The oystercatchers are a group of waders forming the family Haematopodidae, which has a single genus, Haematopus. They are found on coasts worldwide apart from the polar regions and some tropical regions of Africa and South East Asia. The exception to this is the Eurasian oystercatcher and the South Island oystercatcher, both of which breed inland, far inland in some cases. In the past there has been a great deal of confusion as to the species limits, with discrete populations of all black oystercatchers being afforded specific status but pied oystercatchers being considered one single species.[1]

The name oystercatcher was coined by Mark Catesby in 1731 as a common name for the North American species H. palliatus, described as eating oysters.[2] Yarrell in 1843 established this as the preferred term, replacing the older name sea pie[2][3] or sea-pie[4]. The genus name Haematopus comes from the Greek haima αἳμα blood, pous πούς foot.[5]

Haematopus longirostris 2
Pied oystercatcher
(Haematopus longirostris)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Suborder: Charadrii
Family: Haematopodidae
Bonaparte, 1838
Genus: Haematopus
Linnaeus, 1758

See text

Oyster catcher by Dan Pancamo
American oystercatcher
Oystercatcher - Strandskata (Haematopus ostralegus)


The different species of oystercatcher show little variation in shape or appearance. They range from 39–50 cm (15–20 in) in length and 72–91 cm (28–36 in) in wingspan. The Eurasian oystercatcher is the lightest on average, at 526 g (1.160 lb), while the sooty oystercatcher is the heaviest, at 819 g (1.806 lb).[6] The plumage of all species is either all-black, or black (or dark brown) on top and white underneath. The variable oystercatcher is slightly exceptional in being either all-black or pied. They are large, obvious, and noisy plover-like birds, with massive long orange or red bills used for smashing or prying open molluscs. The bill shape varies between species, according to the diet. Those birds with blade-like bill tips pry open or smash mollusc shells, and those with pointed bill tips tend to probe for annelid worms. They show sexual dimorphism, with females being longer-billed and heavier than males.[1]


The diet of oystercatchers varies with location. Species occurring inland feed upon earthworms and insect larvae.[1] The diet of coastal oystercatchers is more varied, although dependent upon coast type; on estuaries bivalves, gastropods and polychaete worms are the most important part of the diet, whereas rocky shore oystercatchers prey upon limpets, mussels, gastropods, and chitons. Other prey items include echinoderms, fish, and crabs.


Nearly all species of oystercatcher are monogamous, although there are reports of polygamy in the Eurasian oystercatcher. They are territorial during the breeding season (with a few species defending territories year round). There is strong mate and site fidelity in the species that have been studied, with one record of a pair defending the same site for 20 years. A single nesting attempt is made per breeding season, which is timed over the summer months. The nests of oystercatchers are simple affairs, scrapes in the ground which may be lined, and placed in a spot with good visibility. The eggs of oystercatchers are spotted and cryptic. Between one and four eggs are laid, with three being typical in the Northern Hemisphere and two in the south. Incubation is shared but not proportionally, females tend to take more incubation and males engage in more territory defence. Incubation varies by species, lasting between 24–39 days. Oystercatchers are also known to practice "egg dumping." Like the cuckoo, they sometimes lay their eggs in the nests of other species such as seagulls, abandoning them to be raised by those birds.[7]


The Canary Islands oystercatcher became extinct during the 20th century. The Chatham oystercatcher is endemic to the Chatham Islands of New Zealand but is listed as endangered by the IUCN, while both the African and Eurasian oystercatchers are considered near threatened. There has been conflict with commercial shellfish farmers, but studies have found that the impact of oystercatchers is much smaller than that of shore crabs.


Species in taxonomic order
Common name Binomial Image
Magellanic oystercatcher H. leucopodus
Magellanic Oystercatcher
Blackish oystercatcher H. ater
Haematopus ater
Black oystercatcher H. bachmani
Black Oystercatcher
American oystercatcher H. palliatus
American Oystercatcher
Canary Islands oystercatcher H. meadewaldoi
Canarian Oystercatcher
African oystercatcher H. moquini
African Black Oystercatcher, (Haematopus moquini) standing on the sand
Eurasian oystercatcher
or Palaearctic oystercatcher
H. ostralegus
Haematopus ostralegus He
Pied oystercatcher H. longirostris
Pied Oystercatcher
South Island oystercatcher H. finschi
South Island pied oystercatcher 2c
Chatham oystercatcher H. chathamensis
Variable oystercatcher H. unicolor
Variable Oystercatcher
Sooty oystercatcher H. fuliginosus
Sooty Oystercatcher

One fossil species is known: Haematopus sulcatus (Brodkorb, 1955) from the early Pliocene of Florida.


  1. ^ a b c Hockey, P (1996) Family Haematopodidae (Oystercatchers) in del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A. & Sargatal, J. (editors). (1996). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 84-87334-20-2
  2. ^ a b Lockwood, W B (1993). The Oxford Dictionary of British Bird Names. OUP. ISBN 978-0-19-866196-2.
  3. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 184, 286. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  4. ^ Selous, Edmund (1905). The Bird Watcher in the Shetlands . London: J.M. Dent. p. 218 – via Wikisource.
  5. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 184. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  6. ^ John B. Dunning Jr. (1992). CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses. CRC Press. p. 98. ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5.
  7. ^ "Birds Dumping Eggs on the Neighbors". Sciencedaily.com. 2011-06-03. Retrieved 2012-12-20.

External links

African oystercatcher

The African oystercatcher or African black oystercatcher (Haematopus moquini), is a large charismatic wader resident to the mainland coasts and offshore islands of southern Africa. This near-threatened oystercatcher has a population of over 6,000 adults, which breed between November and April. The scientific name moquini commemorates the French naturalist Alfred Moquin-Tandon who discovered and named this species before Bonaparte.

American oystercatcher

The American oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus), occasionally called the American pied oystercatcher, is a member of family Haematopodidae. Originally called the "sea pie", it was renamed in 1731 when naturalist Mark Catesby observed the bird eating oysters. The current population of American oystercatchers is estimated to be 43,000. There are estimated to be 1,500 breeding pairs along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the US. The bird is marked by its black and white body and a long, thick orange beak.

Anclote Key Preserve State Park

Anclote Key Preserve State Park is a Florida State Park and historic site, located on Anclote Key three miles (5 km) off Tarpon Springs along the Atlantic coastal plain. This state park is only accessible by boat. Amenities include primitive camping on the northern portion of the island as well as picnic pavilions and grills. Wildlife includes the American oystercatcher, bald eagle and piping plover. The park is unique in that a lighthouse, built in 1887, is on the southern end of the key in Pinellas County, Florida. Three Rooker Island, south of Anclote and part of the preserve, remains an important Gulf Coast beach-nesting bird sanctuary.

Bass Pyramid

The Bass Pyramid, part of the Furneaux Group, is a small, two sectioned oval, steep-sided 100-square-metre (1,100 sq ft) unpopulated granite island, located in Bass Strait, lying north of the Flinders Island and south of the Kent Group, in Tasmania, Australia. A rock bridge connects the two sections.

The island was used intermittently from the 1940s until 1988 as a bombing and shelling target by the Australian airforce and navy. On 5 April 1978 the island was proclaimed part of a nature reserve.

Recorded breeding seabird and wader species include fairy prion, common diving-petrel, Pacific gull, silver gull, Australasian gannet and sooty oystercatcher. It is also a haul-out site for Australian fur seals. The seals were hunted here in the 19th century. The dangers of the site resulted in at least three sealers losing their lives here.

Black oystercatcher

The black oystercatcher (Haematopus bachmani) is a conspicuous black bird found on the shoreline of western North America. It ranges from the Aleutian Islands of Alaska to the coast of the Baja California peninsula.

The black oystercatcher is the only representative of the oystercatcher family (Haematopodidae) over most of its range, overlapping slightly with the American oystercatcher (H. palliatus) on the coast of Baja California. Within its range it is most commonly referred to as the black oystercatcher, although this name is also used locally for the blackish oystercatcher and the African oystercatcher. Its scientific name is derived by John James Audubon from that of his friend John Bachman.

Although the species is not considered threatened, its global population size is estimated between 8,900–11,000 individuals. The black oystercatcher is a species of high conservation concern throughout its range (U.S., Canadian, Alaskan, and Northern & Southern Pacific Shorebird Conservation Plans), a keystone indicator species along the north Pacific shoreline, a management indicator species in the Chugach National Forest, and a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service focal species for priority conservation action.

Blackish oystercatcher

The blackish oystercatcher (Haematopus ater) is a species of wading bird in the oystercatcher family Haematopodidae. It is found in Argentina, Chile, the Falkland Islands and Peru, and is a vagrant to Uruguay. The population is estimated at 15,000–80,000.

Canary Islands oystercatcher

The Canary Islands Oystercatcher, Canarian Oystercatcher, or Canarian black Oystercatcher (Haematopus meadewaldoi),

was a shorebird endemic to Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, and their offshore islets (Islote de Lobos and the Chinijo Archipelago) in the Canary Islands, Spain. It is now considered to be extinct.

Hockey (1982) showed that the Canary Islands Oystercatcher was a full species distinct from the African Oystercatcher Haematopus moquini, of which it was formerly considered a subspecies; these two were occasionally lumped as subspecies of the Eurasian oystercatcher. Though this bird was long known to naturalists, it was considered a mere local population of the African black oystercatcher until 1913 (Bannerman 1913).

Cape Blanche Conservation Park

Cape Blanche Conservation Park is a protected area located on the west coast of Eyre Peninsula in South Australia about 25 kilometres (16 miles) south of Streaky Bay. It was proclaimed under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 in 2012 for the purpose of protecting ‘important breeding habitat for the eastern osprey (Pandion cristatus) and white-bellied sea-eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster)’ and ‘diverse range of flora’ including ‘the West Coast mintbush (Prostanthera calycina),’ and to provide ‘provide important habitat for threatened shorebirds and migratory birds, including the hooded plover (Thinornis rubricollis), sooty oystercatcher(Haematopus fuliginosus) and sanderling (Calidris alba).’ The conservation park is classified as an IUCN Category III protected area.

Chatham oystercatcher

The Chatham oystercatcher or Chatham Island oystercatcher (Haematopus chathamensis) is a species of oystercatcher. It is a wading bird endemic to the Chatham Islands, New Zealand.

This species is rated by the IUCN as endangered, and has a current population of 310 to 325 birds (2004 census). The main threat is from introduced predators.

Eurasian oystercatcher

The Eurasian oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) also known as the common pied oystercatcher, or palaearctic oystercatcher, or (in Europe) just oystercatcher, is a wader in the oystercatcher bird family Haematopodidae. It is the most widespread of the oystercatchers, with three races breeding in western Europe, central Eurasia, Kamchatka, China, and the western coast of Korea. No other oystercatcher occurs within this area.

This oystercatcher is the national bird of the Faroe Islands.

Hog Island (Tasmania)

Hog Island is a small island and nature reserve, with an area of 0.35 hectares (0.86 acres), part of the Sloping Island Group, lying in the Frederick Henry Bay, close to the south-eastern coast of Tasmania, Australia. The island is situated around the Tasman and Forestier Peninsulas.Recorded breeding seabird and wader species are Pacific gull, kelp gull, sooty oystercatcher and Caspian tern.

Magellanic oystercatcher

The Magellanic oystercatcher (Haematopus leucopodus) is a species of wader in the family Haematopodidae. It is found in Argentina, Chile and the Falkland Islands in freshwater lake and sandy shore habitats.

Pied oystercatcher

The pied oystercatcher (Haematopus longirostris) is a species of oystercatcher. It is a wading bird native to Australia and commonly found on its coastline. The similar South Island pied oystercatcher (H. finschi) occurs in New Zealand.

Port Cygnet Conservation Area

The Port Cygnet Conservation Area is located in Cygnet, Tasmania, approximately 65 km (40 mi) southwest of the state's capital city, Hobart. The reserve has an area of 103 ha (250 acres). It is an open estuary environment including a listed wetland of state significance, being the only Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Bruny Bioregion representing the Open Estuaries Biounit.Port Cygnet was first proclaimed as a wildlife sanctuary in 1952 for the protection of the foreshore and wetlands. The marine component of the reserve area was proclaimed Port Cygnet Marine Conservation Area under the Nature Conservation Act 2002 on 9 December 2009.

The reserve is significant as a refuge area for numerous bird species including migratory birds such as Latham's snipe (Gallinago hardwickii), the Great egret (Egretta alba) and the Greater crested tern (Sterna bergii).

The wetland harbours species such as the Pied oystercatcher (Haematopus longirostris) and White-bellied sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster)

Samphire Island

Samphire Island is a small shell-grit island, with an area of 3.3 ha, in south-eastern Australia. It is part of Tasmania’s Great Dog Island Group, lying in eastern Bass Strait between Flinders and Cape Barren Islands in the Furneaux Group. It is surrounded by mudflats at low tide.

Sooty oystercatcher

The sooty oystercatcher (Haematopus fuliginosus) is a species of oystercatcher. It is a wading bird endemic to Australia and commonly found on its coastline. It prefers rocky coastlines, but will occasionally live in estuaries. All of its feathers are black. It has a red eye, eye ring and bill, and pink legs.

South Island oystercatcher

The South Island oystercatcher or South Island pied oystercatcher (Haematopus finschi) is one of the two common oystercatchers found in New Zealand. Its name is often contracted to the acronym "SIPO" (rhyming with "typo").


Uuemaarahu is a small, Baltic Sea islet comprising 0.0234 hectares belonging to the country of Estonia.

Uuemaarahu lies 1 kilometer to the southeast of the island of Hellamaa in the Väinameri Strait. It belongs to the administrative municipality of Pühalepa Parish, Hiiu County (Estonian: Hiiu maakond) and is part of the Hiiumaa Islet Landscape Reserve. Other islands nearby include Uuemererahu, Kadakalaid, Ramsi, Hõralaid and Vohilaid.

The islet is an important moulting area for an abundant variety of birds such as: the mute swan, the great black-backed gull, the common gull, the oystercatcher, the Arctic tern, the common eider, the greylag goose, the common goldeneye, the mallard, the goosander, the ruff, the black-tailed godwit, and the barnacle goose.

Variable oystercatcher

The variable oystercatcher (Haematopus unicolor) is a species of wader in the family Haematopodidae.

It is endemic to New Zealand. The Maori name is torea-pango. They are also known as 'red bills'.

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