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Haystack Rock


black oystercatcherHaematopus bachmani

Length: 17 inches
Wingspan: 32 inches
Weight: 1.4 lb (650g)

Photo Courtesy of Marcus G. Martin

There are only a few Black Oystercatchers around Cannon Beach (one pair at Haystack Rock) and 5-6 nesting pairs on the rocks off shore from Ecola Point. They are a favorite of the HRAP staff, however, so we decided to dedicate some space to them here.

Black Oystercatchers are (surprise) black with pink legs and a long, brilliant red-orange bill. If you catch a glimpse of one through your binoculars, you'll also notice a brilliant red-orange eye-ring.

These birds are ground nesters that defend their breeding territory year-round. They build scrape nests: simple depressions with a rim just tall enough to prevent their egg/eggs from rolling away. The eggs are creamy buff to olive color with black and brown markings to blend in with the rocks. The pair that has decided to call Haystack Rock home for the summer has set up shop in various places but usually inside the Marine Garden boundaries, because they like to nest in the rocks where they have unobstructed views.

This is good viewing for us, but not for them -- they get scared of all the attention and abandon their nest before their chicks hatch. In years past, HRAP has made an effort to protect the Oystercatcher nests but without success. So please be careful where you are stepping when you are in the Marine Garden and observe any KEEP AWAY signs we set up. This just might be the first year the oystercatchers have chicks at Haystack Rock.

The voices of the Black and American Oystercatcher are identical: loud, whistled yelps or high, clear piping whistles, queep, weeyo, etc. In display: a long accelerating series, queep, queep, quee deedeedeedeedeedededed-dddddrrr rising then descending. Alarm is a clear kleep, kleep, klidik-klideeew; falcon alarm is a rapid whidididididew.

Oystercatcher Fast Food
The Black Oystercatcher isn't much of oyster catcher after all: They primarily subsist on invertebrates, especially mussels, worms, echinoderms; also fish, crabs, barnacles and limpets. When they do go after oysters and other bivalves they do it quickly, often in less than 30 seconds. Bivalves have very strong "adductor" muscles that hold the two shells together. To get at the meat oystercatchers use their long, stout bill to either stab (sneak up on an open mollusk and plunge in their bill to sever the adductors) or hammer (loosen the bivalve from its mooring and shatter one shell with a number of precise, short and powerful blows). Yummy -- and faster than the drive-thru any day. These amazing birds can consume over 100 lbs of mussel meat each year!

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