The title of this blog post was inspired by someone describing the way a Black Oystercatcher looks as a crow eating a carrot due to their dark plumage and their long bright orange bill.
Now that the shorebird surveys are over I’ve started to get involved in helping to monitor Black Oystercatchers and their nests. This monitoring will help towards gathering data about the Black Oystercatcher’s reproductive success. These particular birds seem to be facing quite a bit of challenges. Their range falls within the rocky intertidal, which means that they might be facing habitat loss due to climate change. While nesting, they also face the danger of predators including gulls and crows.
This project is being led by Hugo Ceja, the Monterey intern from last year. He has a network of volunteers helping to monitor the nests at various locations around the Monterey Coast. Hugo has become quite the expert on anything Black Oystercatcher-related, so I’ve been trying to soak up as much information from him as possible. So far I’ve gone out with him to the sites a few times and I’m always amazed at how much he knows about the Oystercatchers and their behaviors. I am also surprised at his ability to find the nests that he is monitoring in the first place because they are so very well camouflage, inconspicuous, and often times far away.
The first thing I learned about the Black Oystercatchers is that they are very territorial amongst their own species. A pair of Black Oystercatchers will claim a territory and will chase any interlopers that come into their territory. From my own observations out in the field I’ve noticed that this is behavior might have to do something with their troubles reproducing. When an outside Black Oystercatchers comes into the territory often times the Black Oystercatcher that is on the nest will get off the nest and join the chase as well. Predators will take advantage of this situation. This past Tuesday there was a pretty close call when a nesting pair of Black Oystercatchers went off on a chase and a gull got really close to the eggs and was looking down at them. Luckily, one of the Oystercatchers came back just in time.
Another thing that I’ve become quite familiar with is the Black Oystercatcher’s calls. They have a very distinct calls and it is rare that they fly without making a call, making it somewhat easier to locate them.
The kind of observations that are of interest to this monitoring include: nesting behaviors, incubation exchange, the fledging of the chicks, and any significant observations of predators as well.
I’m excited to learn more about the Black Oystercatchers and I’m hoping that this data will lead for them to receive a special status if their populations are actually in trouble. While this season has already been plagued with lost eggs, I’m hoping that the other pairs will pull through and raise chicks successfully!