Orange 26 roosts and preens at Rich Inlet, where Orange Green also spends time.
Oreo on the Docks
Oreo roosting on a dock behind Masonboro Island.
A flock of oystercatchers performing an aerial piping display as part of a territorial display our courtship.
Arnie and his mate performing a piping display.
Oreo's chick CJX preens its new adult feathers while both parents look on.
CFX in a Squabble
CFX on the left, in a territorial dispute with a neighbor oystercatcher.
A melee ensues whenever food is brought to the chicks.
Oreo feeds one chick as another rushes in to snatch the food.
Competition is fierce among siblings: a bigger, older chick chases a smaller one away to ensure more food for itself.
Oreo receives a chick bump.
Oreo Shades a Chick
Oreo spreads her wing and offers one of her chicks shade. This is called “brooding” and helps the chicks stay warm or cool, as needed.
Oreo Attacks a Ghost Crab
Oreo attacks a ghost crab.
Oreo Disposing of the Eggshell
Oreo disposing of the eggshell of a recently hatched chick.
Oreo and her mate reaffirming their territory and pair bonding.
When not feeding or tending to eggs or chicks, oystercatchers are often to be found roosting, which is a term used to describe the time shorebirds spend resting and digesting. Since oysters and other shellfish are mostly exposed at low tide, high tide is prime time for roosting.
Keeping an Eye Out
A bigger roosting flock means more eyes to the skies to watch for predators like Peregrine Falcons. The oystercatcher on the right is looking up to do just that.
Oystercatchers are not picky about who they roost with. They are often to be found in mixed species groups, like these oystercatchers who are napping among several different species, including Short-billed Dowitchers.
When roosting, oystercatchers and other shorebirds like to stand on one leg. This helps preserve heat when it’s cold. Another way birds stay warm is to limit the amount of blood that flows to their legs, keeping most of their blood in the core of their bodies where it won’t get chilled.
While roosting, oystercatchers take the opportunity to maintain their feathers. This is called preening. They apply oil from a small gland above their tail to waterproof them and meticulously put each one back in its proper place.
Preening also removes parasites, but when that fails, a good scratch will do the trick as well.
Birds stretch just for stretching’s sake, but also when they feel nervous and think they might have to take off soon. If a bird raises and lowers its wings as you approach, back away to avoid flushing it. It might be tired and need to rest, especially if it’s on migration!
One of the strangest behaviors oystercatchers exhibit is false brooding. When an intruder is near its nest, the adult may sit down elsewhere as though it’s tending to eggs. This is in the hopes of luring the intruder away from the real nest.
Oystercatchers perform a striking piping display when courting, establishing territory, and strengthening their pair bond. It can be performed while walking or running in tandem, or when flying together.
Oystercatchers communicate with their mates and chicks through piping alarm calls. The mate will fly into help defend the territory and chicks will run away and hide when they hear it.
Fending off Predators
Oystercatchers do not care for predators in their territories. They will fly at and chase egg and chick predators such as gulls and crows.
This oystercatcher decided it didn’t want this Turkey Vulture in its territory, and it and its mate mobbed the bigger bird until it flew away.
With young chicks at stake, Arnie and his mate are not tolerant of gulls in their territory. They will prey on small chicks, and oystercatchers seem to know this and do their best to keep them at a distance.
Audubon North Carolina
NC State University
Copyright 2013-2015 Audubon North Carolina. All rights reserved.