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Pied Oystercatcher

Pied Oystercatcher feeding on a sandy beach. [Photographed by Peter Rowland]
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Scientific Name: Haematopus longirostris

Size: 48 to 51 cm

What does it look and sound like?

The Pied Oystercatcher is rather shy of humans and seldom allows close approach. It is mostly silent when feeding, but may utter a whistled “peepapeep” or “pleep-pleep“, when in flight. All oystercatchers have a bright orange-red bill, eye-rings and legs and a red eye. The white breast and belly distinguishes the Pied Oystercatcher from the closely related Sooty Oystercatcher, H. fuliginosus, which is all black in plumage. Young birds are similar in appearance to the adults, but lack the intense red-orange colour and are more brown instead of black.

Where is it found?

Found in coastal areas throughout the Australian continent, except for areas of unbroken sea cliffs, such as the Great Australian Bight.

What are its habitats & habits?

The Pied Oystercatcher prefers mudflats, sandbacks and sandy ocean beaches, and is less common along rocky and shingle coastlines. Birds are rarely recorded far from the coast but can be found in estuarine mudflats and short pasture. In Australia, Pied Oystercatchers have probably declined throughout most of their distribution, and the current population may be as low as 10,000. Closely related forms are found in almost every continent in the world.

Oystercatchers feed on bivalve molluscs, which are prised apart with their specially adapted bills. Food is found by eyesight, or by probing their long, chisel-shaped bills in the mud. Shellfish are opened by bashing with the bill or by prising the two halves of the shell apart. Due to this specialised feeding technique, the young birds are one of few waders that are fed by their parents. Worms, crustaceans and insects are also taken.

The Pied Oystercatcher breed in pairs, from October to January each year (earlier in the north of Australia). A breeding territory of some 200 m is formed and is defended by both birds. Nesting takes place on sand, shell grit or shingle just above high water mark on beaches, sandbars, margins of estuaries and lagoons. The 2 or 3 eggs are well-camouflaged, being pale brown, with darker brown and black blotched, and streaks. Both sexes share parenting duties.

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Front cover of Australia's Birdwatching Megaspots book showing a picture of an Eastern Spinebill

This species features in my book Australia’s Birdwatching Megaspots

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