Australian Bush Birds
Pied Oystercatcher  -  Haematopus longirostris
Pied Oystercatcher
Pied Oystercatcher with black and white plumage, red eyes, orange bill and pink legs and red bills at Evans Head in New South Wales.
Pied oystercatcher Pied oystercatcher
Left; The long orange-red bill, red eye and surrounding coloured skin are distinctive oystercatcher features. Evans Head, NSW.
Right; Bright pink legs are an eye-catching feature of the Pied Oystercatcher. Evans Head, NSW.
map map The Pied Oystercatcher - Haematopus longirostris - is a medium-size (48 to 50 centimetres), sturdy, black-and-white shorebird with long red bill. Head, back, neck and wings are black; underparts are white. White under-wing visible in flight. Beak is straight, stout, laterally flattened and bright pink or red in colour. Eyes are red ringed. Legs are relatively short and stout, bright pink; feet pink. Male and female are similarly coloured. 480 to 520 millimetres.

The large, strong bill is used to prise molluscs from rocks and to probe into sand and mud; the bill is strong enough to break shells apart.

First year birds have black-brown plumage with buff-brown tips on black shoulder feathers. The eye is brown to dull red. Bill is orange, sometimes with dusky tip; legs grey-brown. Full adult colouring is attained in three years; breeding does not occur before then.

Pied Oystercatcher - page 2
Pied Oystercatcher
Typical Pied Oystercatcher prowling tidal sandy-mud flats at low tide. Urunga, NSW.
Alert Pied Oystercatchers have a tall, upright stance. They forage in a hunched attitude with the bill pointing downward, apparently concentrating on the surface beneath them, but are well aware of their surroundings and walk away from a disturbance. If pressed they fly away making alarm calls.

Found around the Australian coastline, as scattered pairs or as roosting flocks of up to a hundred birds on sandy beaches and intertidal mudflats. Rarely moves inland.

Pied Oystercatchers forage at low tide on intertidal mudflats and beaches, working alone or in dispersed pairs, probing deeply with the bill. When prey is found it is dug out and opened by one of two methods learnt from the birds parents. One method (hammering) is to lay a bivalve on the ground and to strike one valve until it breaks; the scissor-like tip of the bill is inserted through the gap to cut the mollusc's adductor muscle allowing the mollusc to be extracted from the shell and eaten. The other method used (stabbing) waits until the bivalve gapes open, then the tip of the bill is inserted and cuts the adductor muscle so the mollusc can be removed and eaten.

Oystercatchers prefer extensive intertidal mudflats, especially in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia, but are also found on sandy beaches, even fully exposed ocean beaches such as the Eighty Mile Beach in Western Australia, but in lower numbers. Worms and crabs are eaten as well. Not found on rock beaches.

The Pied Oystercatcher is not migratory. They are noisy birds, sedentary and sociable when not breeding. They roost and rest in small groups on non-territorial sand bars, often standing on one leg with the head turned back and the bill tucked into the back.

Pairs mate for life and defend territory throughout the year but may temporarily join flocks of non-breeding birds. Pairs and trios give displays which are similar for courtship, aggression and territorial defence; members thrust the neck forward, depress the bill and run around, side by side, uttering long, piping trills, sometimes flying to do so.

Breeding takes place from August to January. The nest is a scrape in the sand or shingle on the beach just above high tide level, in dunes, or in saltmarsh. Usual clutch is two eggs, sometimes three or occasionally four; eggs are grey-olive with dark brown spots; long-oval, about 59 x 41 millimetres. Incubation takes 28 to 32 days by both parents, mainly the female. Young fledge six to seven weeks after hatching and can fly in five to nine weeks. Young leave the nest within one to three days of hatching but are fed by both parents for several weeks. Pairs stay together and breed in the same place in successive years. Laying starts as early as May in northern Australia and as late as October in Tasmania.