Black Oystercatcher

The jet black plumage, bright red bill, red-rimmed golden eyes, and sharp cries, whistles and yelps of the black oystercatcher Haematopus bachmani cannot be mistaken for any other bird. It is one of the loudest and most vocal birds on our coast, especially when in flight, as it creates its varied cries and alarms. Oyster catchers can be seen flying in skilled precision along Tunnel Beach, where they land on rocks just off the beach to feed. Despite its common name, the black oyster catcher seldom feeds on oysters. Its usual food includes mussels, limpets, and other mollusks and attached fauna, which it pries off rocks and opens with its substantial bill. Occasionally, it feeds on sand-dwelling fauna on wave-washed beaches, picking morsels out of the sand in the backwash of a receding wave. The waves chase feeding oystercatchers in and out with them, as though the birds do not want to get their feet wet. Four oyster catchers, three of which are pictured below, occupied the same portion of the beach at Oceanside through most of the 2005-06 winter.

Black oyster catchers nest in shallow depressions on rocks and sea stacks just above the high tide line where young have easy access to food. The female lays two or three eggs, and both sexes incubate them until they hatch in about four weeks. Both adults care for the chicks for about a year, feeding them and eventually teaching them the skills to forage on rock fauna. To distract predators such as gulls or crows, the parents may feign injury when a nest is approached , similar to the behavior of killdeer. Oyster catchers are territorial, remaining in the same area most of their lives, often up to thirty years.

Further reading:

Alderfer, Jonathan (ed). 2006. Complete Birds of North America. National Geographic Society.

Baron, Nancy and John Acorn. 1997. Birds of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Lone Pine Publishing.


Snively, Gloria. 1978. Exploring the Seashore in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. 
Gordon Soules Book Publishers, Ltd.


Text and photographs by Jim Young
Oceanside, Oregon

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