Australian Bush Birds
Sooty Oystercatcher  -  Haematopus fuliginosus
Sooty Oystercatcher
Sooty Oystercatcher with black plumage, red eyes and orange/red bills and pink legs at Urunga, NSW.
sooty oystercatcher sooty oystercatcher
Left; The long orange-red bill, red eye and surrounding coloured skin are distinctive oystercatcher features. Urunga, NSW.
Right; Sooty Oystercatcher feeding on rock wall at Urunga, NSW.
map map The Sooty Oystercatcher - Haematopus fuliginosus - is a medium-size (40 to 52 centimetre), stocky shorebird coloured black with long red/orange bill, pink or red legs and conspicuous red eyes with red or orange rings. Male and female are similarly coloured.

Juvenile plumage is similar to adults but feathers on back, belly and flanks are grey with buff tips. Eye is brown. Bill is orange-red, variably tipped grey-green. Legs are grey. Older immature adults have dull red eyes and pale pink legs.

Found around the Australian coastline, as individuals, scattered pairs or as small flocks on rocky beaches. Frequents rocky shores, wave-cut platforms, headlands, coral reefs and stony beaches; less frequently on mudflats and sandy ocean beaches. Sometimes seen with the Pied Oystercatcher but the two species have different habitat preferences possibly based on type of food.

Sooty Oystercatcher - page 2
Sooty Oystercatchers eat mainly limpets, periwinkles and mussels picked off rocks, whereas the Pied Oystercatcher mainly digs up bivalves in sand or mud.

Uncommon and not nomadic but does move regularly within its local area following food sources; populations concentrate at favourable locations including rocky shorelines.

Breeds on offshore islands from August to January. Nesting areas are adjacent to non-breeding foraging grounds The nest is a simple scrape in sand or shingle, sometimes under tussocks of grass. Usually unlined, occasionally lined with twigs, grass or leaves. The nest is usually close to the edge of the water. Two to four eggs, usually two; olive-grey, suffused with dark brown and purple blotches; oval, about 64 by 43 millimetres. Incubated for about 25 to 27 days by both parents.

The Sooty Oystercatcher shares with the Pied Oystercatcher several tactics to protect offspring; these include feigning injury and mock death to distract intruders from the nest.

There are two races of Sooty Oystercatcher in Australia divided roughly by the Tropic of Capricorn; the northern race has larger fleshy red eye-ring than the southern race.

Sooty Oystercatcher
Sooty Oystercatchers with black plumage, red eyes and red bills at Hopetoun in Western Australia.