American Oystercatcher

The American Oystercatcher is one of my favorite shorebirds to photograph. They are not as easy to find as other shorebirds, and their unique black and white body with a striking red bill always seems to catch my interest. So it was during our vacation on the Gulf beaches in May that I came across a pair of American Oystercatchers enjoying a relaxing day on the beach.

American Oystercatchers are very shy and do not do well with crowds. You have better luck finding them on a quiet day on the beach. Not only do they not like crowds, but they generally don’t like photographers either. It isn’t easy to get close to them for some great images. But the patient photographer is usually able to setup and wait for these shy birds to come closer. Click the images to view larger.

American Oystercatcher
American Oystercatcher

Besides a nice profile image, I usually like to get an image of them feeding. They use their long bills to pry open small shellfish and extract the meat from inside. But they will also dig up and eat what I’ve always referred to as sand fleas. Sand fleas made for great fishing bait when I was a young child, but they became harder and harder to find in the sand as I got older. But this oystercatcher doesn’t seem to have any problem finding them on this day.

American Oystercatcher with breakfast
American Oystercatcher with breakfast

I have always wanted to photograph oystercatchers in their courtship and mating behavior. I almost had my chance this day, but I recognized too late what was happening. The male was constantly calling to the female, and having not seen their courtship behavior before, I didn’t recognize what was happening until it was too late. When the male finally decided to make his move, I was way out of position. Perhaps I was fortunate that the female was unwilling and therefore I might get a second chance.

#Epicfail (for me and the male oystercatcher)
#Epicfail (for me and the male oystercatcher)

After his failed attempt, the male sat in a tire track depression and looked pretty glum.

Woe is me!  American Oystercatcher
Woe is me!

Eventually the pair flew off and I thought my chances were shot for the day. It has been my experience that once a pair flies off, you likely won’t find them again that day. So I headed up the beach to see what else might be around that would be interesting to photograph. I was surprised and quite happy to find the pair had just gone up the beach a ways and were quietly resting as I came upon them. When I saw one of them begin to dig a nest scrape, my hopes for “the shot” were restored.

Building a nest scrape - American Oystercatcher
Building a nest scrape

I got back into position, and having learned from my last mistake, made sure I had plenty of distance in case the pair began their courtship ritual again. I waited in the sand about an hour and my patience was rewarded. They started the courtship ritual again and this time I was ready. Sort of.

A second attempt - American Oystercatcher
A second attempt

I still had too much lens and I clipped the wings of the male as he attempted to mount the female. Again, the female wasn’t ready, so all hope was not lost. The pair settled down again and decided to rest in the midday sun.

Nap time - American Oystercatcher
Nap time

Alas, I ran out of patience (and was hungry too) and gave up on them after another 45 minutes. They probably got to it right after I left, but I’ll just have to wait for an opportunity next year to see if I (and the male) can get lucky.


  • Jess Yarnell

    July 14, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    So next year, they need to cooperate for you on the mating thing, and then they need to have cute little babies who will pose for your camera! Maybe you’ll even invite your friends to share… 🙂

    • Michael

      July 14, 2014 at 9:12 pm


  • Leon

    July 14, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    Great post, always a treat seeing oystercatchers. Some nice photos here too! 🙂

  • Donna Faylo

    July 15, 2014 at 9:29 am

    Always enjoying your posts. Lovely photos, colors and backgrounds, especially your captions. The “woe is me” one is perfect!!!!!

    • Michael

      July 15, 2014 at 1:23 pm

      Thank you, Donna!

  • Uncle Don

    July 15, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Hey Michael your still doing GREAT. Don’t know how you do it.

    • Michael

      July 15, 2014 at 7:44 pm

      You should see how many I delete before I get one I like! Thanks for reading!