
  • Follow local, state and federal guidelines concerning nesting birds
  • Don’t harass the birds to get an action shot
  • Don’t stay a long time with nesting birds or chicks, that disrupts their normal behavior
  • Always remember that your scent may draw predators to the area of nesting birds or birds with chicks.

For more information on the ethics of photographing nesting birds or chicks: the Principles of Birding Ethics published by the American Birding Association. Also NANPA’s Ethical Practices (pdf)

Wilson's Plover adult in my faceWilson’s Plover adult in my face – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

In Florida I was used to seeing Wilson’s Plovers year round on the beaches of Fort De Soto County Park, it was always easy to identify them because of their large, thick bills.

One June morning in 2008 I was laying on the sand at the north beach when this plover appeared in front of me, my lens was very close to ground level and I believe this Wilson’s Plover thought its reflection was another plover because it kept inching closer and closer all the while keeping its eyes on the end of my lens. It came so close that a few times I was unable to focus on the plover. I held my breath for fear of frightening this curious shorebird and when I couldn’t hold it anymore I tried slow, shallow breaths.

Three Wilson's Plover chicks near some Sea PurslaneThree Wilson’s Plover chicks near some Sea Purslane – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 250, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

Eleven months later I was photographing shorebirds while laying on the back slope of a sand dune and using the Sea Purslane on the dune as cover when I spotted three tiny birds dash from my left towards the Purslane and moved my lens to see what they were and as soon as the camera focused on them I could tell they were Wilson’s Plover chicks. I was photographing with a friend who was on my left so I nudged him with my elbow and motioned towards the three little puffballs.  Both of us laid very still, we did not want to disturb the chicks at all.

The image above is a large crop.

Wilson's Plover chicksWilson’s Plover chicks- Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/750, ISO 250, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

It was a busy day on the north beach though and there were shell seekers and beach walkers close to the chicks who unwittingly forced the chicks to head north right in front of us. For a moment the chicks stopped in front of us and I was able to get a few images of them.

This image is also a large crop, and while I wish the chicks had been closer I wasn’t about to move closer to them or it would have distressed them more than the shell seekers and beach walkers already had.

Running Wilson's Plover chickRunning Wilson’s Plover chick- Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 250, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

The adult birds came racing up towards the exposed chicks and with that the chicks took of running to the north where there was cover from some Sea Oats and Sea Purslane that they could hide in and avoid the human traffic on the beach.

This image was also a rather large crop. When the chicks were safe in their cover my friend and I slowly got up and moved down the beach away from them.

Wilson's Plover juvenile with a Fiddler CrabWilson’s Plover juvenile with a Fiddler Crab- Nikon D200, handheld, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

About a month later I found this juvenile that had captured a Fiddler Crab on the shoreline of a lagoon and I photographed it from my position low in the water as it devoured the crab. A bird had just flown over the young plover when I took this frame. It seems they learn young to keep an eye on the sky for predators. This immature bird may have been one of the chicks I photographed a month earlier as it was in the same general location where I created those images.

It must be rough to be a tiny chick on a beach with lots of human traffic, fortunately Fort De Soto does have a roped off area where birds can rest, nest and avoid the ethical people who stay out of the protected area.

I enjoyed my brief, long distance opportunity to photograph and observe these Wilson’s Plovers and their tiny chicks, it was a small window into their life.


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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.


  1. Wonderful images of these adorable little chicks! The last one with the prey and looking up is precious. Good idea to post the ethics of bird photography.

  2. Oh my gawd Mia these shots are breathtaking and I would have been squealing with joy if I were you (always hard to not do when photographing wildlife but you can when you get home). I can just imagine the big grin you must have had!

    • Sherry, I did have a big grin when I photographed these little chicks, they were so energetic and cute! It is hard to not jump for joy when something like this has happened!

  3. Congratulations on a great post. Your opening paragraphs regarding ethics is excellent. The welfare of the birds must come first.

  4. What a cute bird and the chick is adorable. Awesome photos.

  5. Those babies are so cute!!! They made me smile. :)

  6. Mia, thank you so much for that disclaimer at the start. I’m going to start adding more of those statements to my own posts and pics. Your lens allows us the perspective of what it would be like to be so small, in a herd of human feet, dogs, and traffic. Not only that, you fill the frame with the personality of these birds who are, for many people, invisible beings, just part of the landscape of sand they tread upon. I’ve often thought that if everyone could just look through the lens this way, they’d step on this earth so much more carefully. What a great post.

    • Thank you Ingrid. I feel that at this time of the year when nesting begins it is critical that people know how they should act around chicks and nests. Some people & photographers get too close and that could cause bad things for the birds.

      These Wilson’s Plover have a lot of character. The chicks can seemingly just disappear because of their cryptic plumage when they are tiny, it is important to watch where our feet go!

  7. excelent serie mia !
    portrait, largest view, one with prey, very nice shots, i like this little bird with long legs ^_^
    have a nice day ☼

  8. Ha! Awesome.
    Those beaks are monstrous. These young Wilson’s remind me of the two-legged chicken0walker things from Star Wars, except these birds are much more lethal.

    • They do have very large bills for being such small birds Laurence! I remember that thing from Star Wars, forget what they were called though. These little guys will eat anything they find that they think is tasty!

  9. Beautiful, and with youngsters, happy as can be.

  10. Your beautiful words and images have made me feel as though I was lucky enough to be the friend beside you – thank you :)

  11. Thank you Mia for the beautiful photos and for posting the humane safety precautions you take in your photography.

    • Thank you John. I feel it is important to spread the word about the ethics of nesting birds and chick photography especially at this time of the year.

  12. The whole bird is really well documented. Those chicks look so charming.

  13. Those are just about the cutest things ever. Want to head down to the shore now! Granted, I’d probably have to wait a bit to see any!

  14. What an awesome experience that must have been Mia, I love it when these little surprises take place. Lovely photos as usual:)

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