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Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus bachmani)

Published on 1/7/2016

Another bird in a series of birds and mammals often encountered on the water by WKC paddlers 


Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus bachmani)


The Black Oystercatcher is a brownish-black, crow-sized shorebird with a conspicuous orange-red bill and pink legs. Close up, a yellow eye is rimmed in red. Black Oystercatchers are fairly common in rocky shore ocean environments from Alaska to Baja. No Pacific Northwest bird resembles it; in flight, crows and cormorant are also black, but their flight pattern and habits are markedly different. Sea kayakers often hear the Oystercatcher’s loud, unmistakable alarm cries before seeing them as they fly to positions on nearby rocks. A quickening, crescendo scream in flight can be a warning, but it often means a territorial battle amongst Oystercatchers. The birds are not migratory; their antics entertain year-round. 


Black Oystercatchers use their long bill not for oysters, but to pry mussels, limpets, barnacles and small clams from the rocky intertidal. They adeptly slice holdfasts, and quickly pry, snip and swallow the meat. Nests are a scrape on gravel or on a rock outcrop above the high tide line. If approached during nesting season, they will often sit as if on eggs until you come quite near, and then move abruptly off as you discover no nest at all. The 1-3 speckled eggs blend in with the terrain and are difficult to find. 


Black Oystercatchers are rare in south Puget Sound, but are locally common in rocky shore habitat of the Olympic Coast, Cape Flattery and the San Juan Islands. Washington Park in Anacortes is a good bet. For Salish Sea paddlers, check Strawberry Island, the south point of Lummi, plus rocky islets throughout the San Juans and Gulf Islands. Although the Black Oystercatcher is not considered threatened, it’s specialized to rocky shore habitat. As such they are a keystone indicator and a species of concern. 


Gary Luhm


Black Oystercatcher foraging, Lummi Island

Black Oystercatcher in flight, Tatoosh Island  


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