American Oystercatcher

The American Oystercatcher is also known as the American Pied Oystercatcher. It was originally called the 'sea pie', but was renamed in 1731 when naturalist Mark Catesby observed the bird eating oysters.

American Oystercatcher
The current population of American oystercatchers is estimated to be 43,000. There are estimated to be 1,500 breeding pairs along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the US.
The bird is marked by its black and white body and a long, thick orange beak.

Information & Facts:

Description

The American Oystercatcher has distinctive black and white plumage and a long, bright orange beak. The head and breast are black and the back, wings and tail greyish-black. The underparts are white, as are feathers on the inner part of the wing which become visible during flight.

The irises are yellow and the eyes have orange orbital rings. The legs are pink. Adults are between 42–52 cm (17–20 in) in length

Habitat

During the breeding season, the American Oystercatcher can be found in coastal habitats including sand or shell beaches, dunes, salt marshes, marsh islands, mudflats, and dredge spoil islands made of sand or gravel. During migration and winter, they are found feeding in mud or salt flats that are exposed by the tide.

They are also found on shellfish beaches at this time.

Feeding

The American Oystercatcher feeds almost exclusively on shellfish and other marine invertebrates. Oysters are a staple of their diet, as their name suggests, but they also eat mussels, clams, limpets, sea urchins, starfish, crabs, and worms.

In general, they use their bills to catch shellfish. As they walk across a shellfish bed, they look for a mollusk with a partially opened shell. When they find one, they jab their bill into the shell and sever the muscle that causes the shell to clamp shut. This can be dangerous, however, as they are sometimes drowned when they don’t completely sever this muscle and the shell clamps down on their bill.

A strong, tightly rooted mollusk can hold the bird in place until the tide comes in. They also feed by carrying loose shellfish out of the water and hammering at the shell or by probing the sand for soft-shell or razor clams.

Reproduction

American Oystercatchers breed between April and July. Their nests are shallow depressions scraped into the sand by an adult. Breeding adults will make 5 or more of these scrapes, then choose one to line with shells and/or pebbles. These depressions are about 8 inches across and 2.5 inches deep. A female oystercatcher lays 2-4 eggs per nest. Each egg is 2.1-2.3 cm long and 1.5-1.6cm wide. The eggs are gray and speckled with dark brown.

Although the eggs are well camouflaged, they are vulnerable to predation by raccoons, coyotes, skunks, gulls, crows, rats, and foxes.

Both parents will alternate incubating the eggs for 25 to 27 days.

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American Oystercatcher
American Oystercatcher
Conservation Status
Conservation Status

Least Concern (IUCN 3.1)

Scientific Classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Haematopodidae
Genus: Haematopus
Species:
H. palliatus
Binomial Name

Haematopus palliatus

American Oystercatcher Range

American Oystercatcher Range