Black oystercatcher pair, Morro Bay, CA

Oystercatchers are birds we see all over the world. They can be found on every continent except Antarctica. (See map below.)


Here on the western shores of North America,  we have the Black Oystercatcher. They can be found foraging on seaside rocks and cliffs from Alaska to Baja California.

Black oystercatcher in flight, Morro Bay, CA

Black oystercatcher pair, Bodega Bay, CA


The other North American oystercatcher, the American Oystercatcher, can be found on the east, Gulf, and southern west coasts of the U.S., as well as some western coasts of Central and South America. The one photographed below we found on the Galapagos Islands, where they also reside.

American Oystercatcher, Galapagos Islands

The UK hosts the Eurasian Oystercatcher, Australia has the Pied Oystercatcher.

Haematopus ostralegus Norway.jpg

Eurasian Oystercatcher pair, Norway; photo: B. Torrissen, Courtesy Wikipedia

Pied Oystercatchers, Tasmania, Australia. Photo: JJ Harrison, Courtesy Wikipedia


There are 11 extant species of Haematopus in the world, visit this Wikipedia link to find the oystercatcher on your continent.


With black or black-and-white feathering, and a long, red or orange bill, they are almost always found near ocean habitat. They are all the same general shape and size, about 15-20 inches tall (39-50 cm).


This photo, below, has a nesting pair atop the biggest rock, they are little black smudges in the center of the photo. It demonstrates the preferred habitat. The next photo zooms in to this pair and their chicks.

Pacific Ocean rock with nesting oystercatchers in center

Nesting oystercatchers feeding chicks

Although they are named for catching oysters, oystercatchers also eat other mollusks like clams and mussels, limpets; as well as gastropods like snails and slugs. They use their strong, blade-like bill to pry open the mollusk shell, and sometimes for digging in the sand.


Oystercatchers are noisy birds, with a call that is scream-like. Click here to hear. The birds often blend into the rocks and you don’t know they are around…until you hear them scream.


Thanks for joining me on this oystercatcher trip around the world. I guess we could say the world is your oystercatcher.


Flock of sleeping black oystercatchers


Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified

Image result for world map of oystercatchers?

Oystercatcher Range Map. Courtesy HBW Alive, Handbook of the Birds of the World

87 thoughts on “Oystercatchers

  1. These are beautiful birds. As you noted, the American oystercatcher is our species, but I’ve never seen one. It’s interesting that they’re found on the Galapagos Islands, as well. One thing’s certain: with that bill, they ought to be easy to spot if they’re around. Thanks for bringing them to mind, and the wonderful photos.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the oystercatchers today, Linda. Most shorebirds are tricky for quick ID because they are often the color of sand and many look similar; so you are right, the oystercatchers are easy to spot with the bright bill. And yes, that “if they’re around” is also true, because they often are not around. Thank you for your visit.

  2. Great, informative piece as always! I was fascinated when I came to the US because it is the Oystercatcher transition zone. I was accustomed to seeing the black and white in the UK and then the beautiful black in SE Australia. The US is where we find black on the West and black and white on the East.

  3. Loved the close up of the oystercatchers on the rock. These are one of the few shorebirds I have seen and can confidently identify – striking birds!
    Thanks for this, Jet, and we hope all is well with you – have a great weekend!

    • It is so fun to have ease in identifying this bird, so I am smiling at the thought of you confidently identifying it, pc. They are indeed a striking bird. I think the black in the west, which is probably the species you are most familiar with, are especially handsome. Always a real treat to have you visit, thank you, my friend.

  4. You’ve found one of my favourite birds Jet. We get lots of them at our place on the StillWalks coast of Scotland and they are wonderful. They aren’t very clever when it comes to nesting though as what they build (if you call it building) is very rudimentary and always just on the beach and not always above the high water mark. So often it gets swept away or the eggs are taken by other wildlife. Some people are irritated by their incessant calling but I love it as it makes me think of a place I love too. We also have plenty of them here in South Wales but then that’s not surprising really as we are so near the sea.

    • What a thrill for me, Alastair, to hear about your oystercatchers in Scotland and South Wales, and their nests, and nesting locations. And I, too, like their calls, as it reminds me of the beautiful sea and this beautiful bird. Thank you so much for your contribution today, I enjoyed it so much. There is a flock of 7, shown in the final photograph, who often greet me on my morning walk. They’re not always there. And the other day I found myself wondering, “I wonder if they’ll be here today.” The oystercatchers have this pull on us. 🙂

    • Since oystercatcher diets vary with locale, it is hard to know if the ones on PNW eat slugs or not. But I know the birds don’t frequent gardens, so you might be out of luck on that one, SWI. Sorry. But I know you have a keen eye, for it shows in your beautiful sketches, so I hope you have the pleasure of seeing them on the shoreline. Thanks so much for your visit.

  5. Pingback: Oyster Catchers… | huggers.ca

    • Glad you liked the play on words, Bertie, a little borrowed fun from Shakespeare. I love the osytercatcher eyes too, with the bright red and yellow rings. Thank you for your visit, much appreciated.

  6. Thanks for this informative post, Jet! I had no idea there were so many extant species of Oystercatchers. And I didn’t know they were noisy…the ones I have observed here have been so quiet 🙂

    • It’s funny about the oystercatcher vocalizations. The birds can be so quiet, like you have observed. But then you get them together and they are screamers. I know that they are fiercely territorial, so maybe this has something to do with their loudness. Always a joy to have you visit, Helen, thank you.

    • The oystercatcher call is indeed evocative, and when you have heard it dozens of times, you know exactly where to search your eyes on the rocks to find this beautiful bird. So glad you enjoyed the oystercatcher post, Cathy, thank you.

  7. Had no idea that Oyster Catchers were on the east coast–I’ve only seen them in the upper NW. Guess we’ll have to go East

    • That’s a humorous comment, Bill, and I am smiling…because I know you are on the east coast all the time. Now you have the American oystercatcher to seek out, how fun. Thanks for bringing a smile to my face.

  8. Wonderful photos. They brought back a beautiful memory for me, of when I was deckhanding for my husband on the west coast of the Charlottes. We had gone ashore and walked around a rocky islet wondering why the shrieking of oyster catchers was getting more and more hysterical. It seems we were almost on top of their nest. We knelt down to look for the nest and it just happened that the eggs were right under my husband’s hand. They were so well camouflaged that after we stood up and looked away and then back again, it was difficult to find the nest (a shallow dip in the rock) again.

    • Fantastic story of the oystercatcher eggs, Anneli, thanks so much. How fortunate that you recognized the oystercatcher’s upset, and had a sweet discovery too. It is these brief moments of embracing nature that stay with us, and remind us of the beauty of life. Thank you for this story.

    • The contrast in colors of the oystercatcher markings are, yes, absolutely striking. I often find myself, binoculars to eyes, reveling in their beauty for a long time. Warmest thanks for your visit, Walt.

  9. I’ve seen the Oystercatchers a lot in South America. They are good looking birds that walk on the sandy beaches, poking the wet sand looking for crustaceans that the tide brings in. Great post my friend. 🙂

  10. Before I traveled to NZ, I did not know that there are also black oystercatchers. I like the birds very much, they are funny. Thanks for your informative post!
    May you have a wonderful year ahead, Jet! Simone

  11. Ahh. That’s their name! We saw three of them at Milford Sound walking back and forth, left and right and made noise, not the scream in the audio clip, more like they had an argument/debate. It was so intriguing to watch. So, your post was perfert-timing. Thanks, Jet.

    • It sounds like perfect timing, Keng, that you were just watching this bird, wondering who they were, and then you received the answer. How delightful for you to be in New Zealand. Sending thanks and a smile to you both–thank you Keng.

    • Always a delight to hear from you, ACI. I hope you do get to see an oystercatcher some day, and with all that kayaking you do, I can easily see it happening. The Gal. Isl. shot is my favorite too. Athena recalled the photo op as I was remarking on that photo during the composition of this post, and she remembered how astonishing it was. We were in a small group with the naturalist–something that is required in the GI, there is no wandering off by yourself–and no one else in the group was taking photos of this oystercatcher pair in the most gorgeous light. Glad you enjoyed the final sentence, too. I had about six different endings to the post, all very different, and I decided to give it a fun ending, which felt right. So I’m glad you liked it too. Always a pleasure, my friend.

      • Between reading your post and watching some of the David Attenborough marathon this weekend leading up to Planet Earth II, I was struck again by how much beauty there is to see and thanks to your blog and so many others, I have a chance to learn about and see some of it every day. I have even added the Galápagos Islands to my travel dream list.🙂

      • Thank you, ACI. The beauty on this planet is astounding, and it takes a whole lot of us to keep it protected. It is my honor to be a small part among the heroes. We saved for two years to get to the Galapagos, and it was definitely worth it; but it is not for everyone. You have to really like wildlife, as I know you do — you would love it.

  12. Thanks for the beautiful photos and information about oystercatchers and particularly the sound track!! Now I know that I have heard them, many times at the coast in the past. Thanks for the excellent resource on birds, sounds and location etc. That could be helpful to us novices trying to match up bird sounds and visuals.


    • The birdlife in Sri Lanka is extensive, so it doesn’t surprise me that you have heard the oystercatchers, Peta. How great is that! From my reading of the Wiki website of Birds of SL (link below), you have the Common Pied Oystercatcher in SL, and it is listed as “near threatened.” So I am delighted you are hearing them, and now that you have this knowledge, next time you can look for them. Search the water’s edge, when you hear them next, and you will probably find them. Have fun! And thank you, as always, for your visit. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_birds_of_Sri_Lanka#Oystercatchers

  13. I used to see oystercatchers quite often at the beach in Bandon, but have yet to see any here to the south. I never connected their call (screech) to the bird. They almost sound a bit like gulls.

    Athena did a marvelous job of catching these lovely birds. I particularly loved the pose she caught in the second one and the shot of the chicks was awesome!

    I think this is one of Eric’s favorite birds, though come to think of it I suspect he has any number of them! (favorites that is!) Another great post. I always manage to learn something from you.

    • Gunta, so great to receive your comment, thank you. Now that you have heard their screech, you will probably be able to connect it to the actual bird, next time you hear it. Especially with Eric’s love and knowledge of them. (BTW, all us bird-lovers have SO many favorites, I loved reading this last paragraph.) They do indeed sound a lot of like gulls, only it’s not as strong a voice as the gulls’. Glad you liked the photos, too. That one of the outstretched wings is a good one, because you rarely see them like this, and the capture was fortunate. The chick sighting was special, they were very new chicks, could barely walk. Warm wishes to you, dear Gunta.

    • Lovely to receive your comment, David, I have a big smile as I type. I can imagine you had the joy of many oystercatchers on the bay near Richmond. There are some new parks over there now, and it is very favorable for bird watching. I went to the Rosie the Riveter museum this past summer, and there were many places for walking around the water’s edge. My best to you….

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Frank. Athena never stops taking photos, like you; and then I have an experience with a bird that makes me want to share it, and I have the tens of thousands of well-organized photos to wade through and find just what I need. I’m very lucky. Cheers to you and the beauty of photography.

    • Oystercatchers really are always a pleasure to watch, I agree, RH. Thanks so much for your visit. The black o., BTW, is as stunning in real life as it is in the photos. Sending warm wishes your way–

    • Loved this contribution to the oystercatcher equation, Jeff. What I’ve learned from you and other commenters is: their “nests” are certainly not easily recognized by us humans, and the birds are good communicators to humans when it comes to protecting the young. Thanks for your visit. 🙂

    • Great to hear from you, Carol. I just had an exchange with Annika Perry via your blog, thanks for the traffic. Glad you enjoyed the oystercatcher post. Aren’t those beaks just wonderful? They’re so brightly prominent on this black and white bird. Thanks very much, Carol.

    • As someone who is intimate with rocky ocean shorelines, you must be very familiar with the oystercatchers, Wayne. And they do indeed sound a lot like kingfishers, with that scolding-voice quality. I love hearing the kingfishers’ rattle-like call. So glad you enjoyed the oystercatcher post, thank you for your visit, Wayne. I’m glad the EQ settled down and no tsunamis came your way.

    • My thanks dear Eddie, for this comment. Informing people about earth’s wildlife is one of my strongest reasons for writing and posting every week. Another reason is to meet kind friends like you. You’ve just made my day, dear friend, and it’s not even light out yet….

  14. The world is your oystercatcher! Haha that made me laugh! The map showing all the locations is surprising. Should they have an international oystercatcher conference it will be challenging to find a convenient location for all.
    The orange beaks are quite a look. Just in case there was any doubt about the powerful seashell cracker it has been given bright orange danger flag.

    • I enjoyed your comment, Sue, gave me a warm smile. It is a worldly species, not unlike you as you cycle through Asia. Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. I am so glad things are going well for you and Dave on your trip…so much fun. Cheers!

      • Jet I can now report that we are back in Canada! What a month it has been. Lots of adventure, four new countries for us and each so unique. All along the way such wonderful people. Often not a word of common language other than the kindness of humanity. A joy to see.

      • I am so delighted to hear your trip was a complete success, Sue. I appreciated hearing back from you, knowing you’ve returned safely, and I’ve had great fun following along on your posts. It takes great effort, intention, courage, and planning to pull off an elaborate adventure such as this, and I find I am smiling at this moment, so very happy for you both.

    • I like the name your kids have given to oystercatchers. I call the acorn woodpecker a clown bird. Funny how we all find our birds endearing. I am so glad you have taught your kids the importance of wildlife, Shannon, what a great thing.

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