Photo: Johann Schumacher/Vireo

Priority Bird

American Oystercatcher

Haematopus palliatus

A very large, unmistakable shorebird of Atlantic and Gulf Coast beaches. Solitary or in family groups in summer, American Oystercatchers may gather in large flocks in winter.
Conservation status Numbers declined seriously in 19th century, then recovered well in 20th century. Despite disturbance in beach habitats, the species currently is doing fairly well, often nesting on dredge spoil islands.
Family Oystercatchers
Habitat Coastal beaches, tidal flats. Strictly coastal, in areas with extensive sand beaches, tidal mudflats, salt marsh. Key element is presence of good food supply, such as oyster beds, clam flats. May nest among dunes, on islands in salt marsh, or on dredge spoil islands.
A very large, unmistakable shorebird of Atlantic and Gulf Coast beaches. Solitary or in family groups in summer, American Oystercatchers may gather in large flocks in winter.
Photo Gallery
  • immature (2nd yr)
  • adult
  • juvenile
  • adult
  • adult
  • adult, feeding
Feeding Behavior

Often forages by walking in shallow water, searching for food by sight. The birds have two methods of opening the shells of bivalves. In one, finding a mussel with its shell slightly open, the oystercatcher quickly jabs its bill into the opening, cutting the muscles and then cleaning out the contents. In the other method, the bird simply hammers on the shell to break it open.


Eggs

1-4. Buffy gray, usually speckled with dark brown. Nests attended by two females and one male may have 5-6 eggs. Incubation is by both sexes, 24-28 days. Young: Downy young leave nest shortly after they hatch. Both parents feed young for at least 2 months after hatching, although young may attempt to forage on their own well before parents stop feeding them. Age at first flight about 5 weeks.


Young

Downy young leave nest shortly after they hatch. Both parents feed young for at least 2 months after hatching, although young may attempt to forage on their own well before parents stop feeding them. Age at first flight about 5 weeks.

Diet

Mostly shellfish and marine worms. Feeds mostly on mussels, clams, oysters; also marine worms, sand crabs, limpets, sea urchins, jellyfish, and other small creatures of the intertidal zone.


Nesting

First breeds at age of 3-4 years. Sometimes may mate for life. In areas with high populations, may form trios, with one male and two females attending one nest or two nearby nests. Nest site is on ground, on marsh island or among dunes, usually well above high tide mark. Nest (apparently built by both sexes) is shallow scrape in sand, sometimes lined with pebbles, shells.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Southern birds apparently are permanent residents. Northern breeders move south, probably to southeastern United States, for winter.

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Migration

Southern birds apparently are permanent residents. Northern breeders move south, probably to southeastern United States, for winter.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A piercing kleep! and a plover-like cle-ar.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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American Oystercatcher in Action



How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Oystercatchers Sandpiper-like Birds

American Oystercatcher

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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Long Island Sound

Long Island Sound

Audubon is leading an ambitious effort to restore the Long Island Sound’s health, supporting waterbirds, shorebirds, and people

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