American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliates)

The American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliates) is a coastal bird that can be found along the Gulf Coast and over most of the Atlantic Coast. This is a bird that is 16 inches in length and can be identified by is predominantly black body, grayish-brown back and wings, and a snowy white belly. This coastal bird has pink legs and a bright orange or blood red bill, with yellow eyes and an orange orbital ring. Juvenile birds have a dark tip at the end of their bills and their eyes are dark. Although its coloring does not make the best fashion statement, it does make them distinctive. Being a coastal bird, the American Oystercatcher relies on the ocean for its food that consists of mussels, oysters and clams, Unfortunately, coastal developments by humans are increasingly encroaching on the habitat and lifestyle of these birds.

American Oystercatchers are migratory birds, with the breeding populations located in the north often migrating to the southeastern areas of the United States during the winter months. Due to development and coastal activities, populations in the Massachusetts area have increased in numbers. In contrast to the northern populations, it seems that the birds that are found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, are more established and remain permanent residents of the area. Many IBA’s (Important Bird Areas) have been established to provide the American Oystercatchers with safe nesting grounds, and winter habitats for the migratory populations. There are approximately thirty breeding pairs that are protected by the Hatteras National Seashore IBA, in North Carolina, and the Altamaha River Delta IBA, in Georgia, is home to approximately 250 migratory American Oystercatchers. Many of these IBA’s, including the Big Bend Ecosystem IBA, Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge and Hillsborough Bay IBA in Florida, play an important role in the conservation of these beautiful birds. These areas are also motivated by the fact that in the 1850’s, American Oystercatchers had become extremely scarce in the mid-Atlantic areas, and only began increasing in population numbers during 20th century.

Not only does human development threaten these coastal birds, but they also fall victim to hurricanes and oil-spills. All these factors make nesting very difficult for the birds. American Oystercatchers nest on the ground, which enables them to blend in with their surroundings as a form of camouflage. Their eggs are gray in color and are speckled, having a pointed shape which prevents the eggs from rolling away. But no matter how many preventative measures the American Oystercatcher has, it remains up to humans to protect these birds, and the land they live on.