Shorebirds: Oystercatchers and Plovers


American oystercatchers nest on the back side of the island closer to the marsh, a lot harder to see from beyond the ropes. As you can guess from their name, oysters are their primary food, and their bills are shaped like oyster knives. "They'll walk along looking for a bivalve sitting in the surf or on the surface of the sand. They'll walk up to it, jab their bills down inside, clip the muscles that hold the shells together, and snip out the meat."

They'll either eat it themselves or bring it back to their young, but in any case it's a complex operation that they will sooner or later have to teach to their offspring. "It takes considerable training to teach their young to do this and the parents need good access to a bivalve-rich shoreline."

North Carolina is one of the most important states in the country for oystercatchers. American oystercatchers also eat clams and other mollusks in tidal marsh habitats. They are black above and white below, and build their nests in April and May near the high tide line, which makes them vulnerable to storm waves. Their buff-colored eggs are splotched with brown and they hatch in about 27 days. Young oystercatchers can run quickly when they are one or two days old, and sometimes they need to.


Wilson's plovers generally have a short neck and tail. Their bill is also short and may have a slight swelling at the tip. They are often confused with sandpipers, which have longer bills for probing deep into sand and mud for worms and other tasty morsels. Most prospect for insects and crustaceans at the water's edge, and typically sandpipers have longer legs than plovers that allow them to wade into deeper water. Wilson's plovers are the most common nesting plover in the Mason Inlet nesting area. The male is dark above, white below, with a wide black neckband. The female is gray above, white below, with a white neckband. Both have a black bill. Their eggs are buff colored with black splotches, and the eggs hatch in 24 to 25 days. Both parents care for the eggs and the young.

The rare and elusive piping plover has been spotted in this area, but not very often. It is more endangered than most.

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