Oystercatchers are found all over the world, with at least thirteen different species identified. Only two species breed inland, one of these being the South Island pied oystercatcher. New Zealand has three endemic oystercatchers.
The variable oystercatcher comes in several colour mixes (called morphs), a pure black bird (pango means black in Maori) or one with varying amounts of white. It has red eyes and an orange eye ring, a long, bright orange bill, sometimes tipped with yellow, and faded red legs. The female is bigger than the male and although their name implies they eat oysters, in fact they eat lots of other things. They are experts at opening shells to get at the sweet, juicy meat inside.
Like dotterels, variable oystercaytchers like to nest on sandy beaches, sandspits and dunes making a scrape in the sand or shells and sometimes decorating their nest with driftwood or seaweed. They lay up to three eggs and both parents sit on the eggs. They fiercely guard their eggs and young from threats both on land and from the air. They have been known to drive a kahu, harrier hawk, away from their territory. Unusually for shorebirds, the adults feed their young after hatching.
The torea, South Island pied oystercatcher, is a smaller black and white bird and flocks can be seen at the coast amongst flocks of variable oystercatchers during non breeding months. It can be recogised by the white patch on the shoulder at the top of the wing.
There are only a few hundred Chatham Island oystercatchers so they are endangered. To help them breed, conservation staff have filled old tyres with sand. This gives them a nesting platform above high tide. After the birds lay their eggs staff move the tyres higher up the beach out of reach from surging storm waves which could wash away the nest and eggs.
- Radio NZ – Bird Watching – Oystercatcher
- Wildscreen arkive Chatham Island endangered oystercatchers
- DOC toreapango page
- Oiseaux-birds variable oystercatcher page
- Oiseaux-birds Chatham Island oystercatcher
- Photo of leucistic oystercatcher The Miranda News (Issue 71) has other interesting photos and more information about why a bird’s feathers may lack colour.
- Te Ara. The Encyclodepia of New Zealand.
- Wildlife Junior Journal (USA site)