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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ode to Oystercatcher

They're the crowd favorites, the class clowns.

If you ever want to see glazed over eyes turn bright with excitement, all they need to behold is an American Oystercatcher.

What's an Oystercatcher? This beloved bird is a football shaped, mish-mash of colors and features. A common shorebird of the backs bays and salt marshes, this odd-ball is sure to be a show-stopper every time. In fact his uniqueness has earned him a number of interesting nicknames:

Bird wearing a tuxedo, smoking a carrot.

Keystone cop of the bird world.

Insane shorebird.

Or my favorite appellation: Bird a child would draw.

No matter what sobriquet you apply to the Oystercatcher, this distinctive shorebird with the bright orange bill gathers attention without fail.

But my admiration for the American Oysteratcher lies beyond the superficial, and reaches back to a noteworthy quality this bird possesses: it's drive to survive.

Today, taking a survey of an average salt marsh in New Jersey will reveal a number of these brightly colored birds. However, as the experts tell us, nesting in the salt marsh is a new trend for this shorebird. Years ago, the Oystercatcher would primarily be found nesting on the beach.

But no matter how much enjoyment humans derive from those miles of sand, beaches are no fun for birds nesting on them. The nests of beach birds are under constant attack: crabs, cats, coyotes, crows, dogs, all take a stand as enemies of beach nesters. And what better target for these invaders than a nest positioned in plain sight on a wind blown beach.

Some birds, like the Piping Plover, haven't seemed to figure out that the beach is an unsafe area for vulnerable birds. As a result, their population numbers are in a critical state.

Some birds, like the Oystercatchers, have put two and two together, and have started establishing nesting sites in the salt marshes, areas where they are considerably more secure.

Yet another example of the tenacity of this awkward avian lies in its shifting diet.

As the name implies, Oystercatchers love chicken...(Just seeing if you were awake).

Oystercatchers love oysters. In fact, their bills are perfectly designed for cracking open an oyster's shell. Their bills are squished in on the sides, giving them the same design as a shucking knife. With this, they can easily pry open their favored prey.

But in the Delaware Bay region, Oysters went through a serious decline when a blight ran through the population that nearly decimated the Oyster populations of Southern New Jersey.

Would the Oystercatcher disappear along with his favorite food-stuff? Not on your life. Rather than fade away, the Oystercatcher changed his diet. It now feeds on Ribbed-bank Mussels, the common mollusk of the Salt Marsh.

An impressive bird; it has had a myriad of challenges to face, and yet has let nothing stand in it's way.

Big, yes. Gawky, yes. Bizarre, yes.

But underneath all the odd features is bird with a will to survive.

A bird with a reminder of hope for a world in the throes of change.

1 comment:

  1. I remember seeing that guy. You describe him well - especially the bit about "bird a child would draw" - love it! Glad he's out there being flexible in changing times . . .


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