• • •As the name suggests, American Oystercatchers specialize in shellfish, feeding on oysters, clams, barnacles and crabs. They often shuck oysters and clams the same way we do – prying the shell open enough with their stout knife of a bill to sever the muscle that keeps it shut and then dining at a leisurely pace.
The technique is passed along from parents to young, who have to be fed for months until their bills harden enough to do the job. Some birds favor less a elegant “hammering” technique, where they simply pound on a shell until it breaks.
American Oystercatchers are unlikely to be confused with other birds considering their distinctive black cowl and long, orange-red bill. They forage at low tide on coastal islands, beaches and mudflats, and their nests are scraped out amid the dunes or on marsh islands above the high water mark.
American Oystercatchers are obsessive parents. To protect their speckled eggs, they disguise their nests by littering them with broken shells or pebbles. To distract predators, they will fake injury to attract attention away from the nest or pretend to brood in a different location.