Haematopus ostralegus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Family: Charadriiformes > Haematopodidae
The Oystercatcher is a striking and familiar wader, its pied plumage contrasting with the bright orange bill and pinkish legs.
The species breeds widely, both around the coast and inland, particularly in northern Britain, whilst during winter large flocks congregate on our estuaries. In Ireland the breeding population remains predominantly coastal. Britain & Ireland support a significant proportion of the global population of this species.
Ringing studies highlight that there is little interchange between the Atlantic subpopulation – which includes those breeding in Iceland, the Faeroes, Britain and Ireland – and the continental subpopulation, which is made up of birds from Scandinavia and the Low Countries.
Select a topic for more facts and statistics about the Oystercatcher
Oystercatcher identification is usually straightforward.
Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Oystercatcher, provided by xeno-canto contributors.
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Status and Trends
Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.
This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.
Oystercatchers increased along linear waterways between 1974 and about 1986, as the species colonised inland sites across England and Wales (Gibbons et al. 1993). Thereafter, the WBS/WBBS index stabilised and now appears to be in decline, so showing a pattern similar to that in winter abundance (WeBS: Frost et al. 2020). Surveys in England and Wales revealed an increase of 47% in breeding birds in wet meadows between 1982 and 2002 (Wilson et al. 2005). BBS data since 1995, which include birds in a broader range of locations and habitats, show a moderate increase in England but a significant, moderate decline in Scotland. There has been a decline across Europe since 1980 (PECBMS: PECBMS 2020a>).
|UK breeding population||-22% decrease (1995–2020)|
|UK winter population||-21% decrease (1995/96 to 2020/21)|
In winter, Oystercatchers are widely distributed on rocky and estuarine shores, with the largest concentrations forming on the major estuaries. They breed around most of the UK coast and are nearly ubiquitous across the interior of Scotland except for some northwestern upland areas and have recently spread into the interior of northern and eastern England.
Occupied 10-km squares in UK
|No. occupied in breeding season||2026|
|% occupied in breeding season||67|
|No. occupied in winter||1734|
|% occupied in winter||57|
European Distribution Map
Breeding Season Habitats
|Most frequent in||Estuaries|
|Also common in||Open Shore|
Relative frequency by habitat
Since the 1970s there has been a 28% range expansion in Britain, but little change in Ireland. Gains in Britain are almost exclusively at inland sites.
Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK
|% change in range in breeding season (1968–72 to 2008–11)||+27.7%|
|% change in range in winter (1981–84 to 2007–11)||+37.6%|
Oystercatchers are recorded throughout the year but encountered more widely in spring and summer when birds are less confined to the coast.
Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.
Lifecycle and body size information about Oystercatcher, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.
|First Clutches Laid||19 May (15 Apr–9 Jun)|
|Number of Broods||1|
|Egg Size||56×40 mm Weight = 46.5 g (of which 7% is shell)|
|Clutch Size||2–3 eggs | 2.7 ± 0.69 (1–5) N=3547|
View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report
|Maximum Age from Ringing||41 years 1 months 5 days (set in 2017)|
|Typical Lifespan||12 years with breeding typically at 4 year|
|Juvenile Survival||0.39 (to age 5)|
|Wing Length||Adults||263.4±7.5 | Range 251–275mm, N=8270|
|Juveniles||258.2±7 | Range 247-269mm, N=1494|
|Males||263.4±6.4 | Range 253–274mm, N=146|
|Females||264.3±7.8 | Range 251–278mm, N=177|
|Body Weight||Adults||546±83.67 | Range 465–640g, N=8253|
|Juveniles||496±52.0404 | Range 410–580g, N=1473|
|Males||544±51.1 | Range 465–632g, N=147|
|Females||549±56.89 | Range 452–657g, N=175|
Feather measurements and photos on featherbase
|Field Codes||2-letter: OC | 5-letter code: OYSTE | Euring: 4500|
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Interpretation and scientific publications about Oystercatcher from BTO scientists.
Causes of change
The main causes of the recent decline are unclear.
Further information on causes of change
The increase in nest failure rates during the 27-day egg stage (25 days for incubation and 2 days for laying) probably results from the spread of the species into less favourable habitats, where nest losses through predation or trampling may be more likely. A 95% decline over 1990-2015 at a study area in Perthshire, Scotland, was attributed to land use and crop type changes (Bell & Calladine 2017). The trend towards earlier laying may be linked to recent climate change (Crick & Sparks 1999).
Information about conservation actions
The causes of the recent decline are unclear and hence conservation requirements are also uncertain. Oystercatchers breed in wetland habitat both along the coast and inland, and therefore actions to improve breeding habitat for other waders may also improve breeding success for Oystercatchers. These could include maintaining and restoring saltmarsh and other wetland habitats, less intensive management of grasslands (including reduced drainage to raise water) and delaying mowing of grasslands in which waders are breeding.
Declines in the Netherlands have been attributed to over-exploitation by shell-fisheries in the Wadden Sea and hence reduced survival during winter (van de Pol et al. 2014). Exploitation of shellfish has also affected some sites in the UK (e.g. Norris et al. 1998; Atkinson et al. 2003), although it is unclear if the UK population declines have been caused by it. However, the majority of the UK breeding population winters around the UK coast, with many estuaries holding protected status as they support nationally and internationally important numbers of Oystercatchers and other wetland species during winter. Appropriate management of shellfish numbers at key wintering sites is therefore likely to be important for this species, along with other policies to ensure these sites continue to be protected and habitat quality maintained or improved (e.g. Goss-Custard et al. (2019).
Changes in breeding wader populations of the Uist machair and adjacent habitats between 1983 and 2022
Study shows 25% decline in breeding waders between 1983 and 2022
Protected sites are assigned based on population statistics for vulnerable and endangered species. This new study using WeBS data shows that changes in population size can affect local abundance, and thus influence whether or not key targets are met for site protection.
Differential distribution of Oystercatchers Haematopus ostralegus overwintering on the Wash, east England
Modelling important areas for breeding waders as a tool to target conservation and minimise conflicts with land use change
Informing decisions for the benefit of breeding waders
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