“CATCHING THE EYE”: OYSTERCATCHERS (+ BONUS ID TIP)
I’m focusing (ha!) on oystercatcher eyes today. Like the extraordinary one in the header image. Notice the bright orangey-red ‘orbital ring’, the egg-yolk-reminiscent eye and the pitch black iris. An eye-catching and unmistakeable feature of this handsome black and white shorebird, the American Oystercatcher.
Here’s another AMOY eye, with a different smudge of black by the iris. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that AMOY specialists are able to ID individual birds at least in part by their different eye markings. And you can see that the eye-ring smartly matches the beak into the bargain.
This wonderful photograph of a loving AMOY pair with their precious egg safely encircled by a rocky nest was taken on LBI, NJ by Northside Jim, whose amazing photos I sometimes include. See how brightly the eyes of each bird stand out, like tiny archery targets.
“The World is Mine Oyster”
The AMOY shot below was generously put on Wiki by Dan Pancamo. He captioned it perfectly.
OYSTERCATCHER ID TIPS
A while ago, when I was choosing AMOY photographs for publication, I idly wondered what was the difference between them and Eurasian Oystercatchers (yes, yes, I hear you – apart from geographical, I mean…). At a first comparative glance, to me they looked remarkably similar in coloration and size. Assuming both species were to be discovered on the same shoreline, how best might one distinguish them? The main differences seemed to be:
- Leg colouring differs, AMOY legs being generally pale pink as opposed to the stronger coloured legs of the EUROY (if they can be called that). However there are considerable EUROY variations (see below), from pink to orange to reddish, that are presumably seasonal. The leg colour, assuming they are visible to the watcher, is not quite a definitive identifier.
- Both species have black heads and necks, but the AMOY’s back plumage shades to dark brown. But how distinctive would that be in low light or indifferent weather?
- Mrs RH, looking over my shoulder, saw it at once: the eyes. If you can see the eyes, you can tell instantly what make of OY you are looking at*. Here are a some Eurasian Oystercatchers showing their own distinctively red eyes and orbital rings.
As so often, I have since found that the excellent Birdorable site has nailed the differences clearly and simply. Eye colour, leg colour and – less obviously – the AMOY’s brownish back as opposed to the EUROY’s entirely black and white body. Sorted.
RECOMMENDED SHOREBIRD SITE WADER QUEST
*I realise there are a number of other oystercatcher species around the world, but for obvious reasons they don’t really come into consideration for present purposes…
Credits: Todd Pover / CWFNJ (1, 2); Northside Jim EXIT63 (3); Dan Pancamo (4); Elis Simpson / Wader Quest (5, 6); snowmanradio / wiki (7); Wader Quest, Birdorable, magpie pickings and Mrs RH for sharp… er… eyes