By Susan Heath
Fog once again delayed our departure from the dock on Monday and we weren’t able to get on the water until 10:30. While we were waiting we did an observation on one of the nests we can see from shore and also spied on the pair (K6 & JA) with the nest that hatched. They were both feeding along the island edge and sadly no chicks were following them or running out to get food so it appears their nest failed after all. It hatched in the middle of a very strong cold front so perhaps the chicks couldn’t survive the cold. There’s no way to know. We will have to watch this pair for a renest. Here in Texas we have recorded pairs renesting up to three times if their nest fails at the egg stage or when the chicks are very small. On the Atlantic coast, researchers have recorded oystercatchers attempting to nest five times in one season. One question people ask a lot is whether oystercatchers start a new nest after they fledge a chick. The answer to this is no. Incubation takes about 27 days and then it is another 35 to 40 days before the chick(s) can fly. But even after chicks can fly, they stay with their parents for another 2-4 months while they learn to feed efficiently and by that time it is fall. So it is not possible for oystercatchers to fledge more than one brood a year.
We found a new nest on an island in West Galveston Bay called Marker 52. It is right across the GIWW from North Deer which is an Audubon Island with a very large rookery with many species of herons and egrets, pelicans, and cormorants. This nest belongs to 23 and her unbanded mate. We assume the unbanded bird is the same male each year but there’s no way to know for sure. So far we haven’t been able to catch him so we can band him. He’s a smart dude! The pelicans on Marker 52 are just starting to set up shop. You can see them all up in the vegetation in this picture I took of Marker 52.
We also found a nest in Drum Bay in Brazoria County belonging to 30 and K1. This pair gave us a challenge last year. They nest on a small island that can easily get overwashed. Last year, we banded their chick in late May the week before it was supposed to fledge and the next week when we returned to see if it had fledged, the whole family was gone. I was pretty sure the adults had taken the chick somewhere safer as soon as it could fly but without seeing it, we couldn’t mark it as fledged. It wasn’t until August 20 when I saw them all on the Follett’s Island beach while doing a shorebird survey that we were able to say for sure that the chick had fledged. We’ve since seen this chick on its own several times and in fact saw it on a reef in West Galveston Bay on Friday.
And speaking of Friday…. We were able to get out on the water without waiting for fog to clear for a change. We found that 12 & unbanded’s nest had hatched and had three small chicks. There was still an egg shell in the nest so the adults hadn’t even had time to carry it away yet.
There was quite a lot of aggression between the chicks. We have seen aggression between siblings over food but not in chicks this small and not of this type. Siblicide, where one chick kills another to ensure its own survival, is pretty common in birds but I didn’t know that oystercatcher chicks participated in this ritual. Further down on the same island was another nest that was due to hatch but the adults (L8 & L9) were both standing out on the reef and did not react to us when we approached to go check their nest. There was no sign that a nest had even been there and no chicks so this one probably failed. There were a lot of Laughing Gulls hanging around this area so that is probably why but again, we don’t know for sure.
We found three more new nests on Friday. One was on a small island in Swan Lake (north of the I-45 bridge to Galveston) and two were in West Galveston Bay. Interestingly they all had only one egg so these pairs, 11 & N3, L0 & unbanded and an unbanded pair, were just getting started with their egg laying. At this point we have 18 active nests, one pair with chicks, and two failed nests.
Our grant from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for this project requires a 1:1 match. If you would like to make a donation to help us meet our match goal, click on the donate now button and designate your donation to the oystercatchers. We appreciate your support!