American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus)

American Oystercatcher


The American oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus), 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. The American oystercatcher has distinctive black and white plumage and a long, bright orange beak. The head and breast are black and the back, wings and tail greyish-black. The underparts are white, as are feathers on the inner part of the wing which become visible during flight. The irises are yellow and the eyes have orange orbital rings. The legs are pink. Adults are between 42–52 cm (17–20 in) in length.

Distribution And Habitat

The American Oystercatcher occurs from the eastern coast of the United States south through Central and South America including the West Indies (Raffaele and others 1998). It is an uncommon and local species in Puerto Rico, Culebra, Desecheo, Mona (Oberle 2018, Ventosa-Febles and others 2005), Vieques (Gemmill 2015, Oberle 2018), and small cays around the islands, and is even considered migratory on Puerto Rico due to its rarity on the coast (Biaggi 1997). On Vieques, its abundance changes with season, ranging from uncommon resident in spring to extremely rare in fall and winter (Gemmill 2015). This is a shorebird restricted to marine habitats including stony and sandy beaches, coastal salt marshes, and offshore islands and cays (Raffaele and others 1998). The atlas fieldwork yielded a total of 85 records within 58 hexagons or 12 percent of the 479 total hexagons (see map). Of the 58 hexagons where this species was found, breeding met the atlas definition of confirmed in 16 percent (9) of the hexagons, probable in 45 percent (26), and possible in 36 percent (21), while the species was observed in 3 percent (2) of the hexagons but without evidence of breeding (see map). American Oystercatcher distribution. The map shows the highest breeding code by hexagon and overlaying the ecological life zones in Puerto Rico. Note: percentages may not total 100 due to rounding. 103American Oystercatcher/Ostrero

American Oystercatcher Distribution

Breeding Habits

This species nests on sand, pebbles, or coral rubble beaches from May to July, according to previously published reports (Raffaele and others 1998). Atlas results indicate that the American Oystercatcher breeding season extends throughout the year, but it is most active from April to July with a peak during April and June (see chart). Results show that the American Oystercatcher breeds within subtropical dry and subtropical moist forest life zones (52 and 48 percent of the hexagons, respectively) (see table and map).The seasonal pattern of breeding appears to coincide in each of the ecological life zones with no evidence to suggest that breeding times differ between the life zones.


The American Oystercatcher is listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN (BirdLife International 2016). Locally, this species is listed as vulnerable (PRDNER 2015). In Puerto Rico, the American Oystercatcher has a protected habitat in land of 11 percent or 150 km2 of the total area covered by the hexagons where evidence of breeding was found for this species (1338 km2).