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Skip Navigation LinksDNREC : News : Endangered oystercatcher chick and parents successfully relocated at Indian River Inlet

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This pair of American oystercatchers and their chick were
relocated to the bayside of Delaware Seashore State Park
on June 12. DNREC photos by Jesse Baird.

Contact: Joanna Wilson, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902, PHOTOS AVAILABLE. 

Endangered oystercatcher chick and parents are
 successfully relocated at Indian River Inlet

DOVER (June 14, 2012) – On Wednesday, June 12, with the help of DNREC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife and Delaware State Parks staff, supported by DelDOT’s Traffic Safety office and the Delaware State Police, a four-day old American oystercatcher chick that had hatched on June 8 on the “wrong side” of Route 1 near the Indian River Inlet Bridge was safely relocated along with its parents to the bayside of Delaware Seashore State Park.

“Sooner rather than later, the oystercatcher parents were going to attempt the dangerous journey across this busy stretch of road with their chick to reach their foraging area on the bayside,” explained Matthew Bailey, the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s beachnester biologist who coordinated the effort to move the chick. “This attempt would not only have resulted in the likely death of the chick and probably its parents, but also could have posed a serious public safety threat to motorists swerving to try to avoid hitting the birds. So, we decided the best thing for everyone would be to intervene and move them ourselves.”An American Oystercatcher on a Delaware Beach overseeing its mate and their chick

Easy to spot with its distinctive black, white and dark brown plumage and bright orange bill, the American oystercatcher is listed as an endangered species in Delaware, with only about 25 breeding pairs estimated in the state. The species is considered rare on the East Coast, and is also listed as endangered in several other mid-Atlantic states.

Oystercatchers nest on open or sparsely vegetated beaches that are in close proximity to the more heavily vegetated habitats to which the chicks will move soon after hatching. The chicks use the vegetation for protection from the hot sun and as cover from the sharp eyes of predators. Unfortunately, in the case of this particular brood, Route 1 splits these two habitat types. As one might expect for a bird named “oystercatcher,” their primary food source are bivalves such as oysters and clams. In Delaware their bivalve of choice are mussels, which can be found in abundance in the Inland Bays.

The whole relocation operation went smoothly, if not quite as planned. Bailey and five other members of the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Species Conservation and Research Program – Rachel Emory, Jesse Baird, Sarah Baker, Bracken Brown and Sarah Brownlee-Bouboulis – captured the young oystercatcher near its nest among the open oceanside dunes, while additional Fish and Wildlife and Parks staff members lined the edge of the road to act as “catchers” should the quick little juvenile come that way. Right on cue, DelDOT and Delaware State Police safely brought north and south traffic to a brief pause, while Bailey, Baird and Emory scrambled over the barriers in the multi-lane roadway cradling the small gray down-covered bird in their hands.

“We hoped the parents would simply follow their chick – behavior that would be fairly typical of this species – but they continued to circle the empty nest on the dune,” Bailey said. “We waited and watched with concern that the chick might be abandoned. After about an hour, we decided we should try to move the adults. Using a decoy oystercatcher, we were able to successfully capture the chick’s parents and drove them over to the bayside. We held the adults in hand as the chick approached, and the three began to exchange contact calls. We released the adults, who immediately went to their chick, and the family was reunited.”

“This was a great success story of both rare species conservation and agency cooperation, as four state agencies were able to quickly combine their expertise for the benefit of a rare species – this tiny oystercatcher chick and its parents,” said Rob Hossler, wildlife program manager with the Division of Fish and Wildlife.

A new video about the oystercatcher relocation debuts today on YouTube’s Delaware DNREC channel. To view “Catching an Oystercatcher” and other DNREC videos on YouTube, click Delaware DNREC8.

For more information about beachnester birds and monitoring efforts, please contact Wildlife Biologist Matt Bailey at 302-382-4151 or email

Vol. 43, No. 247

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