The Oystercatcher Diaries 2014: Week 15

By Amanda Anderson

On Monday, we banded two chicks from a pair that nests on Galveston Island near Sportsman road. WR and WT are healthy chicks and we were happy to see the entire family foraging on an adjacent reef on Friday. I’m particularly glad this pair (15 & 16) are fledging chicks because their nests’ have always been vulnerable to mammalian predators. Last year the game camera took photos of a feral cat taking the eggs.

cat with egg resized

Friday was another chick banding extravaganza and we banded five. I am happy to report that all the chicks were plump, healthy fuzz balls. One of the chicks was from a nest we haven’t been regularly monitoring but we had some “free time” and decided to check on three pairs south of Sportsman road out of our regular territory. Sure enough we discovered a new chick that was big enough to band! One more banded oystercatcher surely helps long term studies on their population dynamics. We also found four new renests on Friday, and one oystercatcher pair broke the record, laying four nests this season. Unfortunately, this isn’t a good thing because we suspect their nests’ continue to be predated by Laughing Gulls. This pair (T5 & T6) haven’t managed to fledge a chick the last three years, so Sue and I keep rooting for this underdog pair.

KR & WU two resized

This photo shows KR and WU, two chicks from a nest just north of the I-45 bridge at a spot known as Zimmerman Point that is part of the Scenic Galveston preserve. Our good friend and supporter, Lalise Mason, who manages the preserve, and her husband Greg lost their treasured cockatiel Krishna earlier this year so we banded one of these chicks with the KR bands in Krishna’s honor. Hopefully KR will grow up and have many chicks of his/her own!

Over this past week, we noticed one of the chicks we banded about two weeks ago was not looking healthy. On Friday, WH seemed in much worse shape so we went to take a look at it. Sadly, its leg was swollen and most likely infected. It was also very skinny and we suspected the adults stopped feeding it because they sensed it wasn’t going to survive or because it was too weak to eat. I won’t be surprised if the chick doesn’t make it over the holiday weekend. Luckily, this pair has another chick (WL) that seems to be doing just fine. I do want to mention the same pair (L0, unbanded) lost their chick to West Nile virus in 2013. It was a similar situation, in which the chick survived to about 35 days, but we discovered it in poor condition shortly thereafter. There are many threats and scenarios oystercatchers face and we have shared several in this blog. Researching the life history of any animal species allows wildlife biologists to determine how abiotic and biotic factors influence their long term population dynamics. There has been little research on the life history of Texas oystercatchers, but with the grant Sue received in 2011; we have been able to identify factors affecting reproductive success. Gathering research on life history also helps agencies to develop and implement management and conservation strategies that will benefit oystercatchers in the future.

Unfortunately, the nest on the concrete slab in Drum Bay (the only nest left out there) failed. As we searched the island we noticed lots of beer cans and fresh trash, evidence of human disturbance. We decided either the trash attracted the coyote Sue had seen last week, or human presence kept the adults off the nest and left it vulnerable to gull predation. This pair (E0 & unbanded) fledged a chick last year but this was their second nest attempt this year. If they attempt a third nest, I’m curious to see if they will switch up their nesting territory again. On a lighter note, we discovered one of the nests in Bastrop Bay had hatched about a week ago and there were two chicks! Though we were happy to see chicks, we worried about them because of the approaching holiday weekend and all the boating activity that would be occurring around the islands. Even though we put up big, yellow signs informing humans to stay off nesting bird islands, we frequently observe people anchoring from the islands and walking around. Oystercatcher chicks are extremely vulnerable the first two weeks after hatching so we hope that recreational disturbance over Memorial Day will not result in the loss of these chicks. If I had my own boat, I would be parked around the island all weekend warding people off with a very loud whistle and megaphone!

Speaking of Wiley the coyote, we were able to capture a second coyote predation event that occurred in Swan Lake (same location as the last one). The camera captured two important events pictured below. In one, there are two chicks present (just visible at the left edge of the photo) and one remaining egg. In the second (about an hour and a half after the first photo) the coyote is taking the remaining egg. We hope these chicks managed to make it away from the scrape before the coyote showed up. We will update y’all in next week’s blog on whether the chicks survived.

USwanL030 two chicks one egg resizedUSwanL030 coyote two resized

Current Stats: 10 nests being incubated, 47 failed nests, 8 nests with unfledged chicks, 16 chicks fledged

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!

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4 responses to “The Oystercatcher Diaries 2014: Week 15

  1. Why can’t you turn over the sick chicks and orphans to the wild bird rescuers – rather then letting them perish??? Thanks in advance, Grackle

  2. Hi Glenn. We considered that option for this chick but decided against it. Oystercatcher chicks spend 2-4 months with their parents learning how to feed AFTER they fledge. Even if this chick was nursed back to health by our excellent rehabbers, it would not be releasable back into the wild because it would not have had that learning period with its parents and would probably not be able to feed itself efficiently enough to survive on its own. This was a difficult decision for us to make believe me. Sue

  3. How do the “failed” nest compare to years past?? I know that doesn’t tell anyone too much at this point but I’m just curious…
    And I also have to comment on the feral cat pix…I wish there was a way to use that picture to spread the word about cats. These cat colonies along with outdoor “pet” cats take a tremendous toll on our wildlife…and so many folks either don’t care or just don’t believe you. But proof is in pictures like that one!
    P.S. I’m NOT a cat hater…I love INDOOR cats!

  4. Good question Cyndi. I hadn’t ever looked at total percentage of nests that failed. Here’s the percentage of failed nests for each year we’ve been doing this: 2011 = 50%, 2012=88%, 2013=81%, and for nests that have completed in 2014=80%. 2011 was an exceptional year in many ways but we didn’t know that at the time because it was our first year of monitoring. It appears that 2014 is average in failed nest numbers. I am with you on the cats. I’ve used that photo in a lot of presentations. If you know anyone who wants to use it let me know and I’ll be happy to share it.

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