The Oystercatcher Diaries 2014: Week 17

By Susan Heath

On Monday when we arrived at the boat ramp, there was an oystercatcher family on the dock. A quick check of their bands revealed that it was the unbanded pair that nests on the small islands by the boat ramp and their two chicks, WJ and WK. That made me happy because it meant the chicks can fly! They all took off before we got the boat in the water or we’d have tried to get some photos. Sadly the other pair that nests in that area was on their island but there was no chick with them. The last time we saw that chick was May 9th so something must have happened to it. The two most dangerous time periods for young oystercatchers are the first two weeks of life and the time period when they are learning to fly. So far this year we’ve had three chicks disappear during that second timeframe.

Because young oystercatchers stay with their parents for several months after fledging there isn’t time for the adults to raise two broods in a single nesting season. We’ve never had a pair lay a new nest if their chick reached fledging age even if the chick disappeared during fledging, but there’s a first time for everything. We discovered on Monday that 13 and his unbanded mate had a new nest with one egg. They had a chick that reached fledging age but we haven’t seen it since May 12th. The new nest indicates that the chick definitely died somehow. When we went back on Friday to check on the nest it was gone and the adults were not there either. No telling what happened but there are a lot of Laughing Gulls nesting in that area.

We also saw L0, unbanded and their chick WL this week. There was no sign of their other chick WH that was limping last week. We searched for it along the island edge where they hang out but we didn’t find it. When we pulled up WL flew off with its parents – another successful fledging! On Monday we checked on P3, unbanded, and their three chicks WM, WN, and WP. Something didn’t seem quite right with one of the chicks and when we got closer we could see that WM was drooping the outer part of one of its wings. Oh no! We didn’t go any closer because it’s a very small island and we weren’t sure the other chicks could fly yet. We didn’t want them to take off swimming to get away from us and endanger their lives too. We went back Friday and were elated to see that WM was no longer drooping its wing. Hopefully it was just holding its wing funny and wasn’t injured after all. Here’s a photo of the family. The adults are on the ends and the three chicks are in the middle.

Jones Bay family with three chicks resized

One nest hatched this week but we aren’t sure whether they have a live chick or not. There had been three eggs in the nest and we found one egg unhatched that was rotten and one dead chick laying near the nest. The adults were very upset when we approached and we heard them give a triple alarm call which is typically a warning call to chicks that danger is near so hopefully that means they do have a live chick. We couldn’t determine what happened to the dead one. It had a wound on one side and there are a lot of Laughing Gulls nesting there so it’s likely that one of them got to it.

dead chick from UWGalB157 resized

We found only three new nests this week, the one mentioned above for 13 & unbanded that already failed, one in Swan Lake just north of the I-45 bridge to Galveston, and one on Jigsaw Island just south of the I-45 bridge to Galveston. All are renests and all only had one egg. The average number of eggs per nest falls as the season goes on. It’s as if the birds are running out of steam but want to give it one last meager effort. If this year goes like the previous three, we will probably only find one or two more new nests. The latest we’ve ever found a nest was June 21st but overall we’ve found less than 10 nests in June and only one of them was successful.

Amanda took the following photo and it is just begging for a caption contest. My entry is “Are you lookin’ at me?”

UBastB014 chick resized

Put your entry in the comments!

Current Stats: 11 nests being incubated, 52 failed nests, 7 nests with unfledged chicks, 20 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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3 responses to “The Oystercatcher Diaries 2014: Week 17

  1. Pingback: Young birds hatching, fledging on desert island | Dear Kitty. Some blog·

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