Black Oystercatcher illustration

Black oystercatchers inhabit rocky coastlines and gravel or sandy beaches.  Among the mussel- and barnacle-covered rocks of the Pacific Coast lives this stout shorebird with a gleaming reddish bill, yellow eyes, and pink legs.  Their dark bodies—black on the head and neck, chocolate brown elsewhere—disappear into the dark rocky background.


Diet & Range

Look for them foraging on falling tides, when exposed marine organisms are vulnerable to quick strikes from their sharp, stout bills. They eat mostly mollusks, limpets, small crabs, sea urchin gonads, and barnacles.  They rarely eat oysters on the west coast because oysters are not in most of the oystercatcher habitat.

In Oregon they are a species of concern though populations have stabilized due to efforts to raise awareness of their nest locations and vulnerability to disturbance by people and pets. They range from SE Alaska to the Baja peninsula.

Breeding Season

Black oystercatchers remain paired year-round, and often fly in duets over water and shore giving their pleasant whistling calls.  They require nesting sites with minimal human disturbance, few ground predators, and intertidal invertebrate prey.  They lay 1 to 4 eggs in early May.  The hatchlings are downy and active and are able to leave the nest as soon as the down dries.

Nesting pairs are highly territorial and won’t tolerate an intruding oystercatcher, which is why there is usually only one breeding pair at Haystack Rock.