Sunday, June 1, 2014

Bird of the Month: American Oystercatcher

The American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus) is a relatively large wader, inhabitant of coastal habitats all over the Americas, except the western coast of North America where it is replaced by the Black Oystercatcher.
It is brightly colored, with intense orange/reddish bill (laterally compressed to open bivalves) and orbital ring, pale pink legs and black hood.  In flight, notice the clean white uppertail coverts and the white base to the first three or four primaries, making this birds members of the nominate subspecies which is resident in the Pacific coast of Central America, including Panama.
This species is a year-round resident at our Pacific coast, where it prefers sandy beaches close to rocky areas.  Probably some northern migrants show up in Panama, explaining the few sightings at our Caribbean coast.  Many maps in the web doesn't show Panama as part of its breeding range.  However, breeding success has been recorded in the Azuero Peninsula, Panama Oeste province, Coiba island and the Pearl Islands (where I took the next picture showing an immature bird -notice the brown-tipped bill-).  It was considered rare and irregular in the former Canal Area.
However, a pair or two are regularly recorded in the coasts of the former Canal Area's west bank; an area that has experienced a tourism boom, with several mega hotels built recently.  As I mentioned in a previous post, my wife and I found a pair close to one of these resorts feeding a recently fledged young.
Notice the bill shape of this chick, not yet elongated.  As you can see, it was in a sand bar.  The adults flew to a nearby rocky shore exposed during the low tide.  It is interesting to see that they are doing well in these coasts.  For these, and many other reasons, is why we chose the American Oystercatcher as our Bird of the month!
Literarture consulted:
1.  Angehr G, Dean R.  The birds of Panama. A field guide. Zona Tropical 2010.
2.  Ridgely R, Gwynne J.  A guide to the birds of Panama. Princeton University Press 1989.
3. American Oystercatcher Working Group -Systematics-.  At

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