American Oystercatcher


Haematopus palliatus

American oystercatchers are large, boldly patterned birds that are conspicuous along ocean shores and salt marshes. True to its name, it is specialized in feeding on oysters, clams, and mussels and uses its brightly colored bill to catch them


During the breeding season, American Oystercatchers can be found in coastal habitats including sand or shell beaches, dunes, saltmarsh, marsh islands, mudflats, and dredge spoil islands made of sand or gravel. During migration and winter, look for them feeding in mud or sand flats exposed by the tide, or on shellfish beds. These conspicuous birds tend to roost on beaches, dunes, or marsh islands near their foraging sites, and rarely venture far inland.


American Oystercatchers commonly nest on high, sandy sites such as dunes; low, flat, sandy areas with good cover; dredge spoil; or marsh islands. Suitable nest sites can be in short supply sometimes forcing oystercatchers to nest very close to the high-tide line; spring tides during full or new moons can flood and ruin many such nests. Adults use their feet to scrape out a shallow depression from the sand. They make five or more of these nests, then choose one and line it with shells, pebbles, or bits of tide wrack. The depression is about 8 inches across and 2.5 inches deep.


American Oystercatchers only breed once a year and lay between 2 and 4 eggs in their nest. The eggs are buffy gray speckled with dark brown. The eggs are incubated for 24 to 28 days before they hatch. The nestlings are active and coordinated, covered in tan down, and leave the nest within one day of hatching.