Look at that sturdy black body, that powerful red-orange beak, those stocky pink legs and red-ringed yellow eyes. It's the Black Oystercatcher! He's stalking the beach, breaking open limpets, chitons, mussels, and even oysters!
This bird is an important species along our shoreline, a sensitive indicator of the health of the rocky intertidal community. Over 80 percent of the Black Oystercatchers in the world live between southern Oregon and Southeast Alaska. There are only about 11,000 of them. In March, adult Oystercatchers return to their breeding territories. They nest near the intertidal zones of offshore islands. Each pair makes a small depression the size of a bowl close to the high tide zone.
To disguise the nest from predators, the birds line it with small pebbles and bits of shell. The female Oystercatcher then lays 2 or 3 eggs between early May and late June. If the nest is disturbed or the eggs destroyed the pair may try again and lay more. Chicks depend on their parents to bring them food, so nests are often near beds of mussels. For the 35 days before they're able to fly the Oystercatcher chicks are in danger from tidal surges, small animals, and human interference. A young Oystercatcher surviving these hazards may live 15 or 16 years. Enjoy and help preserve these colorful busy birds when you see them stabbing those sea urchins! Avoid areas where Oystercatchers are nesting.
Clean water is important for shellfish and other Oystercatcher food. You can help by properly disposing of motor oil and other potential pollutants and by avoiding chemical use around your home and yard.