American Oystercatcher

Haematopus palliatus

Summary 7

The American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus), occasionally called the American Pied Oystercatcher, is a member of family Haematopodidae. The bird is marked by its black and white body and a long, thick orange beak. This shorebird is approximately 19 inches (42 – 52 cm) in length.

Brief summary 8

The American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus) is a strictly coastal species associated with rocky and sandy seacoasts, tidal mudflats, and salt marshes. It breeds locally along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts south to Florida and along the Gulf coast south to the Yucatan Peninsula; in the Bahamas, Greater Antilles, and Lesser Antilles; along the Pacific coast from central Baja California south to central Chile; and along the Caribbean-Atlantic coast south to south-central Argentina. The primary wintering range extends from Maryland south to southeastern Mexico on the Atlantic-Gulf coast; along the North American Pacific coast from central Baja California south to Honduras, as well as in Costa Rica; and generally in the breeding range in the West Indies and along both coasts of South America. (Kaufman 1996; AOU 1998).

American Oystercatcher numbers declined seriously in the 19th century, but recovered substantially during the 20th century. Despite disturbance in beach habitats, in many areas breeding oystercatchers are doing well, often nesting on dredge spoil islands. Davis et al. (2001) estimated the number of American Oystercatchers breeding along the entire Atlantic coast and the Gulf coast of Florida at 1,624 pairs. North of Virginia, they reported stable or slowly increasing numbers, with the range expanding as far north as Cape Sable Island in Nova Scotia. However, there is good reason for concern about overall population trajectories. From Virginia south, Davis et al. reported a decline in breeding numbers, with the number of oystercatchers breeding on barrier islands in Virginia decreasing by more than 50% in the last 2 decades of the 20th century. Given their relatively small numbers and inherently low productivity, the authors suggest that American Oystercatchers are at risk in rapidly changing coastal ecosystems. (Davis et al. 2001)

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