An unmistakable shorebird, the Sooty Ostercatcher (Haematopus fuliginosus) is one of our favourite birds. With its striking looks and comical swagger, this is a very endearing wader and is the subject of our 10th Bird Photography Challenge.
What does it look like?
This is one bird you will not confuse with any other! The Sooty Oystercatcher, as its name suggests has an entirely black plumage. It has scarlet red eyes, eye rings and bill, and pink-red legs. It is a medium size bird of about 45cms, and its bill is long (5 to 8cms).
How does it behave?
The Sooty Oystercatcher can often be seen in pairs, and less frequently singly, foraging in the intertidal zone for a couple of hours either side of low tide. It feeds on fish, crab, crustaceans and shellfish. It uses its long bill to stab a prey or to lever, prise or hammer open its food items. You can sometimes see the Sooty in the company of its cousin the Pied Oystercatcher, the black and white specie which is more common.
The Sooty Oystercatcher has a distinctive loud, piping call. We often hear them, before we see them!
The nest is a scrape on the ground among pebbles and shells on rocky shores. Both the male and female incubate the eggs and care for the young.
Did you know?
An interesting field study published in 2011 showed that the male and female Oystercatchers seem to have different preferences when it comes to their diet. Males focus on hard-shelled prey such as mussels, sea urchins, turban shells and periwinkles, whereas females prefer soft-bodied prey which they can swallow whole such as fish, crabs, bluebottle jellyfish and worm-like creatures.
Where is it found?
This is a wading bird endemic to Australia. It prefers rocky coastlines, but is occasionally found in estuaries. It is skittish and with good reasons considering its threatened status. It has been under pressure from human disturbance and damage to its feeding, roosting and breeding sites.
Common around Tasmania and the Bass Strait Islands, the Sooty Oystercatcher is however threatened in Victoria and endangered in NSW. So we were indeed lucky to see several during our summer cruise along the NSW Coast.
The images were taken in one of the little coves East of Chain Bay – Batemans Bay, with a Canon 60D and Tamron 18-270 zoom lens. Click on the first image to display the gallery in full screen slideshow.