The American oystercatcher doesn't often eat its namesake food in coastal habitats such as Gasparilla Island.
They feed on shellfish such as mollusks, barnacles, starfish, jellyfish and crabs. Even though they are called "oystercatchers" they rarely eat oysters. They sneak up on prey taking advantage of vulnerable moments to make them into a tasty meal.
They use long strong bills to crack open their prey after nosing through sand searching for food. But they locate food by sight for the most part.
The American oystercatcher is marked with a black and white body, long orange beak and a black head.
This distinctive bird is rarely misidentified. The American oystercatcher is marked with a black and white body, long orange beak and a black head.
They have stout legs, a white underbelly, yellow eyes and a red-orange ring around the eyes. When these birds are in flight the noticeable white stripe on their wings stand out.
Some oystercatchers will travel inland along estuaries but they nest primarily along the beaches. They nest in sand surrounded by small rocks and are often swept away by high tides as their nests are vulnerable so close to the water.
Oystercatchers usually hang in small groups along the shore - not in colonies. They tend to gather in larger groups just before migration.
Adult oystercatchers go to great lengths to protect their eggs. They disguise their eggs by placing pebbles and shells in with the eggs to throw predators off track.
Both parents incubate the eggs. Young oystercatchers go off on their own as soon as they are roughly 35 days old.
Many Florida oystercatchers are permanent residents and others migrate to the Sunshine State each winter.
When feeding on the shoreline they are known to turn their heads abruptly to the left, then to right, while feeding aggressively. They at times sleep standing up.
Unafraid of humans, they are a gregarious and comical bird to watch. They are fast fliers and move rapidly across mud and sand. At the beach the birds can be seen scurrying along the shoreline in search of food.
At one time these birds were hunted, which greatly reduced their population. Habitat loss is another factor in population loss.
Yet oystercatchers are not on endangered species or threatened lists. Their status is classified as "special concern" along with other shorebirds such as plovers, least terns and skimmers.