Haematopodidae – Oystercatchers

African Black Oystercatcher Haematopus moquini ©Ken Behrens Website

The Haematopodidae or 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.

The different species of oystercatcher show little variation in shape or appearance. They range from 39cm to 50cm in length and 72cm to 91cm in wingspan. The Eurasian Oystercatcher is the lightest on average, at 526g, while the Sooty Oystercatcher is the heaviest, at 819g. 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.

The diet of oystercatchers varies with location. Species occurring inland feed upon earthworms and insect larvae. 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 gulls, abandoning them to be raised by those birds.

Species List

According to the IOC there are just 11 extant species of Oystercatcher, which are:

Magellanic Oystercatcher Haematopus leucopodus
Blackish Oystercatcher Haematopus ater
Black Oystercatcher Haematopus bachmani
American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus
African Oystercatcher Haematopus moquini
Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus
South Island Oystercatcher Haematopus finschi
Pied Oystercatcher Haematopus longirostris
Variable Oystercatcher Haematopus unicolor
Chatham Oystercatcher Haematopus chathamensis
Sooty Oystercatcher Haematopus fuliginosus

Species Links
  • African Black OystercatcherHaematopus moquini

    IUCN Species Status
  • African Black OystercatcherHaematopus moquini

    Species Account
    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.
  • African Black OystercatcherHaematopus moquini

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus

    IUCN Species Status
  • American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus

    Species Account
    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.
  • American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus

    Cornell Species Account
    A large, boldly patterned bird, the American Oystercatcher is conspicuous along ocean shores and salt marshes.
  • American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Black Oystercatcher Haematopus bachmani

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Black Oystercatcher Haematopus bachmani

    Cornell Species Account
    A large, conspicuous, and noisy bird of the Pacific Coast, the Black Oystercatcher can be found along rocky shores from Alaska to Baja California.
  • Black Oystercatcher Haematopus bachmani

    Species Account
    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.
  • Blackish Oystercatcher Haematopus ater

    IUCN Species Status
  • Blackish Oystercatcher Haematopus ater

    Species Account
    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.
  • Blackish Oystercatcher Haematopus ater

    Cornell Species Account
    The Blackish Oystercatcher is a large shorebird of rocky southern South American coasts. It is usually found feeding on molluscs around the waterline on wave-washed shores, and frequently gives high pitched, piping calls.
  • Blackish Oystercatcher Haematopus ater

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Chatham Oystercatcher Haematopus chathamensis

    IUCN Species Status
  • Chatham Oystercatcher Haematopus chathamensis

    Species Account
    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
  • Chatham Oystercatcher Haematopus chathamensis

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus

    Species Account
    The Eurasian oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) also known as the common pied oystercatcher, or palaearctic oystercatcher,[2] 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.
  • Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus

    IUCN Species Status
  • Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus

    RSPB Species Account
    The oystercatcher is a large, stocky, black and white wading bird. It has a long, orange-red bill and reddish-pink legs. In flight, it shows a wide white wing-stripe, a black tail, and a white rump that extends as a 'V' between the wings.
  • Magellanic Oystercatcher Haematopus leucopodus

    Species Account
    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.
  • Magellanic Oystercatcher Haematopus leucopodus

    Cornell Species Account
    Of the four oystercatchers of the New World, the Magellanic Oystercatcher stands out as unusual. It is slimmer and has a fine bill shape for one, and vocally its quavering whistles are unlike anything heard in the other three species.
  • Magellanic Oystercatcher Haematopus leucopodus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Pied Oystercatcher Haematopus longirostris

    Species Account
    The Pied Oystercatcher is black with a white breast and belly. All oystercatchers have a bright orange-red bill, eye-rings and legs and a red eye. Young birds are similar in appearance to the adults, but lack the intense red-orange colours and are brown rather than black.
  • Pied Oystercatcher Haematopus longirostris

    Species Account
    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.
  • Pied Oystercatcher Haematopus longirostris

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Sooty Oystercatcher Haematopus fuliginosus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Sooty Oystercatcher Haematopus fuliginosus

    Species Account
    The Sooty Oystercatcher is a striking black shorebird with a long red bill, red eye and pink legs. Young birds are duller and browner. It is often seen with the similar Pied Oystercatcher and is only found in coastal areas.
  • Sooty Oystercatcher Haematopus fuliginosus

    Species Account
    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 Haematopus finschi

    Species Account
    The South Island pied oystercatcher (SIPO) is the most abundant oystercatcher in New Zealand.
  • South Island Oystercatcher Haematopus finschi

    Species Account
    he South Island oystercatcher or South Island pied oystercatcher (Haematopus finschi) is one of the two common oystercatchers found in New Zealand.
  • South Island Oystercatcher Haematopus finschi

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Variable Oystercatcher Haematopus unicolor

    Species Account
    The variable oystercatcher is a familiar stocky coastal bird with a long, bright orange bill, found around much of New Zealand.
  • Variable Oystercatcher Haematopus unicolor

    Species Account
    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.
  • Variable Oystercatcher Haematopus unicolor

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 11

Useful Reading
  • Geographical Variation in Waders

    | By Meinte Engelmoer & Cees S Roselaar | Kluwer Academic Publishers | 1998 | Hardback | 331 pages, figures, tabs, maps | ISBN: 9780792350200 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Shorebirds

    | (An Identification Guide to the Waders of the World) | by Peter Hayman, John Marchant & Tony Prater | Christopher Helm | 1991 | Hardback | 416 pages, 88 colour photos, 214 maps, line drawings | ISBN: 9780713635096 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Shorebirds

    | By Des Thimpson & Ingvar Byrkjedal | Colin Baxter Photography |2001 | paperback | 72 pages, Colour photos | ISBN: 9781841070759 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Shorebirds of North America

    | (The photographic Guide | by Dennis Paulson | Christopher Helm | 2005 | Paperback | 361 pages, Colour photos | ISBN: 9780713673777 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • The Oystercatcher - From Individuals to Populations

    | By John D Goss-Custard | Oxford University Press | 1996 | Hardback | 442 pages, Figures, tables | ISBN: 9780198546474 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Waders of Europe, Asia & North America

    | By Stephen Message & Don Taylor | Christopher Helm 2005 | Paperback | 224 pages, 80 plates with colour illustrations | ISBN: 9780713652901 Buy this book from NHBS.com
Organisations
  • International Wader Study Group

    Website
    The International Wader Study Group (IWSG) is an association of amateurs and professionals from all parts of the world interested in Charadrii (waders or shorebirds). Membership of the WSG is currently over 650 worldwide. Members can be found in over 50 countries around the world, including all European countries and the Americas, Asia, Africa and Australasia. The interests of the group have diversified from its original focus from ringing and migration-related studies to embrace all aspects of wader biology.
  • Western Atlantic Shorebird Association

    Website
    The first research project to be part of WASA is the International Banding Project which is being led by Professor Allan Baker, Canada and Patricia M. Gonz
  • Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network

    Website
    WHSRN is a voluntary, non-regulatory coalition of over 200 private and public organizations in seven countries working together to study and conserve shorebirds throughout their habitats. Participation in WHSRN provides the site with international recognition as a major host for shorebirds
Forums & Mailing Lists
Other Links
  • Wader Quest

    Website
    It is vital to to take action to prevent the Spoon-billed Sandpiper from becoming extinct. Wader Quest is an attempt to raise money and awareness to the plight of, not just these tiny wanderers but of wader species worldwide…

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