Birds easily distracted by human activity

Black oystercatchers reside on rocky shores and sand or gravel beaches on the Oregon coast. Their diet consists of a wide array of intertidal invertebrates, including mussels, limpets and chitons. Foraging is done mostly at low tides.

I was on my way out to Haystack Rock, scope and binoculars in hand, with our guests from the East Coast, when I saw Dawn dejectedly stomping up to our little group.

She reported that after looking for the baby black oystercatcher (listed as BLOY in the four-letter code-banding lingo often used by birders) for 2.5 hours, she had not seen it. Reports from the Haystack Rock Awareness Program staff and volunteers were that an egg had hatched the day before and a gray puff ball (the baby) had been seen in the area of the rock known as “the saddle.”

Dawn is very familiar with the rock after years of helping HRAP educate and protect the national refuge and being an avid birder, familiar with the BLOY.

My heart ached with grief for the current nestling and my mind took me back to the previous summer, when the BLOY couple successfully raised a family. Predation from another bird or mammal would be a good guess as to what happened to this year’s little guy. This can happen easily when the parents are distracted by human activity and a predator swoops in.

Do I need to say more about the importance of staying behind the signs on the beach and completely off the rock itself? Human disturbance is blamed for the decline in BLOY populations on the West Coast.

But there is good news! The parents are trying for a re-nesting — birds often do this when the first nest fails and there is enough time in the season to get another family started.

The couple has been seen taking turns on the new nest that features two eggs. Our West Coast populations of BLOY do not migrate, so there is time for incubation (26 to 28 days), start to forage with parents (as early as six days) and then fly at about 40 days old. The family will remain a unit until January or so, when courtship intensifies, and the parents will cast out all chicks.

There are only about 80 BLOYs left in Oregon. I am glad HRAP is helping us preserve their intertidal habitat and the BLOYs themselves!

Susan has spent her life enjoying the great outdoors. After driving her avid birder parents around, she has taken up birding as a passion, to the mixed emotions of her husband, Scott. The Boacs reside on the Neawanna Creek in Seaside where their backyard is a birder’s paradise.


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