Black Oystercatcher

Black Oystercatcher, Vancouver Island, BC
Black Oystercatcher, Vancouver Island, BC, photo by Bud Logan

The Black Oystercatcher can reach 50 cm in length. It has a short stocky black body, yellow eyes surrounded with a red ring, a long orange bill, and pink legs. Males and females look alike.

The Black Oystercatcher can be found from Alaska southward along the Pacific coast, all the way to Baja California, including all of Vancouver Island.

The black oystercatcher eats a variety of invertebrates including mussels, whelks, clams, worms, and limpets. It especially likes to eat creatures that cling to the rocks below the high tide line. It usually feeds at low tide. It uses its long, sharp bill to pry bivalves like limpets and mussels off the rocks and then to open them.

They also look for open mussels and disable them by stabbing the abductor muscle that holds the shell together. This keeps the shell open. The oystercatcher then pulls out the contents with the tip of its sharp bill and swallows its catch, you can also see them probing the sand looking for sea worms and clams.

The female black oystercatcher lays two to three eggs in a shallow rocky beach nest or in a hollow on the beach above the high tide line. The nest is built by both the male and the female. They will create a depression in the ground and then pick up and toss small rocks and pebbles into the depression with their beaks. They will use the same nest every year. Both the male and the female take turns sitting the eggs. The eggs will hatch in about 29 days and the chicks fledge about 35 days later. The chicks will stay close to the nest at first. One of the parents will stay with them while the other parent forages for food to bring back to the nest. Eventually, the chicks will go with their parents to feeding areas. The chicks fledge at about five weeks and will forage on their own. The female has one brood a year. Black Oystercatchers do not migrate and remain close to their nesting area.

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