An Oystercatcher Incubation Project Update

It’s a very exciting time of year for everyone here who is involved with the American Oystercatcher Incubation project.  During the second week of June, with the help of Tim Keyes, we successfully caught and banded five chicks!  Two of the chicks were natural nests, which we did not manipulate at all.  Three chicks were incubated and hatched here in the lodge, while their parents sat on wooden eggs on the beach.  The ‘dummy’ eggs keep the adult birds committed to their nest—if we simply snatched their eggs and brought them back to the incubator, the birds would re-nest somewhere else.  The wooden eggs are staked down into the sand so they remain in place even if the nest gets washed over in high tides, or if a raccoon happens to find them.  We’ve actually collected eggs with teeth marks at the end of the season!

A natural nest with real eggs and a manipulated nest with wooden eggs

This is the third year for the incubation project.  Previous research has shown that the incubation period is most critical for oystercatchers, and that it’s during that period when most nests are lost.  The American Oystercatcher is listed as a threatened species here in Georgia, and so efforts like this are critical to help increase the population of these striking beach nesting birds. 

Chicks returned to a nest

After the chicks hatch in the incubator, we return them to their parents on the beach, and then monitor their survival.  When they are about 35 days old, we capture them so that we can band them, as well as record important information like size and weight.  We hope to catch the chicks before they can fly, but they have to be big enough to wear the leg bands.  The band will allow us to identify an individual bird throughout its entire life!  It can be tricky to catch these babies—they run fast, and sometimes they’ll even try to swim to get away.  Once we have them, they calm down, and we work quickly to return them to their parents.  The reunion is wonderful to witness as the chicks run back to their parents and get away from us!

Banding a chick

This morning we banded two more chicks from natural, un-manipulated nests.  Right now, we have a total of eight banded chicks on the beach.  Many of them are near fledging, which means they are learning to fly.  It’s great to watch throughout the season as the little fluff balls we take out to the beach bond with their parents and rapidly grow, lose their fuzzy camouflage, get adults feathers, and then take flight!

A newly banded chick running back to it's parents

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