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Temporal range: Middle Miocene–Recent
Haematopus longirostris 2.jpg
Pied oystercatcher
(Haematopus longirostris)
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Suborder: Charadrii
Family: Haematopodidae
Bonaparte, 1838
Genus: Haematopus
Linnaeus, 1758
Type species
Haematopus ostralegus

See text

American oystercatcher Oyster catcher by Dan Pancamo.jpg
American oystercatcher
Juvenile Oystercatcher - Strandskata (Haematopus ostralegus).jpg

The oystercatchers are a group of waders forming the family Haematopodidae, which has a single genus, Haematopus. They are found on coasts worldwide apart from the polar regions and some tropical regions of Africa and South East Asia. The exceptions to this are the Eurasian oystercatcher, the South Island oystercatcher, and the Magellanic oystercatcher, which also breed inland, far inland in some cases. In the past there has been a great deal of confusion as to the species limits, with discrete populations of all black oystercatchers being afforded specific status but pied oystercatchers being considered one single species. [1]


The name oystercatcher was coined by Mark Catesby in 1731 as a common name for the North American species H. palliatus , described as eating oysters. [2] Yarrell in 1843 established this as the preferred term, replacing the older name sea pie [2] [3] or sea-pie. [4] The genus name Haematopus comes from the Greek haima αἳμα blood, pous πούς foot. [5]


The different species of oystercatcher show little variation in shape or appearance. They range from 39–50 centimetres (15 1219 12 inches) in length and 72–91 cm (28 12–36 in) in wingspan. The Eurasian oystercatcher is the lightest on average, at 526 grams (1 pound 2 12 ounces), while the sooty oystercatcher is the heaviest, at 819 g (1 lb 13 oz). [6] The plumage of all species is either all-black, or black (or dark brown) on top and white underneath. The variable oystercatcher is slightly exceptional in being either all-black or pied. They are large, obvious, and noisy plover-like birds, with massive long orange or red bills used for smashing or prying open molluscs. The bill shape varies between species, according to the diet. Those birds with blade-like bill tips pry open or smash mollusc shells, and those with pointed bill tips tend to probe for annelid worms. They show sexual dimorphism, with females being longer-billed and heavier than males. [1]


The diet of oystercatchers varies with location. Species occurring inland feed upon earthworms and insect larvae. [1] The diet of coastal oystercatchers is more varied, although dependent upon coast type; on estuaries, bivalves, gastropods and polychaete worms are the most important part of the diet, whereas rocky shore oystercatchers prey upon limpets, mussels, gastropods, and chitons. Other prey items include echinoderms, fish, and crabs.


Oystercatcher chicks and eggs Oystercatcher Chicks and Egg (50252127477).jpg
Oystercatcher chicks and eggs

Nearly all species of oystercatcher are monogamous, although there are reports of polygamy in the Eurasian oystercatcher. They are territorial during the breeding season (with a few species defending territories year round). There is strong mate and site fidelity in the species that have been studied, with one record of a pair defending the same site for 20 years. A single nesting attempt is made per breeding season, which is timed over the summer months. The nests of oystercatchers are simple affairs, scrapes in the ground which may be lined, and placed in a spot with good visibility. The eggs of oystercatchers are spotted and cryptic. Between one and four eggs are laid, with three being typical in the Northern Hemisphere and two in the south. Incubation is shared but not proportionally, females tend to take more incubation and males engage in more territory defence. Incubation varies by species, lasting between 24–39 days. Oystercatchers are also known to practice "egg dumping." Like the cuckoo, they sometimes lay their eggs in the nests of other species such as seagulls, abandoning them to be raised by those birds. [7]


The Canary Islands oystercatcher became extinct during the 20th century. The Chatham oystercatcher is endemic to the Chatham Islands of New Zealand but is listed as endangered by the IUCN, while both the African and Eurasian oystercatchers are considered near threatened. There has been conflict with commercial shellfish farmers, but studies have found that the impact of oystercatchers is much smaller than that of shore crabs.


Species in taxonomic order
Common nameBinomialImageDistribution
Magellanic oystercatcher H. leucopodus
Garnot, 1826
Magellanic Oystercatcher.jpg
Southern South America
Blackish oystercatcher H. ater
Vieillot & Oudart, 1825
Haematopus ater.jpg
South America
Black oystercatcher H. bachmani
Audubon, 1838
Black Oystercatcher.jpg
West coast of North America
American oystercatcher H. palliatus
Temminck, 1820
American Oystercatcher.jpg
North and South America
Canary Islands oystercatcher H. meadewaldoi
Bannerman, 1913
Canarian Oystercatcher.jpg
Canary Islands
African oystercatcher H. moquini
(Bonaparte, 1856)
African Black Oystercatcher, (Haematopus moquini) standing on the sand.jpg
Southern Africa
Eurasian oystercatcher
or Palaearctic oystercatcher
H. ostralegus
Linnaeus, 1758
Haematopus ostralegus He.jpg
Europe, Asia and northern Africa
Pied oystercatcher H. longirostris
Vieillot, 1817
Pied Oystercatcher.jpg
South Island oystercatcher H. finschi
Martens, 1897
South Island pied oystercatcher 2c.JPG
New Zealand
Chatham oystercatcher H. chathamensis
Hartert, 1927
Chatham Islands
Variable oystercatcher H. unicolor
Forster, 1844
Variable Oystercatcher.jpg
New Zealand
Sooty oystercatcher H. fuliginosus
Gould, 1845
Sooty Oystercatcher.jpg

Several fossil species are known, including Haematopus sulcatus (Brodkorb, 1955) from the Barstovian of Florida and Zanclean of North Carolina, and which is evidently considered a synonym of the extant species Haematopus palliatus. [8]

Related Research Articles

Avocet Genus of birds

The four species of avocets are a genus, Recurvirostra, of waders in the same avian family as the stilts. The genus name comes from Latin recurvus, "curved backwards" and rostrum, "bill". The common name is thought to derive from the Italian (Ferrarese) word avosetta. Francis Willughby in 1678 noted it as the "Avosetta of the Italians".

Tufted duck Species of bird

The tufted duck is a small diving duck with a population of close to one million birds, found in northern Eurasia. The scientific name is derived from Ancient Greek aithuia an unidentified seabird mentioned by authors including Hesychius and Aristotle, and Latin, fuligo "soot" and gula "throat".

Eurasian oystercatcher Species of bird

The Eurasian oystercatcher also known as the common pied oystercatcher, or palaearctic oystercatcher, or just oystercatcher, is a wader in the oystercatcher bird family Haematopodidae. It is the most widespread of the oystercatchers, with three races breeding in western Europe, central Eurosiberia, Kamchatka, China, and the western coast of Korea. No other oystercatcher occurs within this area. The extinct Canary Islands oystercatcher, formerly considered a distinct species, may have actually been an isolated subspecies or distinct population of the Eurasian oystercatcher.

Grey plover Species of bird

The grey plover or black-bellied plover is a medium-sized plover breeding in Arctic regions. It is a long-distance migrant, with a nearly worldwide coastal distribution when not breeding. The genus name is Latin and means relating to rain, from pluvia, "rain". It was believed that golden plovers flocked when rain was imminent. The species name squatarola is a Latinised version of Sgatarola, a Venetian name for some kind of plover.

Purple sandpiper Species of bird

The purple sandpiper is a small shorebird. The genus name is from Ancient Greek kalidris or skalidris, a term used by Aristotle for some grey-coloured waterside birds. The specific maritima is from Latin and means "of the sea", from mare, "sea".

Slender-billed gull Species of bird

The slender-billed gull is a mid-sized gull which breeds very locally around the Mediterranean and the north of the western Indian Ocean on islands and coastal lagoons. Most of the population is somewhat migratory, wintering further south to north Africa and India, and a few birds have wandered to western Europe. A vagrant individual was reportedly seen on Antigua, April 24, 1976.

Pied avocet Species of bird

The pied avocet is a large black and white wader in the avocet and stilt family, Recurvirostridae. They breed in temperate Europe and across the Palearctic to Central Asia then on to the Russian Far East. It is a migratory species and most winter in Africa or southern Asia. Some remain to winter in the mildest parts of their range, for example in southern Spain and southern England. The pied avocet is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.

Velvet scoter Species of bird

The velvet scoter, also called a velvet duck, is a large sea duck, which breeds over the far north of Europe and the Palearctic west of the Yenisey basin. The genus name is derived from Ancient Greek melas "black" and netta "duck". The species name is from the Latin fuscus "dusky brown".

Eurasian dotterel Species of bird

The Eurasian dotterel, also known in Europe as just dotterel, is a small wader in the plover family of birds.

White-tailed lapwing Species of bird

The white-tailed lapwing or white-tailed plover is a wader in the lapwing genus. The genus name Vanellus is Medieval Latin for a lapwing and derives from vannus a winnowing fan. The specific leucurus is from Ancient Greek leukouros, "white-tailed".

Great knot Species of bird

The great knot is a small wader. It is the largest of the calidrid species. The genus name is from Ancient Greek kalidris or skalidris, a term used by Aristotle for some grey-coloured waterside birds. The specific tenuirostris is from Latin tenuis "slender" and rostrum "bill".

African oystercatcher A large near-threatened wading species of bird redident on the shores of South Africa

The African oystercatcher or African black oystercatcher, is a large charismatic wader resident to the mainland coasts and offshore islands of southern Africa. This near-threatened oystercatcher has a population of over 6,000 adults, which breed between November and April. The scientific name moquini commemorates the French naturalist Alfred Moquin-Tandon who discovered and named this species before Bonaparte.

Black oystercatcher Species of bird

The black oystercatcher is a conspicuous black bird found on the shoreline of western North America. It ranges from the Aleutian Islands of Alaska to the coast of the Baja California peninsula.

American oystercatcher Species of bird

The American oystercatcher, occasionally called the American pied oystercatcher, is a member of family Haematopodidae. Originally called the "sea pie", it was renamed in 1731 when naturalist Mark Catesby observed the bird eating oysters. The current population of American oystercatchers is estimated to be 43,000. There are estimated to be 1,500 breeding pairs along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the US. The bird is marked by its black and white body and a long, thick orange beak.

Pied oystercatcher species of bird

The pied oystercatcher is a species of oystercatcher. It is a wading bird native to Australia and commonly found on its coastline. The similar South Island pied oystercatcher occurs in New Zealand.

Canary Islands oystercatcher Species of bird

The Canary Islands Oystercatcher, Canarian Oystercatcher, or Canarian black Oystercatcher , was a shorebird of uncertain taxonomy endemic to Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, and their offshore islets in the Canary Islands, Spain. It is now considered to be extinct.

South Island oystercatcher Species of bird

The South Island oystercatcher or South Island pied oystercatcher is one of the two common oystercatchers found in New Zealand. Its name is often contracted to the acronym "SIPO".

Magellanic oystercatcher Species of bird

The Magellanic oystercatcher is a species of wader in the family Haematopodidae. It is found in Argentina, Chile and the Falkland Islands in freshwater lake and sandy shore habitats.

Variable oystercatcher Species of bird

The variable oystercatcher is a species of wader in the family Haematopodidae. It is endemic to New Zealand. The Maori name is torea-pango. They are also known as 'red bills'.

Saunderss gull Species of bird

Saunders's gull or the Chinese black-headed gull, is a species of gull in the family Laridae. It is found in China, Hong Kong, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Macau, Russia, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Its natural habitats are estuarine waters and intertidal marshes. As with many other gulls, it has traditionally been placed in the genus Larus, but based on phylogenetic work some have moved it to Chroicocephalus, while others argue it is sufficiently distinct for placement in the monotypic Saundersilarus. It is threatened by habitat loss. One of its few remaining strongholds are the Yancheng Coastal Wetlands, which hosts about 20% of the world's population. The Saunders's gull is named after the British ornithologist Howard Saunders.


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  8. Haematopus palliatus Temminick 1820 (American oystercatcher) at FossilWorks