Audubon Priority Bird: American Oystercatcher

Photograph by Joel Sartore

Audubon Priority Bird: American Oystercatcher

The aptly named shorebird uses its bright bill to dine on shellfish.

By The Audubon Editors
Published: 04/11/2013

Looks and behavior: The aptly named American oystercatcher uses its brightly colored bill to dine on oysters and other invertebrates along the coast.

Range and habitat: This bird is widespread, found along the Atlantic east coast from Maine to Florida, along Texan beaches, on islands in the Gulf and in the Caribbean, and along the Pacific coast. Its habitat is strictly coastal, nesting on sandy beaches and dunes and feeding in salt marshes. 

Status: Though the global population of this species is 72,000 individuals, the number is well below historic levels. The bird is a “species of special concern” in many states.

Threats/outlook: Habitat loss from coastal development is one of the greatest threats, as are human disturbance, food loss, and increased animal predation. In addition, sea-level rise is threatening small islands and beaches. American oystercatchers are slowly expanding their range and population, but a small population size in North America makes it vulnerable to environmental catastrophes.

Audubon’s work: Audubon Louisiana helped create the state’s master plan for coastal restoration, which will build habitat vital to nesting oystercatchers. Moving forward, Audubon will manage some habitat specifically for oystercatchers at Rainey Sanctuary; push for the restoration of marshes and islands at Biloxi Marsh, Chandeleur Islands, and other global IBAs; and expand conservation programs, such as beach-nesting-bird stewardship, that will protect this charismatic species throughout the Gulf.

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