Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Black Oystercatchers Need Your Help!

The birds continue to be active at Haystack Rock. Today, the Black Oystercatchers take center stage! Oystercatchers have been seen mating and are nesting on the Rock.

The Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus bachmani) is a large (about the size of a crow) and noisy bird that makes its home along rocky shores from Alaska to Baja California. It is a wading bird, black in color, with a long, red bill, yellow eyes that are outlined in red, and tan colored legs. They feed primarily on mussels, limpets and other shellfish; foraging mostly near low tide and resting at high tide.  When feeding on mussels, found in abundance on Haystack Rock during low tide, the bird either finds a slight opening in the shell, inserting its long, red bill into the opening to feed or the bird will hammer on the shell to open it.


Black Oystercatcher, August 2014
Photo Courtesy of Susan Glarum

The Oystercatcher nests well above the high tide line and near a food source such as mussel beds. The nest site is typically on either gravel, a grassy area, or a depression in rock. The nest is built by both parents and can be lined with pebbles or bits of shell. Typical clutch size is 2 to 3 eggs that are pale tan to olive in color with brown and black spots. Both parents take turns guarding the eggs during the 24 - 29 day incubation period. The nesting pairs at Haystack Rock can be seen swapping guard duty at the nest.


Black Oystercatcher, August 2014
Photo Courtesy of Susan Glarum

After hatching, the parents continue to guard the young near the nest. As the chicks grow, they follow their parents to the feeding areas and are fed by them there. The young can fly at around 5 weeks but will stay with the parents until they can feed themselves. 

The area around nesting Black Oystercatchers at Haystack Rock are closed during low tide to protect the birds and give them the greatest chance for survival. The overall success for the species, both for egg hatching and survival of the young, is relatively low; closing the immediate nesting area helps to increase the survival odds. 


Black Oystercatcher Nest 
Closed at Low Tide to Protect the Site

We hope to see you on the Beach soon ... and perhaps you will see the Black Oystercatchers guarding their nest and, when hatched, guarding and feeding their young. Bring your binoculars or visit the scopes set up near the Rock at low tide to watch the Oystercatchers from a distance that won't endanger them.

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