National Wildlife Refuge System

Black Oystercatcher


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Black oystercatchers mate for life, re-use the same nest and can life up to 15 years.
Credit: David Menke/USFWS

As its name suggests, the black oystercatcher has a particular taste for shellfish, and settles its nest along rocky shorelines. While it eats mainly mollusks, it hardly ever eats actual oysters, instead opting for mussels and limpets.


In most cases the oystercatcher will never leave its home, and will raise its young in the same place it winters – an oddity among shorebirds. Generally mating for life and re-using the same nest, the black oystercatcher is a true homebody with a lifespan up to 15 years.

With about 11,000 birds in the wild, mostly concentrated around the Alaskan coast, the black oystercatcher is especially vulnerable to oil spills. Black oystercatchers are territorial by nature, and fiercely protect their chosen nesting grounds.

Black Oystercatcher Data

·         Size and color – 16.5 to 18.5 inches in height, weighing about 17.6 to 24.7 ounces, with a wingspan of 28 to 36 inches. Northernmost oystercatchers are solidly black, while some show lighter markings as they are seen further south. Large red bill, solid yellow eyes, and thick, pink legs.

·         Range – Found along coastline between Aleutian Islands and Baja California year-round.

·         Diet – Forages in shallow intertidal areas for mollusks, especially mussels and limpets, but also crabs and barnacles.

·         U.S. Habitat – Prefers rocky sea coasts and islands, and makes nests on rocks above the high tide line.

See this Bird!

·         Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, OR – Offshore rocky coastlines are closed to the public year-round to minimize disturbances to shorebirds. Viewing areas around the refuge allow visitors to see oystercatchers.

·         Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, AK – Almost 40 million seabirds nest on Alaska Maritime Refuge lands, more bird traffic than any other area in North America.


Last updated: August 27, 2015