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American Oystercatcher

Haematopus palliatus

The American oystercatcher is a large, stocky shorebird with a distinctive long, blade-like, reddish-orange bill. (David Maher/Flickr)
The American oystercatcher is a large, stocky shorebird with a distinctive long, blade-like, reddish-orange bill. (David Maher/Flickr)

The American oystercatcher is a large, stocky shorebird with a distinctive long, blade-like, reddish-orange bill. It lives on beaches, mud flats and exposed oyster bars along the lower Chesapeake Bay.

Appearance:

  • Large, stocky body
  • Brownish back
  • White belly
  • Black head
  • Long, straight, reddish-orange bill
  • Yellow eyes with an orange ring around them
  • Large white patches on the wings, tail and rump
  • Pale pink legs
  • Grows to 19 inches

Habitat:

  • Lives on beaches, mud flats and exposed oyster bars

Range:

  • Visits the lower Chesapeake Bay from spring through autumn
  • Particularly common along the lower Eastern Shore
  • Migrates southward in winter

Feeding:

  • Eats oysters and other mollusks, as well as fiddler crabs
  • Probes through sand and mud to find its prey
  • Thrusts its powerful, blade-like bill between a mollusk’s open shells and stabs the mollusk’s adductor muscle, then feeds on the meat
  • Will also use its bill to hammer a mollusk’s shell until it cracks

Predators:

  • Vulnerable to attacks from gulls
  • Sensitive to beach disturbances by humans

Flight:

  • Can be identified in flight by its broad, white wing stripe and long, bright orange bill

Voice:

  • Very noisy birds
  • Makes a shrill wheep or kleep, as well as loud pic pic pics
American Oystercatcher courtesy of Pamela C. Rasmussen, Avian Vocalizations Center

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Nests in spring on sandy areas along the Bay’s shoreline, particularly around Tangier Sound
  • Adults make a shallow depression in the sand that the line with crushed shells and other beach debris. Oystercatchers will build as many as five nests to confuse predators.
  • The female lays 2-4 sandy-colored eggs into the nest. Both parents take care of the nest and eggs.
  • Juveniles have a mottled appearance that differs slightly from adults’ plumage

Other Facts:

  • Oystercatchers were nearly hunted to extinction in the 19th century for their plumage

Sources and Additional Information:


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