December 2011 Bird Photo of the Month

American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus) on Lagoon Oyster Bar © John J. Waite.

The startling orange with yellow-tip bill of the American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus), stands out from afar. With this handy and indispensable tool, Oystercatchers search for a partially open submerged mussel or oyster shell and then accurately thrust their “oyster knife” into the gap, cutting the muscle clamping the shells, gaining access to the tasty soft parts.  They also can probe sandy shores with their long bill feeling for buried clams and then “shovel and lever” each to the surface where they hammer the hinge, sever it, and devour the contents. Since birds evolved wings to replace their arms and hands, the bill does double duty as both a hand and a mouth, and each species’ bill shape has evolved to effectively capture available foods.

Oystercatchers are neither abundant nor often seen except in their restricted coastal habitat. They are never in flocks, but usually travel in mated pairs. This species is found in the U.S. from Maine to Florida and along the Gulf of Mexico. The other North American species, the Black Oystercatcher, is on the Pacific coast. Along our Intracoastal they are year round residents of spoil island beaches and oyster bars in the Lagoon, less often on the ocean beach, but always preferring unvegetated areas. Bushes harbor unseen predators. Females lay 2-3 speckled eggs in a scraped depression camouflaged on a pebbly sandbar.  So do not approach any sandbar with this highly visible black-white-orange bird present.

With a Canon Rebel Et, 70 to 300 Canon lens, John Waite was able to photograph an American Oystercatcher at rest with one leg tucked. A red band is visible on the supporting leg.  If you find a bird carcass with a banded leg, follow instructions on

Juanita Baker
Coordinator of the Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society

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