Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘american oystercatcher’

Banding American Oystercatchers!

Saturday, June 9th, 2012

Dr. Virzi and Stephanie Egger (CWFNJ) banding an American oystercatcher chick.

By Stephanie Egger, Wildlife Biologist

Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ (CWFNJ) and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife – Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) assisted in the banding of American oystercatchers chicks and adults this week.  Oystercatchers in New Jersey are banded as part of a long-term mark recapture research project by Dr. Tom Virzi of Rutgers University in collaboration with CWFNJ and ENSP.  One breeding adult that was recaptured yesterday was originally banded over a winter in Georgia!  Data collected included band color and combination, sex, age, weight, other physical measurements (wing, head, culmen, nares, leg) and a feather sample for DNA purposes.  Check out our video from that day!

Over the last few years, widespread mark recapture efforts along the Atlantic coast have revealed connections between breeding and wintering sites and information of the complexity of patterns of movement and dispersal.  For more information on the New Jersey data and other state efforts please see the American Oystercatcher Working Group website.

Pam Prichard (Monmouth County Monitor for ENSP) ready to release the American oystercatcher chick after all data was collected.An adult American Oystercatcher originally tagged in Georgia, breeding in New Jersey.

An adult American Oystercatcher originally tagged in Georgia, breeding in New Jersey.

Photos from the Field!

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

By Stephanie Egger, Wildlife Biologist

The month of April has provided the first nests from our beach nesting birds!  The first nest found belongs to the American oystercatcher, a species of concern in New Jersey.  Like our other nesting shorebirds, the eggs are well camouflaged on the beach.  We use symbolic fencing (string and posts) with signs to protect their nesting areas and to alert the public of their presence.

An American oystercatcher nest with 2 eggs.

American oystercatcher nesting area with protective fencing.


Piping Plover Spring Arrival!

Monday, April 9th, 2012


By Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager

Piping plovers and American oystercatchers have already begun to return to New Jersey to breed. Least terns and black skimmers will follow in another couple of weeks. This is a busy time for the Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s (CWF) Beach Nesting Bird Project – our program to protect these birds, some of the state’s most at-risk species, kicks into high gear as the birds arrive.

Employees from the Edison, NJ and Philadelphia, PA offices of CDM Smith who helped put up fence and signs at the Belmar Shark River Inlet nesting area. 


The first major task at hand is to protect the habitat where the birds nest from human disturbance associated with intensive recreational use of our beaches. Working closely with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, CWF typically helps fence off and post 20-25 beach sites annually.

And we couldn’t complete this massive job without the assistance of volunteers. This year we have gotten volunteer help from a diverse group of organizations, ranging from the New Jersey Beach Buggy Association to Wetland Institute to Manasquan High School Environmental Club. A huge THANKS to all those groups and individuals that pitched in to help!



Click here to learn more information about our Beach Nesting Bird Program.

Click here to learn how you can adopt a Piping Plover (or other species) to help fund our ongoing conservation projects.



Tuesday, October 18th, 2011


By Allison Anholt, Field Technician, (NJDFW) and Emily Heiser, Field Technician, (CWFNJ)

Color band being placed on oystercatcher.

Color band being placed on oystercatcher chick at Stone Harbor, N.J.

Throughout the fall, there is a remarkable sight to see along New Jersey’s coastline.  Thousands of shorebirds group together in huge flocks, using our state’s coastline as a migration stopover point to rest and feed.  One particularly interesting shorebird is the American oystercatcher, which is listed as a species of special concern in New Jersey.   At the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, we work with biologists from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife to survey these birds throughout the fall season.

The oystercatcher is an especially easy bird to survey during fall migration due to its distinct features. Not only do they stand apart from other shorebird species with their unique orange bill and striking coloration, but color bands help us determine individuals as well.  Banding efforts have been underway in New Jersey since 2004 in order to give insight to researchers regarding the
oystercatcher’s breeding habits, pair behavior, and migration patterns. About 300 oystercatchers have been banded in New Jersey to date, including a significant percentage of the state’s estimated 400 breeding pairs. (more…)

American Oystercatcher – Update on a Species of Special Concern

Monday, March 7th, 2011
Latest research filling in the blanks!

By Alfred Breed, CWF Field Technician

Because of the small amount of research undertaken when compared to other more intensely studied bird species, we are still very far from a complete understanding of the American oystercatcher.  For several years staff from Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ, along with other partners throughout the state have collected data for both breeding and wintering populations of American oystercatcher in New Jersey.  Very little data has been collected, however, during the non-breeding/migratory season.

Oystercatchers feeding and loafing at alternative high-tide roost site on a vernal marsh pond. © Alf Breed.

That data gap is now beginning to close.  Thanks to a grant provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, CWF was able to conduct surveys during the post-breeding/migratory season on roosting flocks of American oystercatcher at southern New Jersey Atlantic coastal inlets from Brigantine to Cape May.  This data, when combined with data collected by other researchers range-wide, helps us to discern life-span, survival rates, movement patterns, population numbers, age structure and other important characteristics vital to our better understanding of this species.

For this study research staff surveyed inlet flocks of American oystercatchers between late July and early December 2010.  Flocks were counted and observed for banded birds.  There were just over 400 individual band resights during the survey period, significantly increasing our database of resighted birds. The majority of birds that were resighted were banded in New Jersey, although a number of birds banded in other states were also observed, including from Massachusetts, Delaware, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

Preliminary analyses of band resights and flock counts suggest seasonal patterns of behavior and show a variety of migration strategies within the species.  Some migrants were sighted only once and seem to be passing through relatively quickly en route to roost sites further south.  Some individuals resighted here in New Jersey were subsequently resighted a short time later on the Florida Gulf Coast at Cedar Key, indicating impressive migration distances covered in a very short time.

Others banded oystercatchers where resighted during the survey more than once here in New Jersey and spent considerable time roosting at or near our southern coastal inlets before moving on as temperatures dropped towards the end of the survey period.  Still others were present during the entire period. New Jersey is the northernmost extent of the wintering range for the Atlantic Coast population of oystercatchers.

Using the spotting scope to re-sight the coded leg-bands. © Alf Breed.

During the survey period, Brigantine, Great Egg Harbor, Corson’s, and Townsend’s inlets all showed a gradual increase in oystercatcher numbers to their peak flock counts towards the middle and end of October, when migrants headed for warmer latitudes and winter residents consolidated into New Jersey’s two primary winter flocks at Absecon and Hereford Inlets. These two primary winter roost sites had their flock counts gradually increase to their peak counts shortly before the end of the survey period. Between 350 and 400 birds were seen in each of these flocks at their peak.

As the primary surveyor for CWFNJ, one unexpected discovery I made early in the survey period was the identification of several alternative high-tide roosting sites at vernal marsh ponds close to, but some distance from, the inlets, and away from previously recorded roost site locations.  Further research may help clarify if these alternative sites are a normal part of early migratory oystercatcher habitat, or are in response to the documented high levels of human disturbance in their normal roosting locations during the tourist season.  Birds were observed regularly feeding at these ponds during the high-tide roost.  It is possible that early in migration season the birds are still actively building reserves of energy to take them safely through the winter, and inhabit the vernal ponds to be close to an easily accessed food source.  Wintering flocks, in contrast, are less likely to be seen feeding during the high-tide roost, and more likely to assume their energy conservation pose, standing on one leg with bill tucked under a wing, and the other leg drawn up tight beneath the body, with little or no feeding activity observed.

As fall progressed and human disturbance tapered off to some degree, the flocks did move to their more traditional roost sites, which are generally the beaches, sandbar islands and bayside sandflats of our inlets.  Frequent shoulder-season human disturbance of the roosting flocks in these areas from watercraft users, beach walkers, anglers, ORVs, and dogs warrants additional systematic quantitative assessment and analysis for possible negative effects on the survival rates of migratory oystercatchers.  Such analysis will aid in the evaluation of the need for the implementation of habitat management actions to mitigate any negative effects discovered.

The American oystercatcher precariously inhabits a narrow ribbon of coastal habitat which is also used by many other threatened and endangered plants and animals.  It thus has strong potential as a “sentinel species” to help us to gauge both the current health of our ecosystem and the success or failure of habitat management actions undertaken.  Continued data collection and analysis will enable us to take science-based steps in our efforts to understand the American oystercatcher, and to preserve and protect the beautiful barrier-island beaches, bays, and adjacent tidal marsh that make up our southern Jersey Shore.