6 oystercatcher facts you need to know

Discover 6 fascinating facts about the BTO March Bird of the Month.

© Jill Pakenham/BTO


1. Internationally important

Britain supports an internationally important number of wintering oystercatchers with up to 45 per cent of Europe’s population choosing to spend the winter here. Overall, the breeding population in England has increased but there has been a significant decline in Scotland, reasons for which are unclear. Due to these local declines, oystercatchers are Amber-listed in the UK and classed as Vulnerable in Europe as a whole.

2. Habitat preferences

During the winter, oystercatchers are still very much a bird of tidal estuaries and rocky shores. During the breeding season, however, they can be found much further inland thanks to populations moving along linear waterways. In Aberdeen and other Scottish towns, they have even been known to nest on rooftops!

3. Bivalve diet

The main diet of the oystercatcher seldom involves oysters in the UK! They predominantly eat bivalves, including cockles and mussels. Given their reliance on shellfish, it is thought that in the past local declines may have been linked to the shellfish industry reducing the amount of available prey.

Look out for the oystercatcher’s white wing-stripe and white rump when they are in flight. © Allan Drewitt/BTO

4. How do you take yours?

Individuals have two main techniques for handling their difficult prey. Some, which have shorter, blunter bills, specialise in hammering the prey through the shell. Others, with longer, pointier bills, prise the two shells apart.

5. Long-lived birds

The longevity record for an oystercatcher stands at 40 years, one month and two days. Ringed as a chick in 1970, it was last caught by a bird ringer near in the same place on the Wash in Lincolnshire in 2010. Amazingly, during all those years it has never been seen away from the site where it was first ringed.

6. Black and white

Oystercatchers are hard to miss. They are large black and white wading birds, with long, orange-red bills and reddish-pink legs. When they are in flight, they have an obvious white wing-stripe, a black tail and a white rump that extends as a ‘V’ between the wings. You often hear them before you see them, thanks to their loud ‘peep-ing’ call.

The British Trust of Ornithology (BTO) works in partnership with over 40,000 volunteer birdwatchers to chart the fortunes of UK birds.

The BTO coordinates the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS), which monitors non-breeding waterbirds in the UK. This is a joint scheme of the BTO, RSPB and JNCC in association with WWT.

For more information about WeBS, including how to take part, please email webs@bto.org.

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