Family Oystercatchers (Haematopodidae)

Least Concern

American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus)


French: Huîtrier d’Amérique German: Braunmantel-Austernfischer Spanish: Ostrero pío americano

Haematopus palliatus


, 1820,



In past, sometimes considered conspecific with H. ostralegus; has been thought conspecific with H. ater. Name H. frazari probably invalid, referring to a hybrid swarm formed between present species and H. ater bachmani in Gulf of California and W Mexico; hybridization in this overlap zone limited, and some authorities retain frazari as race of present species. Present species known to hybridize also with H. a. ater in S South America. Some differences in adult morphology and plumage between nominate palliatus and race galapagensis, coupled with differences in chick coloration, suggest that galapagensis may warrant separate species status; reference in HBW to this form’s “markedly hypertrophied feet”, however, not borne out by examination of museum specimens. Several proposed races probably insufficiently distinct to warrant recognition: pitanay of W South America (from Ecuador to SC Chile); durnfordi of E South America (S Brazil to SC Argentina); and prattii of Bahamas. Two subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • H. p. palliatus Temminck, 1820 – American Oystercatcher – coasts of North and South America, from Gulf of California S to C Chile, and from Massachusetts S to SC Argentina, including West Indies.
  • H. p. galapagensis Ridgway, 1886 – Galapagos Oystercatcher – Galapagos Is.
  • Descriptive notes

    40–44 cm; male 499–657 g, female 568–720 g; wingspan 76 cm. Head, neck, upper breast, flight-feathers and tail black; lower breast and belly white; the only... read more


    Most-frequently heard call a repeated over-slurred piping whistle, “peep” or “kleep”. Also similar... read more


    Breeds in saltmarshes and on sandy and pebble beaches; many birds move to mudflats in winter.... read more

    Food and feeding

    Feeds mainly on snails, limpets, crabs, oysters, mussels and clams. On soft substrates in Virginia, prey includes razor-clams (Ensis... read more


    Laying Apr–May in Virginia, Mar–May in NW Mexico, May–Jul in Caribbean, Feb–Mar in Panama, May–Jun in... read more


    Resident throughout most of range, but most northerly breeders, especially in NE, move S in winter... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Overall population probably c. 110,000 birds, of which there are perhaps just 7700 individuals in E & S USA, between Virginia and... read more

    Recommended citation

    Hockey, P. & Kirwan, G.M. (2019). American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 22 April 2019).