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Variable Oyster Catcher - Fact Sheet

Variable oyster catcher (Haematomas unicolour)

These wading, seashore birds are also known as red bills, or Torea-pango in Maori.

As their name suggests, they don't all look the same.

Some are completely black and others have a sooty grey underbody or distinctive black and white markings. But all the birds have bright orange bills that make it reasonably easy for people to spot them on the beach.

On Great Barrier, you can spot variable oyster catchers along east coast beaches like Awana. But there are even more of them at the Whangapoua estuary to the north and at Kaitoke to the south.

Their nests are a simple, small depression in the sand - similar to those of the northern New Zealand dotterel - and they're sometimes lined with seaweed, shells and leaves.

Young oyster catchers rely heavily on their parents for food and protection until they leave the nest at six or seven weeks. Although they are not endangered, they are very vulnerable to being disturbed by people and by introduced predators like dogs.

These young birds like to wander about quite a bit before finding a mate and settling down to breed - usually when they're about four years old.

Once they do find a partner, divorce is rare and they will fiercely defend their young and their domains - with piping displays, fights and aerial chases if necessary.

They lay their eggs between October and February with the peak in December. But if they lose their first clutch - usually three eggs - they will lay two more later in the season.

Both mum and dad take turns to incubate the eggs in one and a half hour shifts for about 26 to 29 days until the eggs hatch and the chicks can fly after six weeks.

ACT has continued to remove feral predators and monitor wildlife in
the Awana area on
Great Barrier Island.
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These days you're only likely to spot the Brown Teal in parts of Auckland and Northland. And
Great Barrier Island is
the only place where
their numbers are
not declining!

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