March 20, 2019

Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)

Thanks to Aneurin Owen both for the inspiration for this post and for the Scientific name. Once you start getting into taxonomy, you start dropping these arcane species names into conversations hoping to look erudite (I probably don’t, but that’s never stopped me before). Tonight. for the first time ever and without any prompting, I was asked the common name for Haematopus ostralegus. I got as far as working out there was a reference to blood (haema) but that was it. Bah! It’s a common misconception that scientific names a re Latin but there’s alot of Greek going on in taxonomy and this species’ name literally it means “blood footed collector”.

To be fair there’s a lot of binomial nomenclature out there to memorise. This is the system of identifying every organism on earth by Genus and Species, created by the Father of Taxonomy, Carolus Linneus. It’s just a shame I dropped the first ball thrown to me, which incidentally, is the reason I failed to get into the house cricket team at school. No second chances at public school.

Anyhoo, Oystercatchers! They remind me of cartoon snowmen with a particularly impressive carrot for a nose, or bulked up smaller waders, wearing several overcoats and a partial Groucho mask. They have an unmistakable squeaking alarm call and aren’t at all shy about using it. Unless you’ve got good field craft, this sound, along with a spectacular white flash of the trailing wing edge, as rapid wing beats propel their equally spectacular white rump away from you, are the the best you can hope for.

Their common name is actually a bit of a misnomer, as although physical size and powerful bill mean they’re one of the few waders actually capable of opening an oyster, smaller molluscs like Mussels and crusatceans, even earthworms, form a major part of their diet.

Aneurin Owen