For the Birds: Missing the American Oystercatcher
It’s been far too long since I’ve written anything about one of my favorite birds, the American oystercatcher.
Since they will be migrating to points south before we know it, I figured this is a good time to shine a light on these fantastic birds again.
Many birds make a statement with their plumage. Flashy colors or muted tones, their plumage is their most distinguishing feature. Other birds stand out from the crowd with other features: an owl’s large eyes; a heron’s long legs; a northern mockingbird’s incredible singing.
The American oystercatcher makes a statement in many ways. It is large, especially by shorebird standards. It has beautiful brown, black and white plumage.
Its noises are loud and conspicuous, able to be heard from distant beaches as the birds rest on off-shore islands.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the oystercatcher is its bill. It is a thick, long, bright orange/red bill as strikingly beautiful as it is deadly.
It is called an oystercatcher because that bill can open shells that other shorebirds can only dream of opening.
American oystercatchers’ eyes are a spectacle unto themselves. While many birds simply have black beads for eyes, the oystercatcher has large bright yellow eyes with a black dot in the middle. The eye is also surrounded by a thick bright red eye ring, similar to that of a wood duck’s.
I still feel that the American oystercatcher is an underrated bird. Many people rarely see them, if at all, because oystercatchers are only seen around the shore. If you don’t visit the coast, you won’t see one. So it doesn’t even register on the radar of many people because they simply don’t see them. For many birders who do visit the coast frequently, they’ve seen plenty of oystercatchers so the thrill is limited when the see another one.
That, of course, has never been a problem for me. Like great blue herons, hooded mergansers, wood ducks and countless other bird species, I get a thrill every time I see an American oystercatcher.
When I monitored piping plovers and least terns on the Connecticut Coast a few years ago, American oystercatchers were a constant companion as I looked among the rocks and sand for the species in question. I could hear their high-pitched “wheeps” and see them flying in the near distance.
The biggest thrill for me was mid-summer when the young oystercatchers hatched from their eggs and late summer when the youngsters could be seen with their parents.
It always amazes me at how quickly birds grow. Within weeks the chicks are the same size as the adults.
Now that I don’t live near the coast anymore, I rarely see these most impressive birds. I miss a lot about coastal birding, but the American oystercatcher is perhaps what I miss the most. I still see osprey, cormorants, gulls and some shorebirds on my freshwater haunts, but not oystercatchers.
I’ll be back soon enough to see them again, I’m sure. I’d better hurry, though, the migration is already under way.