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American Oystercatcher: Haematopus palliatus

Appearance:

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.

Habitat:

 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.

Behavior:

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 of food.

Additional Information:


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FWC Facts:
Red Tide Offshore Monitoring Volunteer Program boat captains sample offshore waters for potential red tide blooms. They also track ongoing blooms to aid researchers.

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