American Oystercatchers in Galapagos: Feathered Beachcombers

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The American oystercatchers

They are relatively small shore birds that are frequently found along the coasts in the Americas. In the Galapagos, they’re often found scurrying along the shores and pecking at the ground in search of oysters or clams that they easily and gleefully crack open with their iconic and elongated pumpkin-orange beaks.

Their estimated population globally is said to be at around 40,000, with their population numbers remaining low principally due to their low breeding success and the vulnerability their eggs experience while nesting. Adding to the problem of their relatively small population is the fact they have delayed breeding, meaning they don’t breed until they’re at least 3 years of age. Nevertheless, the enchanted isles do provide a little bit of respite for oystercatchers that have made it all the way here.

A Safer Haven: Nesting American Oystercatchers in Galapagos

American oystercatchers in Galapagos are easily spotted thanks to their long and brightly-coloured orange beak. It’s feathers are mainly black on top, with alternating grey and white feathers along its underbelly. Their eyes are yellow, with orange rings surrounding each one. Once mature and fully adults, American oystercatchers in Galapagos can range anywhere in size between 42 and 52 cm (17-20 in) in length. Both sexes look very much alike and are hard to distinguish.

american oystercatcher galapagos shores

An American Oystercatcher in Galapagos, hanging out along the shores.

Outside of the Galapagos, American oystercatchers are often the victims of an unfortunate level of predation on behalf of gulls, rodents, and coyotes. Luckily, for American oystercatcher’s that find themselves in the Galapagos, these predators are almost completely absent. With the exception of a few predatory birds and invasive species, American oystercatchers experience less predation than their counterparts on the mainland.

Nesting between the two birds typically begins in February and goes on through to the end of July. Nesting usually occurs on beaches with a clutch of two or three eggs, and the location makes it convenient for these shorebirds to go and scavenge for food without going too far. Their long beak is usually to easily pry open any number of mollusks.

This Month of July: American Oystercatchers Are Nesting in Galapagos on Santiago Island!

It’s during this month of July that American Oystercatchers can be spotted along the coast of Santiago Island forming their nests or incubating their eggs. They’re slightly more aloof when it comes to visitors given the skiddish nature along the coast, but they’re still remarkable to observe as they hunt with their keen and adept eyes that almost seems to have x-ray vision. They’ll poke and jab at the sand with their beak and victoriously extract their prize and gobble it down. You might even see them running or flying back to their nests after their catch, hoping to feed their babies as quickly as possible.

You can spot them for yourself aboard Yacht Isabela II on our Central Islands itinerary!