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Living Sanibel: American oystercatcher, mangrove cuckoo difficult to spot

By Staff | May 25, 2016

An American Oystercatcher. PHOTO BY ROB PAILES

American Oystercatcher

An unmistakable bird, both for its distinctive coloration and its large red bill, the American oystercatcher can be a difficult bird to locate on Sanibel and Captiva. It can sometimes be found working the oyster bars in Tarpon Bay, or around Buck Key just east of Captiva. There are approximately 400 nesting pairs in all of Florida, with the largest concentration occurring on Cedar Key during the winter months, where flocks of more that 1,000 have been reported.

The oystercatcher is a very specialized bird, feeding almost exclusively on mollusks, including oysters, clams, and other bivalves. It has also been known to eat amphipods, crabs, barnacles, echinoderms, and, rarely, small fish. It uses its long, strong bill to pry open bivalves and, failing that, will hammer and chip away at the shellfish until the living organism can be consumed.

Initially, the bird’s decline could be attributed to overhunting, but it is no longer considered a game bird in any part of its range. Its biggest threat now is nesting-site and habitat loss, especially along the coastlines where it spends the entirety of its life. Other threats include predation by eagles and hawks, and its nests, generally on beaches or oyster bars, are sometimes preyed upon by gulls, raccoons, and otters. The oystercatcher is monogamous and a solitary nester.

Mangrove Cuckoo

Mangrove Cuckoo. PHOTO BY BEV POSTMUS

Many South Florida birders consider a confirmed sighting of a mangrove cuckoo to be the Holy Grail of birding. A very attractive, long, and elegant-looking bird, the mangrove cuckoo is secretive and, because of its foraging environment deep in the red and black mangroves, it is extremely difficult to spot. It is a true tropical species that only recently has found a permanent foothold in Florida, the only place in the continental United States where this bird can be found. More common in the Keys, the mangrove cuckoo has been seen along Wildlife Drive, though rarely.

The mangrove cuckoo feeds on insects and small vertebrates. Because of its reclusive nature, little is known about the Florida population.

This is an excerpt from Living Sanibel – A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.