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A trip to the coast leads to encounter with American Oystercatcher

I spent the Thanksgiving holiday week at the beach, Ocean Isle Beach to be exact. I took full advantage of the change in venue by doing a good bit of birding once the rain stopped midweek. Five other birders joined me on Nov. 29.

One thing I always check for is leg bands on certain species such as American oystercatchers and piping plovers. We didn’t see any piping plovers but did encounter a nice flock of 15 oystercatchers in Saucepan Creek, with one individual sporting green leg bands with readable codes.

American oystercatchers catch the attention of birders and non-birders alike. They are large birds that have strongly contrasting black, brown, and white plumage. The most prominent feature, however, is the bright red bill and bright red eye ring.

The American oystercatcher is one of several shorebird species with a population low enough as to warrant special attention. In 2001 the American Oystercatcher Working Group was formed to gather information on the species and to come up with management plans. One initiative was to establish a banding program that has greatly increased knowledge of the species’ migration movements and wintering sites. With binoculars or scopes, the codes on the bands can be seen and reported to an online database. Within a few days a report is sent back to the observer saying where the bird was originally banded and locations of other new sightings, if any.

By reporting new sightings, even the casual birder can contribute to the knowledge of where important migration stopover spots are, as well as important wintering areas. The Working Group can then come up with conservation strategies to help these favorite beach birds.

I reported the banded bird from Saucepan Creek and the band code of “CJO.” You can just make out the band code on the accompanying photo, which was taken at some distance. This appears to be a young bird as evidenced by the dark portions of the bill, different from the bright red bill that adults show.

As of this writing I have not received a report of where this bird was banded or where else it has been spotted. I will let you know when I hear something.