Oystercatchers use their long, strong bills to cut open the adductor muscles (that hold the two shell halves together) of bivalve molluscs in order to eat the soft mollusc's body inside.
The Pied Oystercatcher is black with a white breast and belly. All oystercatchers have a bright orange-red bill, eye-rings and legs and a red eye. Young birds are similar in appearance to the adults, but lack the intense red-orange colours and are brown rather than black. The Pied Oystercatcher is shy of humans and seldom allows close approach.
The Pied Oystercatcher prefers mudflats, sandbanks and sandy ocean beaches and is less common along rocky or shingle coastlines. Although rarely recorded far from the coast, the Pied Oystercatcher may occasionally be found in estuarine mudflats and short pasture.
The Pied Oystercatcher is found in coastal areas throughout the Australian continent except for areas of unbroken sea cliffs such as the Great Australian Bight. Pied Oystercatchers have probably declined throughout much of their range and the current population may be as low as 10,000. Closely related forms are found in almost every continent in the world.
Feeding and diet
Oystercatchers feed on bivalve molluscs, which are prised apart with their specially adapted bills. Food is found by sight, or by probing their long, chisel-shaped bills in the mud. Young Pied Oystercatchers are one of the few waders that are fed by their parents using this specialised feeding technique. Worms, crustaceans and insects are also eaten.
Mostly silent when feeding but may utter a whistled 'peepapeep' or 'pleep-pleep' when in flight.
The Pied Oystercatcher breeds in pairs. A breeding territory of some 200 m is formed and is defended by both birds. Nesting takes place on sand, shell grit or shingle just above high water mark on beaches, sandbars, margins of estuaries and lagoons. The eggs are well-camouflaged, being pale brown with darker brown and black blotches and streaks. Both sexes share parenting duties.
- Breeding Season: October to January (earlier in the north)
- Clutch size: 2 to 3
- Marchant, S. and Higgins, P.J. (eds) 1993. Handbook of Australian New Zealand And Antartic Birds Vol. 2: (Raptors To Lapwings). Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
- Pringle, J.D. 1987. The Shorebirds of Australia. Angus and Robertson and the National Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife, Sydney.