Hihi volunteer needed

Date posted: 18-Oct-2018

Would you like to volunteer with the Island's hihi team and learn from them how ..

2019 Calendars now available

Date posted: 05-Sep-2018

The new 2019 calendars are now available and this year's is better than ever! Th..

Winners of kokako photo competition

Date posted: 02-Sep-2018

The stunning winning photographs from those submitted to the competition as part..

Kokako Celebration

Date posted: 21-Jul-2018


Kokako Photographic Competition

Date posted: 20-Jul-2018

KĊŒKAKO PHOTOGRAPHIC COMPETITION Celebrating 21 years on Tiritiri Matangi To ce..

New monitoring reports published

Date posted: 19-Jul-2018

Reports on monitoring studies carried out over the past year have now been poste..

2018 Concert coming up soon

Date posted: 15-Feb-2018

Our 2018 concert will feature an afternoon of light classics and jazz courtesy of the Auckland Ph..

Wetapunga talk coming soon

Date posted: 05-Feb-2018

For the Social on 19 March the speaker will be Ben Goodwin of Auckland Zoo, who will talk about t..

Rat caught and now takahe released from pens

Date posted: 28-Jan-2018

Thankfully DOC staff Andre de Graaf and Polly Hall and their assistants have trapped the rat whic..

Your Christmas Shopping for a Song

Date posted: 04-Dec-2017

Aka - The Grand Christmas Shopping Expedition to Tiritiri Matangi Island Shop Dreading..

Variable Oystercatcher

Scientific name:

 Haematopus unicolor

Maori Name:




Conservation status

 At risk - recovering

Mainland status:

 Population c5000 and increasing in 2013


 48cm, 725g


 Oldest recorded: 27 years


 September - February


 Mainly molluscs, worms, and crabs.

The variable oystercatcher, like its name suggests, is variable in colour from completely black to pied (the photo on the right shows an almost black adult with a pied juvenile). They have a long orangey-red bill and eye, with pink legs. They are slightly larger (48cm) than the pied oystercatcher (46cm). The juvenile is brownish black and the bill is brown/black and starts to colour up from about 3 months old.

They feed on molluscs, worms, crabs, small invertebrates and even small fish.  They use their strong beak to split open bi-valves (shells that open and are joined at a central point), especially oysters around oyster beds, thus giving them their name.

Oystercatchers remain in breeding pairs all year long and often stay within the breeding territory all year. They first breed at the age of three years. They breed on rocky and sandy coasts making their nest, a shallow scrape, on sandy beaches or rocky ledges. They lay two or three eggs, which are incubated for about 28 days by both sexes. The chicks walk around from two days old but stay close to their parents to be fed for about three weeks. Although they learn to fly at 6-7 weeks old they don't leave the natal territory until about three months old.  The parents closely guard their young, even being known to fly at and dive bomb humans who venture too close to the natal territory!
The oystercatchers call in flight with a loud shrill 'kleep'.

Several pairs of variable oystercatchers breed on Tiritiri Matangi. There are often breeding pairs within close proximity of the wharf area, highly visible to visitors. They have been known to nest very close to the platform at Hobbs Beach, apparently undisturbed by people sunbathing and having picnics within a few metres of their nest. Even in these apparently unfavourable circumstances, they have successfully fledged two chicks.

Find out more about variable oystercatchers at New Zealand Birds Online.

Photography by: Dr Kerry Rodgers ©

References: Heather, B.D.; Robertson, H.A. 2000 The Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand. Auckland, Viking.