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.
The American oystercatcher grows up to 19 inches in length and has a large, stocky body. It has a black head, brownish back, white belly and large white patches on its wings, tail and rump. Its eyes are yellow with an orange ring around them. It has a long, straight, reddish-orange bill and pale pink legs.
Oystercatchers live on beaches, mud flats and exposed oyster bars.
These birds visit the lower Chesapeake Bay from spring through autumn, when they are particularly common along the lower Eastern Shore. In winter, they migrate southward.
The American oystercatcher eats oysters and other mollusks, as well as fiddler crabs. It probes through sand and mud to find its prey, thrusting its powerful, blade-like bill between a mollusk’s open shells and stabbing the mollusk’s adductor muscle, then feeding on the meat. It will also use its bill to hammer a mollusk’s shell until it cracks.
Oystercatchers are vulnerable to attacks from gulls and sensitive to beach disturbances by humans.
These birds can be identified in flight by their broad, white wing stripes and long, bright orange bills.
Oystercatchers are very noisy birds; they make a shrill wheep or kleep, as well as loud pic pic pics.American Oystercatcher courtesy of Pamela C. Rasmussen, Avian Vocalizations Center
In spring, oystercatchers will nest 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.