This is one of the larger waders, and certainly one of the most distinctive with its black and white body, dazzling red-eye and long, vivid orange-red bill. It has short, pale pink legs, and long and broad white wingbars with a white ‘V’ on its back can be seen when in flight. In the winter it has a white-collar and a dark-tipped bill. Length 40 to 45cm.
They feed in large groups probing sand and mud with their long bills for marine worms and molluscs, or they prise shellfish from rocks along with seaweed. They will also eat earthworms and other invertebrates when venturing inland if food is in short supply on the coast. They breed on almost all UK coasts, and within the past 50 years further inland. They form a shallow scrape in shingle or sand, often amongst rocks or grassy tussocks where they lay 2 or 3 eggs in 1 brood from April to July. They can live for up to 15 years.
Seen all year round, and they often occur in enormous tight flocks where they may dominate whole estuaries. Also seen on sandy, muddy, and rocky beaches, grassy islands, shingle or riverside grassland, and grassy fields. They are common and widespread, occurring on almost all UK coasts. Most UK birds spend the winter on the coast, where on the east coast their numbers maybe increased by birds from Norway. The RSPB have given them an amber status due to their vulnerability of the over-fishing of cockle beds which they rely on for food.
A very noisey bird, especially as they form tightly packed flocks, producing penetrating kleep sounds.
Photographs of Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), taken April 2013, Llandudno, Wales. © Pete Hillman 2013. Camera used Nikon Coolpix P500.