The Pied Piper
The shrill piping call of the Pied Oystercatcher rings around the Wilson Inlet for much of the year, either in defence of its territory or in alarm. Pied is derived from the Old English word “pie” which is the shortened form of “magpie” and it, like the Australian bird, is a bold black and white bird. The “Oyster-catcher” is something of a misnomer as it doesn’t generally feed on oysters, preferring instead smaller bivalves such as pipis or mussels, along with worms and crabs.
They mate for life and are often seen in pairs around Prawn Rock Channel and the grassed areas of the Caravan Park, the female has a slightly longer, more slender bill than the male. They can frequently be seen strutting with their heads down “piping”, which is either for courtship or is a territorial defence display. They generally defend a territory of about 200m of shoreline.
There is a pair that nests on Prawn Rock Island, usually laying two eggs in a shallow scrape, which take about 4-weeks to hatch. The young, like most shorebirds, are able to run and largely fend for themselves almost immediately and take a further 7-weeks before they fully fledge and can fly. The parents do however feed them bivalve flesh as the extraction of this requires a stout bill and some fairly specialist skills, neither of which the chick possesses. The bivalve is placed on solid ground and one half is repeatedly struck until it breaks, the bird then inserts its bill into the shell and snips the abductor muscle, separating the body from the shell, before feeding it to the youngster. The 3-month long breeding cycle leaves them vulnerable to disturbance which can impact incubation and feeding with potentially disastrous results.
A fence has been erected recently around a part of the breeding area for both the Oystercatchers and Red-capped Plovers to offer some protection whilst the birds are rearing their young.