Birda Logo
loading...

Variable Oystercatcher

Haematopus unicolor

The Variable Oystercatcher, known scientifically as Haematopus unicolor, is a striking wader endemic to the shores of New Zealand. Its name reflects the variability of its plumage, which can range from all black to pied, with mottled individuals known colloquially as "smudgies." These birds exhibit polymorphism, with northern populations typically displaying more white than their southern counterparts. All individuals from Stewart Island, however, are black. They possess pink legs, an orange eye ring, and a bill that is orange-red, needle-like in shape, and darkens during the breeding season. Males average around 678 grams, while females are slightly larger at approximately 724 grams. Their robust build is complemented by a short, sturdy body and a thick neck, with a length ranging from 42 to 47 cm from beak to tail.

Identification Tips

The Variable Oystercatcher is distinguishable from the South Island Pied Oystercatcher (SIPO) by its larger size and the less defined boundary between its black and white plumage. The underwing of the Variable Oystercatcher features a mottled band, and its white rump patch is merely a band across the base of the tail, unlike the SIPO's wide wedge shape. When pied, the Variable Oystercatcher's plumage may appear less sharply contrasted than that of the SIPO.

Habitat

This species is strictly coastal, never venturing more than 30 km from the shoreline. It favors sandy beaches over gravel or boulder-strewn areas and is often found nesting between rocks or on sand dunes. After rainfall, these birds may venture into pastures but remain predominantly coastal dwellers.

Distribution

The Variable Oystercatcher is found along most coastlines of New Zealand's North, South, and Stewart Islands, as well as some offshore islands. They are less common on the western coasts but can be found in higher densities in specific regions such as Northland and the Coromandel Peninsula.

Behaviour

These birds are typically seen in pairs and lead a sedentary lifestyle with little to no migration. They are known to be territorial, especially during the breeding season, and may exhibit aggressive behavior to defend their territory.

Song & Calls

In flight, the Variable Oystercatcher emits a high-pitched 'kleep kleep' sound, which can be heard over the sound of the waves.

Feeding

The Variable Oystercatcher feeds both day and night, avoiding the high tide period. It primarily consumes molluscs, crustaceans, worms, and small invertebrates, using its bill to stab and twist open bivalves or hammer them open. After heavy rains, they may seek earthworms inland.

Breeding

Breeding takes place on coastal sand dunes, with the male performing a territorial display involving 'bowing' movements and piping calls. The species is monogamous during the breeding season, with pairs defending their territory. They lay stone-colored eggs with brown patches, usually in clutches of 2-3, which both parents incubate. Chicks are camouflaged and fledge in about 6 weeks.

Conservation Status

The Variable Oystercatcher is classified as Least Concern, with an estimated population of 4,000–5,000 individuals. It is considered to be in acceptable health and is showing a population increase. The species is listed as "At Risk, Recovering" nationally, with a "Regionally Vulnerable" status in the Wellington region.

Predators, Parasites, and Diseases

Historically hunted for food, the Variable Oystercatcher now faces predation from mammals such as possums, cats, and dogs, as well as threats from human activities and habitat loss. It is also susceptible to parasites like cestodes and trematodes, but these do not significantly harm the birds. Disease is not a major concern for the species, with avian pox documented but not causing significant mortality.

App logo
Birda is a birdwatching app and community aimed at curious people who want to deepen their connection with nature.

Variable Oystercatchers on Birda

Photos
Sightings

More Oystercatchers

A photo of a Blackish Oystercatcher (Haematopus ater)

Blackish Oystercatcher

Haematopus ater
Birda Logo

Your birdwatching journey like never before

Connect with nature in minutes
Take a walk, look out of the window and log the birds that you see. Feel good about those little connections to nature.
Discover the joy of birding
Find new birding spots, see more birds, share and celebrate with a like-minded community of nature lovers.
Play your part in saving nature
Logging your birding sightings and sessions turns into positive action for our planet. Every sighting counts.

Birda Blog

What Our Birders Say
Marlster24
Very Wholesome App
Joined this app with a new interest in watching birds to help me find out what I was spotting. The community is very active in helping identify birds which is great and everyone is very kind so it’s just a nice wholesome community. I would definitely recommend this for any bird spotter 😄
D3Nature
Great app for learning Birds
I’ve been using the app for a couple of months and love it....Someone said it’s like a real life Pokémon Go for birds. They’re not far off! It’s something that the family can do that gets you out and about. Well worth downloading no matter your age.
Unbridled Discoveries
Great app for bird lovers
I love this app! It’s a wonderful way to track birding sessions, and also connect you with fellow birders. I also really like the unidentified bird section, it’s a great community tool to help figure out what a never-before-seen bird is!
Madstherangers
A mordern game changer
Birda is an awesome app, its updated the world of birding to the modern day with a fun and easy to use app. It’s engaging and allows positive interaction with fellow bird lovers!
Emcil24
A Friendly Place
I love using the bird app, I have a pretty good knowledge of birds. But I do have some gaps in it, so it’s nice to have a safe space to check on a sighting to confirm the species. It’s really enjoyable and I love the badges you can collect. It’s like a real life Pokémon go.
Paul F
Very good database
Highly recommend. It great that this app shows you male Vs female variations when posting. Very good database I'm really impressed.
Louise L
Easy to use and accurate
Love this app. It is easy to use and accurate, Their backup communication is really good. I noted a missing species. All through the process, I was kept informed about the progress in correcting the information. I now have the corrected, updated version. 😁 Thanks!
Anonymous
The best bird logging app
Birda is honestly the best bird logging app I have seen. I love all the features it has from being able to do a session and log all the birds you see in one sitting, to being able to connect with other birders from all over the globe!
Alice J
Awesome Birding Community
I absolutely love the community aspect of this app. The app is so user friendly and has fun interactive challenges to get you out birding. I’ve tried others but since I’ve started using Birda I’ve not gone back!
Sacha0508
Simply fantastic
I love this app, it puts so much fun into recording the birds I’ve seen and heard while I’m out and about. The interface is user-friendly and suitable for all ages. It’s great to collect badges and to review my “lists”.
As featured in
Connect with nature,
Find your flock
Download Birda - QR Code
© 2024 All rights reserved