Oystercatcher, American

Haematopus palliatus

American oystercatchers are typically 17 to 21 inches in height and have a wingspan of up to 35 inches. The body is brown to black with a white belly and white stripes on the wings. The legs are short and pink in color. Eyes are yellow with red rings around them. The beak is bright orange, flattened sideways, and three to four inches in length. Females are usually larger than males.








Atlantic and Gulf coasts of North America and the Pacific coast of South America


Coastal habitats such as marshes, beaches, and dunes

Life Expectancy

In the wild, life expectancy is over ten years

Sexual Maturity

Approximately one year of age


In the wild, the diet mainly consists of oysters, clams, crabs, snails, and other marine invertebrates


IUCN - Least Concern


American oystercatchers are a gregarious shorebird, often foraging and roosting together. During breeding season, which occurs from February to July, they break off into monogamous pairs. Females arrive at the nesting site before the males, sometimes up to three weeks in advance. The nest is a shallow depression built high above the tide line. Typically two to four eggs are laid at a time. The parents will incubate the eggs for 24 to 29 days. Both parents are highly territorial during this time. They may even feign injury to distract predators from the nest. Within 24 hours of hatching, chicks are able to run. They will leave the nest within one to two days, and are able to fly after approximately five weeks. Their beaks do not become strong enough to open bivalves, their main prey, until 60 days after hatching. Juveniles will stay with the parents for up to six months. The diet of American oystercatchers consists mostly of oysters and other bivalves. To find prey, they will use their bills to search in soft substrate. Once located, the shelled prey is opened with the oystercatcher’s large bill. They do this either by severing the adductor muscle or by hitting the shell repeatedly to break it. Juveniles must rely on adults until their bills are strong enough to open the shells on their own. Until then, they feed primarily on the adult’s scraps.


Special Interests

The American oystercatcher was previously hunted for food until it became protected under law in 1918.



Habitat loss largely due to coastal development is the main threat to this species. Coastal development leads to a lack of nesting sites for these shorebirds. Other threats include overharvesting of oysters and rising sea levels.

Jacksonville Zoo History


Emerald Forest Aviary