The Atlantic population of American Oystercatchers breeds as far north as Maine and winters as far south as southern Florida. That makes their longest migrations about 1,500 miles. However, not all oystercatchers migrate. Some stay in one place year-round, and there are wintering flocks as far north as New Jersey.
The largest concentrations of wintering American Oystercatchers occur in South Carolina near Cape Romaine National Wildlife Refuge, in Georgia at the mouth of the Altamaha River, and on the northern Gulf coast of Florida. Flocks of over 1,000 oystercatchers may be seen from November to February.
To get to their wintering grounds, oystercatchers migrate. From satellite tracking data and band resighting, it appears that they take shorter flights, stopping over every few hundred miles to feed and rest.
Rest for the Weary
Since their flights are powered by the food they can find on stopovers, and energy is wasted if roosting birds are flushed, it’s important that they not be disturbed while feeding or resting.
Taking a Break
On their winter grounds, large roosting flocks congregate in safe, open areas at high tide. This is when their shellfish prey are submerged, so they can rest and preen.
Preening is an important part of a bird’s life. They oil their feathers using a small gland at the base of their tail. This keeps their feathers well groomed and waterproof so they can provide insulation from the cold and wet.
One advantage of roosting in groups is that there are many eyes to keep a look out from aerial predators like Peregrine Falcons.
Many species, such as the Black-bellied Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, and Short-billed Dowitchers in this photo, roost together with oystercatchers.
Audubon North Carolina
NC State University
Copyright 2013-2015 Audubon North Carolina. All rights reserved.