Bird Database

American Oystercatcher

(Haematopus palliatus)

State of the Birds
At a Glance



Short distance




Habitat loss and fragmentation, Climate change, Human disturbance

Conservation Actions

Protect coastal habitats, Minimize disturbanceto shorebrids

American Oystercatcher

(Haematopus palliatus)

The American Oystercatcher is a very new addition to New Hampshire’s list of breeding birds. Although it nests to the north and south of us, it wasn’t until 2022 that a pair settled on the New Hampshire portion of the Isles of Shoals and successfully raised two chicks. As the population out on the islands continues to grow, it’s likely that additional pairs will set up shop in the future. This colonization of the Granite State is at least partially the result of concerted conservation efforts elsewhere in the range. Like many other coastal species, oystercatchers require undisturbed beaches for their nests, and are also vulnerable to predation and sea level rise. In some parts of the mid-Atlantic, oystercatchers are shifting to nest on man-made islands made of dredge material, where they are safer from some of these threats.

The large red bill of the American Oystercatcher is an exceptional tool, combining features of scissors, hammer, shovel, and pliers. The birds feed primarily on bivalves such as oysters and clams and seek out those with their shells partially open. When a suitable prey item is found, the oystercatcher rapidly slides its bill into the gap and severs the muscle holding the two halves of the shell together. It then grabs and swallows the soft animal inside without needing to worry about the shell closing. Oystercatchers will also use their bills to pound holes in shells near the muscle to gain access or dig into mud to get buried clams. They will also prey on burrowing marine worms in the manner of other long-billed shorebirds.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

American Oystercatcher
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count