Oreo has been a busy bird in the past few weeks. After arriving in Florida in September, Oreo spent about two weeks in the Cedar Key area. There she spent time on a large oyster bar called Corrigan’s Reef, roosting with several hundred other oystercatchers from all over the country. She rubbed wings with birds from Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Virginianot to mention other North Carolinian oystercatchers. And she was photographed by Pat and Doris Leary, researchers conducting surveys for Audubon Florida.
Then, shortly before Tropical Storm Karen blew through the Florida panhandle, she moved about 30 miles north up the coast to the Horseshoe Beach area, another important roosting site for wintering oystercatchers. There a large jetty juts out into the Gulf of Mexico, providing a safe roost site for oystercatchers and other shorebirds.
What makes a roost site safe? Being surrounded by water, separating the birds from land-based predators like raccoons and from most human disturbance. Being out in the open, where wary birds can watch the skies for predators like the Peregrine Falcon. And being high and dry at high tide, so birds can rest during high tide when their feeding areas are submerged.
Just a few weeks after she arrived in Horseshoe Beach, Oreo was again sighted by Pat and Doris on October 20. This time she was roosting on the jetty with Short-billed Dowitchers, Marbled Godwits, and other shorebirds. Pat and Doris drifted carefully along the jetty, staying far enough away to avoid flushing the flock, and took photos and looked at the oystercatchers’ legs through a spotting scope in order to read bands. They found 31 banded individuals in a flock of about 300 oystercatchers. Out of a total U.S. population of about 11,000, that’s almost 3%. Meanwhile, at Cedar Key, Pat and Doris found about 1,200 oystercatchers, over 10% of the population. This part of Florida is extremely important to wintering oystercatchers!
Although the area is relatively remote, Pat and Doris still see some human disturbance, such as these fishermen who were cast netting near the jetty and spooked many of the oystercatchers. Though no harm is meant to the birds, causing them to flush does deplete their energy stores, stores which may be necessary to help them weather a cold night or make their next migration. You can help oystercatchers and other shorebirds by explaining to beachgoers and others why it’s important not to flush birds, even during the non-breeding season.
From examining her satellite locations, we can see that when she is not roosting on the jetty, Oreo moves eastward to a maze of oyster bars and small islands where she likely spends most of her time foraging. Unfortunately, we will have to rely on Pat and Doris’s surveys from here on in because sometime on or after October 22, Oreo too was able to shed her transmitter. We hope to confirm her continued good health and successful wintering on the their next surveyand to bring you more photos of her winter comings and goings.