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27th November 2018 - Do oystercatchers eat oysters?

A year-round resident of the Solent, but does it live up to its name?

Our shores are the place for the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of waders to gather to feast on the calorie-rich contents of the mud and sand.  This land mass is sometimes uninspiring to look at, but it hides a wealth of vital food for winter visitors and refuelling local residents, one of which being the unmistakable oystercatcher.

The name oystercatcher was first coined by the English naturalist, Mark Catesby in 1731. The next time you spot one of these black and white beauties, ask yourself a question, am I near oyster beds? Then take a moment to consider that these molluscs are spread thin along our coastline, yet oystercatchers are often spotted along it. A detail that highlights these stocky orange-billed birds may not be as fussy as their name suggests!

When you observe an oystercatcher you can really appreciate that they are well adapted for the mud flats. Their long, slender bill probes down into the mud, feeling for a manner of foods such as small crabs, mussels or cockles and these are then prised open by their strong bill.  However, their menu doesn't end there, they will also feed on bivalves, limpets or fish and oystercatchers can regularly be seen battling it out with worms in the sand.

Looking at waders and their bills, each species is perfectly adapted to feed at a different depth and on a different food source.  Grey plover, with their short bills, tend to feed on whatever is lying on the mud surface, whereas the curlew, our largest wading bird, sports the longest bill to reach deep down to the deepest morsels.  Given that each cubic metre of mud flats is packed with all manner of worms, shellfish and crustaceans distributed throughout the mud at different levels, it's not surprising that our coastline attracts such a wide range of waders and wildfowl.