The Black Oystercatcher
By Leah Brett
Common name: Black Oystercatcher
Scientific name: Haematopus bachmani
Size range: 35cm to 43 cm
The Black Oystercatcher is an all black shorebird. What stands out in this bird is the bright red long bill and the yellow ring around the eye. The size of these birds resembles a common crow except for the bare short pinkish yellow legs.
Black Oystercatchers can be found along the rocky shoreline of the Pacific coast as far south as California and north to Alaska. Though they can be seen as individuals, they are often found in small groups poking their beaks among the rocks and seaweed looking for small prey with other shorebirds such as Gulls and Sandpipers.
The main diet of Oystercatchers includes mussels and limpets. These shellfish seem to be in abundance on the West Coast though other kinds of easy prey such as small crabs, barnacles or sea worms in tidal pools or among seaweed is common as well. They use their beak for stabbing the abductor muscle that holds the shell open and pull out the soft tissue with the tip of its sharp bill.
Because of their small size Black Oystercatchers are easy prey to Eagles, Gulls, Minks, Otters, Ravens, Weasels, Wolverines and Bears. The only defence they have is when they are alarmed, they take flight with a loud piercing whistle.
Black Oystercatchers live approximately 15 years. They nest on non-forested islands with shelled or gravel beaches usually the same place every year. The nest is made out of a few shells or rock fragments in a small depression just above the high tide line. The female lays 2 to 3 eggs at a time once a year in spring. Incubation is 24 to 29 days. The chicks are downy with “salt and pepper” specks for the first 4 weeks until the adult feathers grow in.
Photos by D. Young