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American Oystercatcher

Haematopus palliatus

American Oystercatcher


The American oystercatcher is distinguished from other oystercatchers by its brownish back, which contrasts with its black head, and in having yellowish eyes surrounded by red eye-rings. A bold white stripe in the wings and a white rump are visible in flight. Like other oystercatchers, it has a large red bill, and dull pink legs. A relatively large shore bird, it is 16-17 inches long, and weighs 14-25 ounces. Both sexes are similar in size and color.

Distribution and Habitat

This species is found along the Atlantic coast from Massachussetts to Georgia, as well as in isolated populations along the Gulf Coast of Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas. It is also found along the coastlines of most Caribbean islands, and along both coasts of Central and South America. A true shore bird, the American oystercatcher is almost never found too far from a beach or marine estuary.

Distribution of the American Oystercatcher


As its name suggests, the American oystercatcher feeds primarily on bivalves (oysters, clams, mussels), but does occasionally probe for marine worms and other food in the intertidal zone.


The nest, which is little more than a scrape in the ground, is built well above the high tide mark. It takes 24-28 days for the 1-4 eggs to hatch, and chicks are fed by both parents for at least two months after hatching.

When breeding density is high, oystercatchers will sometimes form nesting trios, in which one male and two females share nesting responsibilities at either one or two nests.

Conservation Status

Since they live on the coast, oystercatchers are very susceptible to coastal disasters such as hurricanes and oil spills. They are also threatened by human encroachment upon their breeding grounds. The American oystercatcher is, therefore, considered a "species of high concern."

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordates
subphylum Vertebrata
class Aves
order Charadriiformes
family Haematopodidae
genus & species Haematopus palliatus

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The Robinson Library >> Order Charadriiformes

This page was last updated on August 21, 2018.