Oystercatcher

Haematopus ostralegus

40-45cm

Appearance

The starkly contrasting black and white plumage and the long orange bill make this bird stand out. The sexes are similar, both robust-looking with black upperparts and white underparts, pinkish legs, and a red eye. When flying, a white bar is shown on the wings and the end of the tail is black. Winter birds develop a white half-collar. Juvenile birds are brownish where adults are black, and the colour of the bill and legs is duller.

Habitat

Breeds on most coasts in Britain and Ireland, though not the Irish south-east coast, and also breeds inland (particularly in the north of England and Scotland) but usually not far from water. Preferred breeding grounds include rocky coasts, dunes, saltmarshes and on the grassy tops of islands. Inland locations include shingle banks of rivers, lake shores and river valleys. These birds congregate coastally, particularly on estuaries, in the winter.

Character

This is a vocal, skittish bird which uses its strong bill to feed on invertebrates. It establishes its territory with a piping display; between 5 and 30 birds may unite then run beside each other making blaring calls. During the spring it shows its territory by flying with shallow beats of the wings and making calls from above its domain. Gathers in flocks and large amounts of birds, even thousands, may roost together.

Food

When on the coast, this bird's primary food is shellfish; inland diet is mostly worms. Crabs and lugworms are also eaten.

Breeding

Nests are usually formed on the ground, though sometimes on tree stumps or even on flat-roofed buildings. Female lays 2 or 3 eggs which both adults incubate for 24-27 days. Hatchlings depend on their parents for food until after 43 days when they can fly; full independence may not be reached until 26 weeks.

Population

More than 100 000 pairs breed in Britain and up to 10 000 in Ireland. Individuals exceed 400 000 in the winter, due to influxes from Iceland, Norway, Estonia and Russia. Resident birds depart inland breeding sites headed for the coast between July and September.

Observation Tips

Not difficult to find during the winter, especially on British estuaries, thought the impact of humans has made much of southern Britain unsuitable grounds for breeding.

Voice

Has a high-pitched, screeching 'peep' call.
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