Our American Oystercatcher chicks have flown the Nesting Area! One of the oystercatcher parents was U5, a bird that has frequented the Captain Sams Inlet for many years. Just before they could fly, they were banded to allow us to follow their progress and to contribute to what science knows about American Oystercatcher behavior and habitat use. The many hours our SIB Shorebird Stewards spent educating and protecting the birds have paid off!
We have told the story of the North Beach Nesting Area in previous posts. Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers also nested inside the yellow signs but they struggled to maintain their nests against blowing & drifting sand. Both species re-nested, but only the Least Terns hatched chicks. In nature’s way, those chicks were probably lost to predators or tides and the colony has moved on. We never saw Wilson’s Plover chicks.
Meanwhile, American Oystercatchers U5 & his mate, hatched two chicks on May 18 that have thrived! On a rainy Sunday morning when the chicks were 26 days old, Janet Thibault, SCDNR Coastal Bird Biologist, banded the chicks with the assistance of Glen Cox & Karin King, who first spotted the oystercatcher nest, and also with Mark and Melissa Andrews. The chicks can now be identified from blue bands on their upper legs as, DY & DZ. Blue bands designate a bird banded in South Carolina as U5’s red bands tell us that he was banded in Georgia.
Before banding the chicks, Janet had to consider many key factors: the chick’s age, health and whether banding the chicks would provide useful information to science. Birds are banded to allow scientists to track their movements and follow them through their nesting and other behaviors. Those observations, known as resights, are collected and sent to a registry both by biologists and citizen scientists like Glen Cox, Patricia Schaefer & Ed Konrad. In the case of oystercatchers, that registry is The American Oystercatcher Working Group.
Just like the biologists, we can learn a lot from the approximately 60 resights in U5’s registry. In December 2008, U5 was banded as an adult on Little Saint Simons Island, Georgia. According to SCDNR, he is 15 -16 years old, which is old for an American Oystercatcher! In his first few years, he spent most of his time on the Georgia coast with an occasional trip to Deveaux Bank or Captain Sam’s Inlet. After 2012, he was seen at the inlet far more than in Georgia. Then around 2016, he became a year round resident of Captain Sam’s Inlet with 23 resights by Kiawah and Seabrook residents recorded in the last 5 years. Those reports suggested that U5 was a celebrity among the birds here and gave Janet confidence that we would report DY & DZ sightings as well.
You have the opportunity to contribute to American Oystercatcher science by reporting your resights of U5, DY and DZ to this website. Please remember that resighting requires giving the birds their space – if the birds appear nervous or fly, you are too getting too close. We use binoculars, spotting scopes or long telephoto lenses on our cameras to keep our distance.
American Oystercatcher chicks often spend up to six months in their family group before joining non-breeding flocks. Apart from the quick trip from the Georgia coast to Deveaux Bank in 2009, U5 was seen repeatedly in 2010 & 2011 back in Georgia near where he fledged. With some luck, we might see DY & DZ hang around Captain Sam’s inlet for quite awhile, maybe with U5 and their mother!’
-Submitted by Mark Andrews
(Image credit: Mark Andrews, Glen Cox, Melanie Jerome, Ed Konrad & Patricia Schaefer)