March 2016 Bird of the Month

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher Wading

(Click on images to enlarge them.)

The American Oystercatcher is unmistakable when seen, with its bold pattern–a large red-orange bill and eye ring against a black head, dark brown back, white belly and light pink legs. It is a large wading bird, found along the ocean shore and at salt marshes.

The American Osytercatcher’s namAmerican Oystercatcher with a Snacke gives away its food oAmerican Oystercatcher with Lunchf choice—oysters! It also eats other bivalve mollusks (clams and mussels).

An oystercatcher’s favorite place to feed is a mollusk shell bed…it’s like being at the all-you-can-eat buffet!


The American Oystercatcher uses its long bill to catch shellfish, grabbing the edible fish from inside a partially open shell before the shell can close up. Cornell’s American Oystercatcher website notes that “the technique is not without its risks though—oystercatchers do sometimes drown after a tightly rooted mussel clamps down on their bills and holds the bird in place until the tide comes in.” Grabbing a meal can be lethal, if a bird isn’t careful!

Oystercatchers usually nest on sanAmerican Oystercatcher Parent with 3 Youngdy sites such as dunes, above the tide line. They may also nest in low, flat, sandy areas with good cover or on marsh islands.

I caught this family of American Oystercatchers in the back waters of Atlantic City, NJ. Can you tell the three juveniles from the adult?


Hint:  Like many species, thAmerican Oystercatcher Juvie Looking Over Parente young birds are less colorful than the adults, giving them more protection.



Below, see part of the family in flight. The adult is in front, followed by its chick.

American Oystercatchers in Flight






CJE and Possee

Recently, I had a wonderful encounter with a flock of eight American Oystercatchers  (four are shown to the right) and was able to catch some of their behavior on video.

I put together this compilation showing the flock getting ready for spring. They are piping (listen to the notes of their voices), interacting with each other, and feeding. You can see many of their behaviors in this 12-minute segment:

An American Oystercatcher Kind of Morning

On this day, I found among the flock a banded bird.  In the past three years, I have discovered three different American Oystercatchers that had been banded. Though I could not read the code on the red band of the first bird, I still reported it. The following year, I had better luck and found a bird with a dark green band, reported it, and discovered when and where it had been banded (actually by the person to whom I reported it).

What fun to discover yet another banded bird this year! I got a clear enough sighting to read the bands, so I could report “CJE” (again to discover this bird had been banded the previous year as a chick by the person to whom I reported). I have since learned a lot more about banding and reading the codes (I now know that the dark green upper bands indicate that the bird was banded in North Carolina.)

CJE 2(I first spotted Dark Green “CJE” on February 2, 2016. As I write this post, CJE is still hanging out at the marsh, so I will continue to monitor its presence.)

If you would like to learn more about American Oystercatchers, including banding of birds, reading bands, reporting them and much more, visit this very informative website:

American Oystercatcher Working Group

American Oystercatcher Banded Citizen science is a way we can each contribute to the understanding and well-being of birds, so I’ll share two interesting articles about bird banding (not specific to oystercatchers) and how ordinary citizens can contribute to the database and knowledge about birds. Data about banded birds helps scientists understand more about migration and much more.

(I spotted Dark Green “62” on February 1, 2015.)

Spotting Banded Birds: Another Way Birders Can Contribute to Citizen Science

Bird Banding and Citizen Science

American OystercatchersTo learn more about American Oystercatchers, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website about this beautiful and special bird:

All About Birds: American Oystercatcher



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