AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus palliatus)
The American oystercatcher is a bird with a highly specialized bill, to pry open oysters (as the name implies) and other hard-shelled molluscs. It is a shorebird about 42 cm (16 in.) long, with a black head and breast, dark grey back, wings and tail, and white under parts. The bill, which is almost twice as long as the head and bright orange, is sturdy. The legs are pink, and the yellow eyes have an orange circle.
The habitat of the American oystercatcher is the coast of the USA, both Atlantic and Pacific, and they over winter around the Gulf of Mexico for the most part. This bird breeds near the tide line, which at times can negatively impact the brood.
One technique used to get the shellfish is by scouting shellfish beds at low tide and looking for half-open ones. Then the bird will dart its bill to cut off the muscle inside that attaches the animal to its shell. However, if they’re not quick enough and if the mollusc is still anchored to the rock in the water, for example, then the mollusc may have time to clamp down on the bird’s bill and the bird may get stuck there and drown when the tide is rising.
SIMILAR SPECIES: The SOUTH ISLAND OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus finschi) is very similar to the American oystercatcher (see photos below), but is endemic to New Zealand.
The EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus ostralegus) is also very similar to the American oystercatcher (see photos below), but its range covers Europe including Iceland, and parts of Asia.