American Oystercatcher: Haematopus palliatus
Since it is one of the largest and heaviest of our shorebirds,
the oystercatcher is unmistakable. It is striking in appearance:
dark-brown, black, and white, with a bright red bill. When in
flight, a diagonal white stripe in each wing forms a V-pattern.
recent survey by the FWC estimates the number of American
Oystercatchers in Florida during the breeding season to be around
1000 individuals. Little is known about movement patterns,
migration, and the population of Oystercatchers wintering in
Florida. A 1999 Christmas Bird Count estimate placed that number
around 1250 birds.
The oystercatcher needs extensive sandbars and mudflats for feeding
and sand or shell-covered beaches free from predators and human
disturbance for nesting. Nesting habitat loss is suspected to have
contributed to their decline, as has egg- and chick-stealing by
dogs, cats, raccoons and foxes. They are considered a Species of
Special Concern in Florida by FWC.
The birds usually nest in shallow depressions scraped out of sand,
in areas surrounded by water, since they are very sensitive to
disturbance and susceptible to mammalian predators. Unfortunately
the availability of safe nesting places is declining.
Oystercatchers are best spotted in Apalachicola Bay, Tampa Bay, and
the Cedar Keys.
Oystercatchers get their name from their habit of snatching
oysters from slightly open shells. They also use their powerful
bills to open mollusks and to sort through heavy shells in search