Pied oystercatcher (Haematopus longirostris)

Pied oystercatcher foraging
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST

Top facts

  • The pied oystercatcher has red eyes and an orange-red eye ring which stands out against the black plumage of its head.
  • The pied oystercatcher is described as having a high-pitched, piping call.
  • The pied oystercatcher uses its long, knife-like bill to pry open oysters and other shellfish.
  • Rather than building a nest, the pied oystercatcher makes a scrape in the sand in which to lay its eggs.
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Pied oystercatcher fact file

Pied oystercatcher description

GenusHaematopus (1)

The pied oystercatcher (Haematopus longirostris) is a large, robust shorebird (3) with striking and attractive plumage (4). Its head, neck, breast and upperparts are black (2) (3) (4) (5), contrasting starkly with its white rump, uppertail- and undertail-coverts and underparts (3) (4). The white of the rump extends onto the lower back (2) (6), and a prominent white mark can clearly be seen between the folded wings and the breast (3). The pied oystercatcher does not demonstrate any seasonal changes in plumage (2).

Standing out against the black plumage of its head, an orange-red ring surrounds each of the pied oystercatcher’s bright red eyes (2) (3) (6). The pied oystercatcher’s bill is long, heavy and knife-like (3) (5), and is a deep orange-scarlet colour, while its stout legs are coral pink to light brick-red (3) (4).

The male and female pied oystercatcher are similar in appearance (2) (3) (4), although the female often has a longer bill than the male, and is usually larger (2). The juvenile pied oystercatcher can be distinguished from the adult by its more brownish plumage (2) (4) and the duller colour of its bare parts (2).

The pied oystercatcher makes a high-pitched, piping call, described as ‘pleep-pleep’, as well as a repetitive ‘tleepa tleepa tleepa tleepa(3).

Also known as
Australian pied oystercatcher, white-breasted oystercatcher.
Length: 42 - 51 cm (2) (3)
Male weight: 410 - 776 g (2)
Female weight: 500 - 782 g (2)

Pied oystercatcher biology

The pied oystercatcher is usually found in pairs (3) (10) or in small groups (2) (3) (4), and is known to associate with sooty oystercatchers (Haematopus fuliginosus) and other shorebirds such as curlews, stints and sandpipers (4). However, during the breeding season the pied oystercatcher pairs spread themselves evenly along the beach, and are less sociable (3).

Invertebrate prey such as bivalves, worms, crustaceans and insects form the bulk of the pied oystercatcher’s diet (2) (9) (10) (11), although it also eats fish and fish eggs (2) (11). This species often feeds on large cockles, which it pulls out of the sandy substrate and hammers open to get to the fleshy parts (3), and it also uses its long, knife-like bill to pry open oysters and other shellfish (5).

The pied oystercatcher is a monogamous species (2) (11). The timing of breeding varies depending on the location, occurring between May and September in the northern parts of its range, and between August and January in the south (2). The pied oystercatcher does not make a nest (5), instead laying its eggs in a shallow scrape in the sand, usually just above the high-tide mark (2) (3). It is also known to leave the shore and move to small islands and rocky promontories to breed (4).

Pied oystercatcher clutches usually contain two eggs (2), which are a buffy stone colour, and are marked with large irregular blotches of dark chestnut-brown (4). The eggs are incubated for 28 to 32 days, before the downy, grey-brown speckled chicks hatch (2). The young pied oystercatchers are soon capable of running (4), but are not capable of flight until they are between 42 and 49 days of age. The young birds remain in the adult territory for one to six months, and will not breed until they are between four and six years old (2).


Pied oystercatcher range

The pied oystercatcher is found along the entire Australian coastline (3), as well as on the country’s islands, including Tasmania (2) (7), and islands within the Torres Strait (7). It is most abundant in large bays in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia, particularly from the Eyre Peninsula to the Bass Strait (2).

The pied oystercatcher also occurs on the southern coast of New Guinea (2) (3) (7), where it is thought to be a non-breeding visitor (2), and in Indonesia (8), where it is found on the Kai and Aru Islands (2) (3) (7).


Pied oystercatcher habitat

The pied oystercatcher prefers habitats with soft substrates (9), including sandy beaches, tidal mudflats and estuaries (2) (3) (4) (5) (7) (9) (10). It can occasionally be found along rocky shores or shingle coastlines (2) (3) (9), and is also known to nest on salt marshes, shingle beaches, dunes and pastures (2).


Pied oystercatcher status

The pied oystercatcher is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Pied oystercatcher threats

The pied oystercatcher is not currently considered to be globally threatened (2) (8). However, although there are no known major threats to this species, it is sometimes subject to disturbance from off-road vehicles and other forms of recreation (2).


Pied oystercatcher conservation

The pied oystercatcher is the most common oystercatcher species in Australia (2), and as a result there are no known conservation measures currently in place which specifically target this attractive shorebird.


Find out more

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A group of aquatic molluscs in which the soft parts are encased in a shell consisting of two parts, known as valves.
Small feathers concealing the bases of larger flight feathers, usually on the wings or tail.
Diverse group of animals with jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton, characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, woodlice and barnacles.
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a group.


  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2012)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Geering, A., Agnew, L. and Harding, S. (2007) Shorebirds of Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Victoria, Australia.
  4. Gould, J. (1865) Handbook to the Birds of Australia. Volume 2. John Gould, London.
  5. Likoff, L.E. (1986) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Volume 1. Infobase Publishing, New York.
  6. Marchant, J., Hayman, P. and Prater, T. (2010) Shorebirds. A&C Black Publishers, London.
  7. Sibley, C.G. and Monroe Jr, B. (1991) Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. Yale University Press, Connecticut.
  8. BirdLife International (September, 2012)
  9. Joseph, L. and Olsen, P. (2011) Stray Feathers: Reflections on the Structure, Behaviour and Evolution of Birds. CSIRO Publishing, Victoria, Australia.
  10. Daniels, C.B. (2011) A Guide to Urban Wildlife: 250 Creatures You Meet on Your Street. HarperCollins Australia, Australia.
  11. Barker, R. and Vestjens, W. (1989) Food of Australian Birds 1. Non-passerines. CSIRO Publishing, Victoria, Australia.
  12. Thompson, D.B.A. (2001) Shorebirds. Voyageur Press, Minneapolis.

Image credit

Pied oystercatcher foraging  
Pied oystercatcher foraging

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