Photo: Jukka Jantunen/Vireo

Priority Bird

Black Oystercatcher

Haematopus bachmani

Where the Pacific Ocean breaks against rocky shorelines, pairs of these big black birds stalk about on the rocks and nearby flats. If disturbed, they take flight with loud, ringing whistles, easily heard above the sound of the waves. Their range stretches from Alaska to Baja, but Black Oystercatchers are scarce along the coast of southern California, where the shoreline is mostly sandy, not rocky.
Conservation status Still widespread along Pacific Coast, numerous in some areas. Vulnerable to effects of oil spills and other pollution in intertidal zone. Also very vulnerable to disturbance at nesting sites.
Family Oystercatchers
Habitat Rocky coasts, sea islets. Found at all seasons along rocky shorelines, especially on small offshore islands where predators are fewer; chooses areas with abundant shellfish and other marine life. In winter, also commonly found on mudflats close to rocky coastlines, but uses mudflats less in summer.
Where the Pacific Ocean breaks against rocky shorelines, pairs of these big black birds stalk about on the rocks and nearby flats. If disturbed, they take flight with loud, ringing whistles, easily heard above the sound of the waves. Their range stretches from Alaska to Baja, but Black Oystercatchers are scarce along the coast of southern California, where the shoreline is mostly sandy, not rocky.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult
  • adults
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly near low tide, resting at high tide. When feeding on mussel beds, typically removes the mussel from its shell and leaves the shell in place. 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

2-3, sometimes 1. Pale buff to olive, spotted and scrawled with brown and black. Incubation is by both parents, 24-29 days. Young: Downy young remain near nest at first; parents take turns guarding the young and going to get food for them, walking back and forth to nearby intertidal zone. Older chicks follow their parents to feeding areas and are fed by them there. Young can fly at age 5 weeks or older; begin to catch some of their own food then, but are still fed by parents for some time thereafter.


Young

Downy young remain near nest at first; parents take turns guarding the young and going to get food for them, walking back and forth to nearby intertidal zone. Older chicks follow their parents to feeding areas and are fed by them there. Young can fly at age 5 weeks or older; begin to catch some of their own food then, but are still fed by parents for some time thereafter.

Diet

Mostly mussels, limpets, other shellfish. Diet varies with place and season, but feeds mostly on mussels where they are abundant; also limpets, whelks, urchins, crabs, marine worms, beetle larvae. Young birds, newly independent, may eat fewer mussels at first, perhaps lacking the skill to open them.


Nesting

May mate for life. Almost always nests on islands. Pairs typically defend a breeding territory that includes both an elevated area for nesting, well above high tide, and an adjacent feeding area with mussels beds or other food source. Nest site is on ground well above high-tide mark, on gravel, grassy area, or depression in rock. Nest (built by both sexes) is slight scrape, with sparse lining of pebbles, pieces of shell.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Mostly permanent resident. No regular migration, but wanderers away from breeding areas are most likely to be seen in spring and fall.

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Migration

Mostly permanent resident. No regular migration, but wanderers away from breeding areas are most likely to be seen in spring and fall.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A whistled wheeee-whee-whee-whee.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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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.

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

Black 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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Coastal Stewardship: Atlantic & Pacific

Coastal Stewardship: Atlantic & Pacific

Protecting shorebirds in habitats especially vulnerable to development and climate threats

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