110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
Nature Scenes: American oystercatchers are hard to find in the wild
By Lynn Bowen
posted Nov 24, 2013 - 8:28:05am
An adult American oystercatcher has a distinctive 4-inch-long bright red-and-orange bill that he uses as a knife to pry open mollusks. This 17.5-inch-long shorebird has a 32-inch wingspan, and weighs 1.4 pounds.
His plumage is dark brown on the upper body and white underneath, but his head and neck are black. Long, thick pink legs and pink feet enable him to scamper quickly for his diet of shellfish, fish and worms. His beautiful yellow-orange eyes are accented with red-orange eye-rings.
Males and females look alike at a glance, but the females are slightly larger than the males. American oystercatchers live approximately 10 years if misfortunes or predators like raccoons, skunks and large birds of prey don’t kill them. Survival of the fittest is nature’s reality.
To open an oyster, mussel or clam, the oystercatcher repeatedly hits the shell with his strong bill, pries it open, and quickly eats the flesh.
American oystercatchers make scrape nests lined with small pebbles and shells on stony ground or sand dunes. The females lay two to four eggs, and both parents incubate them for a month.
Unlike most shorebirds, these adorable chicks are fed by their parents. The cute, fuzzy chicks are light brown and do not have a red bill -- it too is brown. Other species find much of their own food even when newly hatched! Sometimes oystercatchers lay their eggs in other species’ nests, usually gulls, and then let those birds raise the chicks!
American oystercatchers live mainly along the southeastern coast of the U.S. on rocky coasts or tidal flats, and they really seem to enjoy Florida. They are shy birds that don’t go to crowded beaches and therefore are difficult to find in the wild.
I watched four of these beautiful birds race on the deserted beach north of New Smyrna Beach a few years ago, finding insects but no shellfish. They seem to always be in a hurry.
Good luck finding and admiring them!
— Bowen lives in DeLand. Send email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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