|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.|
|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.|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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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
See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.Learn more
Songs and CallsA whistled wheeee-whee-whee-whee.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Black Oystercatcher
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.
Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.
Climate threats facing the Black Oystercatcher
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.