[T]he Morecambe Bay Partnership is encouraging us all to become enthralled by the amazing wading birds and wildfowl over-wintering around the Bay, by creating a ‘Bird of the Month’ initiative and encouraging an ongoing ‘Big Bay Bird Watch’.
The bird in the limelight for January 2018 is the instantly recognisable oystercatcher – an easy spot for anyone spending a little time round the Bay’s shoreline either side of high tide, whether they have binoculars, or just keep their eyes peeled.
This is in part due to its glamorous colouring and build. It is a large, stocky, black and white wading bird, with a very long, bright orange-red bill (beak), reddish-pink legs and a red eye with orange eye-ring. It is also thanks to the Bay boasting an incredible 50,000-strong winter population – the largest concentration of oystercatchers in Britain.
The Morecambe Bay Partnership wants families and schools to get out and spot this bird, gaining pleasure from watching one of the Bay’s bird stars. If they do see one, they can try to get a photo and post it on social media with the hashtag #OurBirdsOurBay and, if tweeting the picture, include @BirdsOfTheBay
“The oystercatcher can almost always be seen, so It’s easy to raise a child’s interest in it,” says Morecambe Bay Partnership’s Waders and Wildfowl project manager, Annabelle Kennedy. “Making it the bird to kick off our Big Bay Bird Watch celebration in 2018 was an easy decision.”
As well as being fabulous, this bird is fascinating. It uses its unique physique and features to make the most of Morecambe Bay’s seafood bar, which is both appetising and irresistible for this species. Oddly enough, it doesn’t eat oysters, but has a penchant for mussels and cockles, both of which are in plentiful supply.
The oystercatcher’s parents teach it how to tackle its prey’s shell, with each bird acquiring a particular technique, passed down through the generations. It typically employs one of three tactics; hammering its beak through the shell, bashing the shell on rocks, or prising the two halves open.
Incredibly though, if wet weather makes this food scarce by the shore, the oystercatcher can adapt its bill and move inland to live on earthworms.
It would be wrong to say you’ll never hear a peep out of this bird. In fact, its peep-peep cry, or kleep-kleep if you prefer, is distinctive and shrill and it is particularly noisy at breeding time. Oystercatchers build a very shallow, simple nest in shingle and line it with a few pebbles or shells. In April and May, the female lays around three eggs, which both parents keep warm until the chicks appear.
The oystercatcher is also a unique wading bird, as it is the only one that feeds its chicks in the nest, rather than supervising their feeding after ushering them to the shore. Both parents take turns at feeding their young ones and are also very attentive when their well-camouflaged chicks start to explore, which happens remarkably quickly after feeding.
The oldest known oystercatcher was ringed as a chick in 1970 and last found in 2010, on the same beach. At that time, it was already 40 years, one month and 2 days old! Despite this longevity, the oystercatcher is a vulnerable species and Amber-listed in the UK – one reason why the Morecambe Bay Partnership wants people to spot it, cherish it and help protect it.
Annabelle Kennedy, says: “We want to create a world of wonder around our amazing birds, so we can together protect them and the oystercatcher is just one of the big personalities to put on your radar.
“If you struggle to spot one of our Birds of the Month, you can always ask one of our Natural Ambassadors volunteers to help you, if you see them at a site around the Bay. They wear easy-to-recognise blue fleeces and will pass on interesting facts about the various birds on show, helping you to get closer to them through binoculars or telescopes.”
‘Bird of the Month’ is just one wader and wildfowl initiative from the Morecambe Bay Partnership in 2018. To find out about others, keep an eye on the website – www.morecambebay.org.uk – and look out for a new and informative leaflet coming soon. You can also get immediate updates on Twitter by following @BirdsoftheBay