American Oystercatcher Journal
The following description appears on the inside cover of your journal.
American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus)
Chances are you’ll hear the noisy American oystercatcher before you see it, and once it catches your attention with its shrill Bleep? call, and flashy dark and light plumage, you’ll want to take a closer look. This comical shorebird flaunts a black head, brown and white body, long pink legs, heavy red bill and bright yellow eyes, surrounded by an orange orbital eye-ring. In flight, a white wing stripe and rump patch form a V-pattern on the back.
Coastal in all seasons, they live on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and in Baja, Mexico, south to Chile and Argentina. Feeding on beaches, shellbars and mudflats, their long chisel-shaped bill is perfectly suited for prying open clam, mussel and oyster shells or stabbing crabs and worms.
At high tide and at night, American oystercatchers are gregarious and tend to gather in large groups of a hundred or more, but during the breeding season they are monogamous and very territorial. In spring, pairs do a nuptial flight, circling their territory together, calling loudly. Other oystercatchers, from adjacent territories, may join them in flight with clear piping whistles, creating quite a commotion. In courtship displays pairs walk side by side, then turn and bow to each other.
They nest on beaches making a small depression, lined with pebbles and shells. Nesting birds are vulnerable to beach development, human activity and oil spills. Due to disturbance and habitat loss, the American oystercatcher is a Species of High Concern. Audubon’s Important Bird Area program is a vital tool for the conservation of the American oystercatcher. To learn how you can help, visit http://www.audubon.org/bird/iba. Together we can learn to share the beaches and give these birds the space they need.
artwork by John Sill © 2004
text by Kara Jean Hagedorn