Beyond Bounds: American Oystercatchers

American Oystercatchers (photo by Brian Herman)
Two weeks ago I guaranteed you’d never see a roseate spoonbill in Pittsburgh and though “guarantee” is a dangerous word, I’ll use it again.  I guarantee – this time with more certainty – that you’ll never see an American oystercatcher in the wild in Pittsburgh.

Why am I so confident of this prediction?  Because American oystercatchers, unlike roseate spoonbills, have to live at the ocean.  They specialize in eating saltwater bivalve molluscs (oysters, clams and mussels) using their razor-sharp beaks to cut the abductor chain that holds the two shells together.  They are indeed oyster catchers.

They are also large, conspicuous and noisy.  Their faces are clown-like with red-rimmed eyes and red-orange beaks.  (The color is actually called Chrome Orange and is on their eyelids as well.)  When flying they call “kleep, kleep, kleep, kleep, kleep, kleep” to each other.  They are unmistakable.

American oystercatchers prefer sandy beaches, salt marshes and even saltwater dredge spoil piles.  This keeps them beyond the bounds of southwestern Pennsylvania.

Brian Herman photographed this pair at Cape May, New Jersey.


(photo by Brian Herman)

4 thoughts on “Beyond Bounds: American Oystercatchers

  1. i love oystercatchers. no matter how many times i see them, i still kind of giggle when i spot them. they are so beautiful to see. believe it or not given their decent size, unique coloration of bill and body and unique bill shape, i always seem to sweep past them with my binoculars. then i trail back and go “what the…there’s an oystercatcher!” my friend studies them in new jersey. here’s a link to a good site:

    oystercatchers are intensely territorial and are easily incensed by the sight of a foreigner. hence, those studying oystercatchers draw them in with decoys for banding purposes. this makes for some interesting photo ops.

  2. I love oystercatchers too. I have seen them with little babies (balls of fluff) at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge near Nags Head. Thanks for reminding me of warmer days.

  3. I just had a “beyond bounds” experience this week. My family went on a cruise that left from Baltimore, and when we docked at Port Canaveral a few days later, a large flock of birds descended on the ship…not gulls, as you would expect, but brownish birds with a few black ones among them. After we watched them for a while, we thought that they sounded like grackles, but certainly didn’t look like our common grackles at home. When I got home today I looked them up and they were boat tailed grackles, which only live along the coast according to my books. They hung around the ship as long as we were in port, sitting on the light poles and cables above the top deck, and occasionally picking up food that the passengers dropped. A male sat under the radar dome and sang while the females sat on the railing surrounding the dome looking bored. It was fun watching the birds, taking our minds off the fact that it was about 20 degrees colder in Florida than it should have been at this time of year. We also went kayaking (in 40 degree weather) hoping to see manatees, but it was much too cold for them to be in the waters where we were; however, we did see turkey vultures and a green heron, and brown pelicans that dove into the water within 50 or 60 feet of our kayaks.

    We also went to Freeport in the Bahamas, to a place called Garden of the Groves. It was the only really warm day on our entire cruise, and we saw a lot of birds, some familiar like the Great Blue Heron and Night Heron, and some unusual ones like a large bluish purple hummingbird and a tiny dark bird with yellow patches that might have been a warbler of some type. We also saw a common gallinule and think we saw some white crowned pigeons. We were sorry that the weather wasn’t better on the cruise, but we did get to see some nice birds, at least.

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