The Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) is the most widespread of all oystercatcher species, occurring from western Europe all the way through northern Asia up to Korea in the far east. With its black-and-white plumage, long red bill and legs, the bird is really unmistakable. Although the name might imply it, oysters constitute only a small part of the birds’ diet, but unlike most other birds, they are indeed capable of prying open mussel shells with their strong bills. Apart from bivalves, oystercatchers feed on snails and worms.
I have taken photographs of these pretty birds in May 2014 along the shore of the Baltic Sea near Kiel in northern Germany (upper 3 photos) and on the small island Helgoland in the North Sea (lower 5 photos). The oystercatchers are migratory, breeding in northern Europe and Asia, while spending the winter months in the warmer south (reaching Africa and even southern Asia).
Although the birds prefer to stand on solid ground or walk on beaches, they can also swim quite well and even dive for considerable distances (a behaviour displayed however almost only when threatened). In general, the oystercatcher is a social and pleasant bird, but during mating and in protection of its nest, it can become quite aggressive, taking on much larger opponents.
Many young oystercatchers die within the first few weeks of their lives, but once they made it through this critical time, they can reach a considerable age of 14 to 15 years with the record holder having been 44 years old by the time of its death.
The oystercatcher is an important indicator species for the health of ecosystems. Furthermore, it has been elected as the national bird of the Faroe Islands where its return from its winter habitats in March is celebrated as the beginning of spring.
I hope you enjoyed this short overview on this interesting and characteristic European bird!