oyster catcher

Eurasian oyster catcher

Latin name: Haematopus ostralegus
Global Distribution: breeding grounds western Europe, central Eurasia, Kamchatka, China, and the western coast of Korea
UK Distribution: breeding grounds all UK coasts
Size: Length 40-45cm, Wingspan 80-86cm, Weight 430-650g
Diet: Mussels and cockles on the coast, mainly worms inland.
Habitat: breads on rocky, sandy and muddy shore, estuaries, river and lake banks
Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurasian_oystercatcher

Eurasian Oyster Catchers are the largest wader in the region and they are equipped with a strong board red bills which they use for smashing molluscs and digging out earthworms. Despite their name, they do not exclusively eat oysters, they eat other bivalve molluscs, and worms when they are further inland. The species highly depend on cockle beds as this is their main food source, therefore any over-exploitation of cockle beds can lead to significant decrease of the population. This, along with their unique behaviour, makes them a great indicator species for the health of the ecosystem they live in. Despite their large numbers (estimated population 1,004,000 to 1,160,000 individual birds), the species is classified as “nearly threatened” on the IUCN red list, due to population declines in the 1990s, which don’t seem to recover, even with applied measures such restrictions of mechanical fisheries operations.

Eurasian Oyster Catchers usually breed on the coast, but the last 50 years there has been a movement towards inland areas. Their nest is usually a bare scrape on pebbles or gravel and only 2-3 eggs are laid each season, with both the eggs and the chicks being very cryptic. They can live for up to 40 years old.

Fun facts

  • They used to have a closely related species in the Canary islands, but this species went extinct in the last century.
  • The Oyster Catcher is the national bird of Faroe Islands.
  • Most species are believed to only breed in pairs, but the Eurasian Oyster Catcher appears to be the exception with reports of these birds cheating on their partners.