Threats & Solutions
Oystercatchers face many threats, both natural and manmade. While they are adapted to survive the challenges that nature sends their way, when people add to the hurdles they must overcome their survival is in jeopardy. Below you can read not only about the threats oystercatchers experience, but what we can do to solve these problems and help oystercatchers raise the next generation.
What’s an oystercatcher to do when it has nowhere to live? All along the Atlantic seaboard, coastal development has crowded many species of shorebird out of traditional nesting areas. Human beachgoers, while meaning no harm, often displace nesting birds from otherwise suitable habitat, while shoreline stabilization projects and beachfront buildings can eliminate habitat altogether. You can help by being mindful of birds at the beach and supporting development policies that leave room for wildlife at the beach.
Imagine trying to raise your baby on a public sidewalk or trying to sit down for dinner on a busy subway platform. You might feel a little stressed. Oystercatchers and other beach-nesting birds face disturbance from people and dogs. This can cause direct nest and chick loss if eggs or chicks are stepped on, but more often chronic disturbance stresses the parent birds out and causes them to flush from their young, leaving them vulnerable to overheating on the hot sand or to hungry predators like gulls and crows. If disturbance is severe enough, the stressed parents may abandon their eggs. During winter and migration, disturbance matters too. Oystercatchers and other shorebirds are fattening up for migration and working to stay warm on cold nights. Wasting energy by being flushed over and over from resting or feeding areas puts additional strain on them, reducing their chances of survival. You can help by walking around flocks of birds, keeping a safe distance from nesting areas, and keeping your dog on a leash and far away from birds at the beach.
Who doesn’t like a free lunch? When people make extra food available in the form of trash left behind or unsecured garbage cans, predators such as raccoons, gulls, and ghost crabs become more abundant. And when we introduce new predators like cats to a natural ecosystem we make matters worse. Controlling species that are able to exploit free food that we provide is key to the survival of beach-nesting birds that are especially vulnerable to mammalian predators like raccoons, foxes, and cats. You can help by supporting responsible management, keeping cats indoors, and not leaving any food where wild or feral animals can get at it.
Poor management policies such as those that do not provide adequate buffers and closed areas fail to protect oystercatchers and other beach-nesting birds from off-road vehicles. Vehicular traffic flushes incubating birds off of their nests, and chicks hiding in tire ruts are also run over because they are impossible for drivers to see. You can help oystercatchers by obeying all rules on beaches where driving is allowed, consider accessing beaches on foot instead, and by supporting managers who are implementing good management practices.
Too often fishing line does not find its way into a recycling bin. When it’s discarded on the beach or elsewhere along the coast, birds often become entangled in it. Usually this leads to a slow, painful death. Sometimes, blood flow is cut off, resulting in the slow amputation of a limb. All kinds of wildlife from dolphins and sea turtles to gulls shorebirds like the oystercatcher are affected. You can do your part by never littering and picking up discarded fishing line and recycling it or cutting it into small pieces and throwing it in the garbage. If you fish, encourage other anglers to be responsible too.
Weather and Sea Level Rise
Ominous storm clouds could mean bad news for the oystercatchers nesting on this barrier island beach. High tides and storms can overwash nests or soak chicks, leaving the vulnerable to hypothermia if their parents don’t keep them covered up. Sea level rise will only make these threats more acute. The Atlantic seaboard in particular, the heart of the oystercatcher’s breeding range, is predicted to see some of the greatest increases as the twenty-first century unfolds. While oystercatchers will renest if their eggs are lost to overwash, they can’t be successful if they don’t have high ground on which to nest. Supporting programs to reduce carbon emissions and increase green energy production, as well as going green whenever possible, are ways you can help address climate change.