Go back again with me. This will be our third stop at the “big bay”, the Gulf of Mexico. No worry we could spend a lifetime on a beach of the Gulf and never be short of things to watch and delight in. For this trip our focus will be on a feathered creature. Yes, a bird. This is an extraordinary crow sized bird. Like all other animals, it has a Latin name-Haematopus palliates.
The English translation is American Oyster Catcher. Eye catching colors of contrasting black and white trimmed with a bright orange bill make this bird an eye banquet. It is wary. It was a great delight to find a pair feeding in the surf on one of our morning walks. They would not allow close up photography. They did allow images at a distance.
What makes the American Oyster Catcher a bird to look for on the Gulf of Mexico? Let our eyes provide the first reason. They are striking. Against a backdrop of white surf and sand the contrast of its black and white feathers and bright orange bill is highly appealing. They are not as numerous along Gulf Coasts due to lower tidal ranges and therefore less exposure of the creatures it feeds on. Rarity makes them particularly worth watching for.
Oystercatchers are true shorebirds. Their daily routine brings them into shallow tide waters to feed. Its diet ranges from oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops to starfish and crabs. The two in the photos were likely feasting on the mole crabs or sand fleas inhabiting the surf edge. That bright orange bill is specially designed to be able to severe the adductor muscles of clams and oysters they find open by repeatedly stabbing the muscles. This allows them to eat the oyster or clam inside. It is possible there are times a bird may find its beak stuck in the clam if it closes before the muscle is severed.
To me everything about this bird is wonderful. The fingerprints of God are everywhere on this beautiful creature. It is the bill of the oystercatcher which shows us God’s hand. The bill of this bird is its tool for life. Not only do they use it to sever the adductor muscle of bivalves, they can use it to hammer shells open. Try a simple experiment. Tap your toughest fingernail on a seashell if you have one. If not try something else hard and organic in origin. Attempt to create a hole in this object. Or, perhaps, like me you choose to say, “impossible” and not even attempt such a feat. The oystercatcher’s bill wears down from use. No problem. It grows at an incredible 0.4 mm per day. That’s 3 times faster than our human fingernails grow! The oystercatcher has no control over this-their bill automatically grows. They can hammer or stab and the tool they need for it is always ready.
The nests of American Oystercatchers are usually near the beach. High sandy dunes, even low flat sandy areas with good cover for them is acceptable. They typically make up to 5 nests by scraping our shallow depressions in the sand with their feet. One of these is chosen and lined with small shells, pebble and tide wrack, organic sea plant material. They nest once in the nesting season. Since only 2-4 eggs are laid, the Oystercatcher population does not increase rapidly. This brings us to another incredible fact about these birds. They live long. The oldest known oystercatcher (a Eurasian Oystercatcher) lived 40 years!
Oystercatchers are on the 2014 State of Birds Watch list. While not endangered, it means they are a conservation concern. The population is carefully monitored and protected by wildlife agencies such as the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
Where does it get its water in the salty world it inhabits? If you are like me you have likely not given much thought to how the American Oystercatcher gets water. The solution is simple. Most of the water it drinks is saltwater. Like other ocean birds, the Oystercatcher has a pair of salt glands above its eyes. Excess salt is moved through the blood stream and to these glands where it is excreted from the nostrils to run down grooves to the bill where this salty fluid can be shaken back into the sea it came from.
Yes, the fingerprints, even the hand of God are everywhere present as we examine this beautiful bird of the shore and surf. The miracle of a growing bill, longevity, an internal desalination plant, and its marvelous external beauty all say, “this is God’s handiwork.”
Before doing the research on this bird, it fascinated ad delighted me to just see it. Another trip to the Gulf is needed. Seeing this bird the next time will make it even more pleasing knowing how this bird lives in the world of salt called the Gulf of Mexico.
The verses below provide us with tools for the understanding of the existence of the oystercatcher. May they speak truth to you as you read them.
For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. Romans 1:20
For the Lord is God, and he created the heavens and earth and put everything in place. He made the world to be lived in, not to be a place of empty chaos. “I am the Lord,” he says, “and there is no other. Isaiah 45:18