Living Bird Magazine
American OystercatcherHaematopus palliatus
- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Haematopodidae
A boldly patterned shorebird with red-yellow eyes and a vivid red-orange bill, American Oystercatchers survive almost exclusively on shellfish—clams, oysters, and other saltwater molluscs. Because of this specialized diet, oystercatchers live only in a narrow ecological zone of saltmarshes and barrier beaches. Along much of the Pacific Coast they are replaced by the similar but all-dark Black Oystercatcher. American Oystercatchers are numerous but sensitive to development and traffic on the beaches where they nest; they are on Partners in Flight’s Yellow Watch List.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Look for American Oystercatchers on barrier islands and oyster beds, where these high-contrast birds can be seen a long way off. But check a tide chart first: high-tide searches can be fruitless as the birds wait out the high water at remote roosts. As the tide begins to fall, exposing their prey, they return to productive feeding grounds. The first hint to their presence is often their whistling call, which can be heard from a mile away.
- Ostrero Pío Americano (Spanish)
- Huîtrier d'Amérique (French)
- Cool Facts
- Recent tracking studies have revealed that oystercatchers make tremendously variable movements after the breeding season. Young birds do not follow their parents to wintering locations; in fact, young from the same nest may even migrate in completely different directions in autumn. Adults are also idiosyncratic in their movements, with some staying on the breeding territory year-round, others moving hundreds of miles away.
- American Oystercatchers are the only birds in their environment with the ability to open large molluscs such as clams and oysters (except for large gulls that drop clams onto pavement). Foraging oystercatchers often attract other birds eager to share (or steal from) the oystercatcher’s “raw bar,” including Willets, large gulls, and Ruddy Turnstones.
- American Oystercatchers don’t always win out in their battles against oysters and clams. Occasionally, a shellfish gets its revenge by clamping down on an oystercatcher’s bill and holding the bird tight. When the tide comes back in, it can spell bad news for the would-be predator.
- The closely related Black Oystercatcher of the Pacific Coast often hybridizes with American Oystercatchers in Southern California, where the two species’ ranges meet. Most oystercatchers that resemble American Oystercatcher observed in California turn out to have some Black Oystercatcher ancestry.
- The oldest American Oystercatcher was at least 23 years, 10 months old. It had been banded as an adult in Virginia in 1989 and was found in Florida in 2012.