Latin name: Haematopus ostralegus
Length: 40 - 45cm Wingspan: 80 - 86cm
Where: Loch Lomond Shores Car Park in spring and summer; Glen Dochart; Loch Tay head at Killin; coasts in autumn and winter
When: All year round; inland in spring and summer; on coasts in autumn and winter
Despite its name an oystercatcher rarely eats oysters. Instead it uses that long, vermilion beak to prise apart up to 500 cockles and mussels a day. In winter the birds hug the coastline where the ground seldom freezes, so that they can probe the muddy shores for food. Nearly half the mainland European population comes to join our resident birds for the winter, swelling their total numbers to over 300,000.
Come February and the birds start moving inland to pair up and breed, returning to the coast if the weather closes in again. Most of the British population breeds in Scotland, and you’ll see them in the most unexpected places – roundabouts, rooftops, even back gardens. Their clear, piping calls announce spring is coming, though their habit of calling all through the night makes them less than welcome neighbours in some places. Luckily most of them nest in grazing pastures, where worms take the place of shellfish in their diet. The dappled brown chicks lack the showy black and white plumage of the parents, helping them to hide from predators until they are ready to fledge and return to their coastline haunts for the winter.
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