A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)

 

With its flaming orange-red bill and raucous call, Black Oystercatcher is one of Sonoma County's most recognizable birds. Usually appears fairly uniformly black, but in good light it's easy to see that the head, neck and upper breast are actually a deep charcoal grey and that the rest of the bird is a deep blackish brown. The bright yellow eye with red orbital ring is as striking as the bill. Thick pink legs with knobby "knees." Note that the Sibley guide shows the legs as a pale yellow, but all Sonoma County birds I've seen have had pink legs. Young birds are slightly paler brown and have a dark bill tip (see photo below). Fairly common in small numbers throughout the year along the coast, favoring rocky shoreline. Forms long-term pair bonds. Often seen in pairs or with immature birds, which stay with the parents for an extended period. Does a pre-copulation display with the head stretched up straight followed by a low bow with the tail sticking up stiffly in back (see photos below). Despite the bright red bill, can easily be overlooked, as its color blends in with dark rocks. The presence of Black Oystercatcher may first become known when an unseen group takes flight with noisy echoing cries of kleeep! kleeep! kleeep! In older books, may be referred to as American Black Oystercatcher. Replaced on the East Coast, Gulf Coast of the US, and Pacific coast of Baja California by American Oystercatcher, which has a white belly and rump, paler brown back, and white wing stripe. Ranges overlap only in Baja California, where the two species may hybridize.


Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 50

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 215

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 67

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 160

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, pg. 172

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 106

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 203-204

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 140

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 153

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 172

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 210-241 (general notes on shorebird ID), p. 217

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 95-96, 102

O’Brien, Crossley, and Karlson, The Shorebird Guide, 2006, pp. 68-70, 313, 345-346

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 27

Paulson, Shorebirds of North America: The Photographic Guide, 2005, pp. 87-88

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 134

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 120

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 148

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 222

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 129


Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Black Oystercatcher

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© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.

ctalcroft@yahoo.com

Immature Black Oystercatcher--Note overall browner color

and dark tip of bill.

Porto Bodega, Bodega Bay, May 7, 2011

Black Oystercatcher display

Porto Bodega, Bodega Bay, May 7, 2011

Black Oystercatcher

Haematopus bachmani

Black Oystercatcher, Porto Bodega, Bodega Bay, May 7, 2011

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated May 30, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County