Oystercatchers Haematopodidae are ubiquitous the world over; their cackling being heard everywhere from remote beaches to university campuses. While they are much loved, they have also been (fondly) nicknamed ‘Oystercrappers’ or simply ‘Crappers’, for their impressive ability to cover ringers in faeces! It is therefore unsurprising that the Eurasian species, Haematopus ostralegus, has been the emblem of the Wader Study Group since its inception in 1970. Moreover, Oystercatchers have another special link to the IWSG as they are the main study specie of the former Chief editor of the journal, Humphrey Sitters. In this virtual issue, we have gathered some of the papers on Haematopodidae that have been published in the International Wader Study Group Bulletin and Wader Study to celebrate the group’s logo.
The first mention of oystercatchers in the IWSGB came in 1977, when John Goss-Custard wrote about his newly started colour-ringing scheme, which aimed to investigate the foraging behaviour of individuals on the Exe Estuary in Devon. In the early 1980s, several studies were published, including on the breeding schedule and clutch biometrics of American Oystercatchers Haematopus palliatus (Baker & Cadman 1980) and a bibliographic summary of world oystercatcher literature (Hockey 1983). Alongside these (and several other serious papers), there was also condemnation of an ‘unprecedented press attack on the WSG emblem’ – when a BBC cameraman stepped on some very camouflaged eggs that had been laid on a high-speed rail line in Anglesey, Wales (WSG 1983). See below for the snippet in full!
In 1990, there was a heated debate about the accuracy of the methods used to determine the preferred size of oystercatcher prey, with two articles published in the same issue (Speakman 1990, Cayford 1990). A review about the status and distribution of Eurasian Oystercatchers along Mediterranean coasts was then published in 1998, highlighting breeding numbers at sites ranging from Spain across to Turkey (Valle & Scarton 1998). This was an impressive collaborative effort, as the authors contacted scientific associations, institutions and experts across seven countries to collate data from 21 different breeding sites.
The findings of a wintering survey of American Oystercatchers were published in 2000 (Nol et al. 2000). Later in the 2000s, two papers from South Africa were published: one on the breeding productivity of African Black Oystercatchers Haematopus moquini on Robben Island (Calf & Underhill 2002) and a second investigating the cause of poor productivity in the same population between 2004 and 2005 (Braby & Underhill 2007). Braby & Underhill (2007) found that despite the population being affected by Kelp Gulls, Mole Snakes and large waves generated by the Sumatra tsunami washing nests away, the most likely cause of poor productivity was the feral cat population, whose numbers had increased dramatically since 1999. This highlights the magnitude of the threat that feral cats pose for ground-nesting bird species.
In 2010, two pieces of work investigating the effect of human disturbance were published. Virzi (2010) showed that there was a lower probability of American Oystercatcher presence on highly disturbed beaches in New Jersey, and particularly around beach access points. He suggested that restrictions on driving along beaches be implemented during key parts of the breeding season. In the same issue, Tjørve & Tjørve (2010) published a note about the contrasting responses of Eurasian Oystercatcher pairs to human disturbance in Norway, showing that while some have clearly become habituated to human presence, others are far warier. More work is clearly needed on the effect of human disturbance on all shorebird species given how much we are encroaching into their natural habitat.
Oystercatchers continue to catch the attention of wader enthusiasts, as exemplified by the recent discussion on subspecies identification in SE Asia (Chowdhury & Melville 2018) and the report of an individual with an extraordinary long bill (Cooney 2017). The IWSG logo species, and its relatives, will likely continue to be under the spotlight of many members of this group. While we have presented a short list of papers, there are more spread across all decades of the IWSG journals, which we invite you to browse.
Colour Ringing: Oystercatchers: Exe Estuary – Request for Information
Volume 20. 1977
Breeding Schedule, Clutch Size and Egg Size of American Oystercatchers Haematopus palliatus in Virginia
A. Baker & M. Cadman
Volume 30. 1980
A Bibliography of World Oystercatcher Literature
Volume 37. 1983
Unprecedented Press Attack on WSG Emblem
Volume 38. 1983
Bias in the Collection of Mussel Shells Opened by Oystercatchers
Volume 58. 1990
Bias in the Collection of Mussel Shells Opened by Oystercatchers: A Reply to Speakman
Volume 58. 1990
Status and Distribution of Oystercatchers Haematopus ostralegus Breeding Along Mediterranean Coasts
R. Valle & F. Scarton
Volume 86. 1998
A Survey of Wintering American Oystercatchers from Georgia to Virginia, U.S.A., 1999
E. Nol, B. Truitt, D. Allen, B. Winn & T. Murphy
Volume 93. 2000
Productivity of African Black Oystercatchers Haematopus moquini on Robben Island, South Africa, in the 2001-2002 Breeding Season
K.M. Calf & L.G. Underhill
Volume 99. 2002
Was poor breeding productivity of African Black Oystercatchers on Robben Island in 2004/05 caused by Feral Cats, Kelp Gulls, Mole Snakes or the Sumatra tsunami?
J. Braby & L.G. Underhill
Volume 113. 2007
The effect of human disturbance on the local distribution of American oystercatchers breeding on barrier island beaches
Volume 117(1). 2010
Contrasting reactions to human disturbance in Eurasian Oystercatchers Haematopus ostralegus on the south coast of Norway
K.M.C. Tjørve & E. Tjørve
Volume 117(1). 2010
Comments on the subspecific identification of Eurasian Oystercatchers Haematopus ostralegus in Indonesia and Bangladesh
Volume 125(2). 2018
S.U. Chowdhury & D.S. Melville
Extraordinary bill abnormality in a Eurasian Oystercatcher
Volume 124(2). 2017