Posted July 26, 2022
It’s hard to miss an oystercatcher at the ocean’s edge at low tide. They are chunky birds with a brown back and wings, white underparts, black head and breast, a yellow eye ring, and a bright orange-red bill. Gorgeous! That big, bright bill gives them access to their favorite foods at low tide.
Oystercatchers are found along intertidal and sandy beaches, where they feed mainly on mollusks such as clams, oysters, and mussels. At low tide, they walk the water’s edge. When an oystercatcher spots a suitable mollusk with its shell slightly open, he jabs
his bill inside the shell to snip the muscle holding the shell together, and consumes his meal. Sometimes, he smashes the shell open instead. There is a challenge involved: if a shellfish clamps down on the oystercatcher’s bill and doesn’t let go, an incoming tide can be fatal.
Oystercatchers are monogamous and sometimes mate for life. In an area with a high population, one male and two females may share a nest or two neighboring nests. Their nest is pretty much a scrape in the sand, but the eggs are well camouflaged. Males and females take turns incubating the eggs, and the chicks can run within 24 hours of hatching. It takes up to 60 days for a chick’s beak to become hard enough to pry open a bivalve, so they are reliant on their parents for the first few weeks.
Our local oystercatchers migrate to the southeast in the fall, although the offspring do not follow their parents or even each other. They are a species of concern, threatened by habitat loss, climate change, predation, and human disturbance.
So, as you wander the beach at low tide, keep an eye out for these colorful, hard-working birds; they’re one of my favorites!
Written by Dee Jepson; Photos by Mike Tucker