A Failed Nest

Monday, July 27, 2020,

This post is a bummer. This photo is a bummer. The story behind this photo is a double bummer. This is a failed nest. That’s what we call a nest that has failed to produce any chicks.

This is an Oystercatcher egg that has been predated. Not predated as in the past tense but predated as in a predator has been at work here, although now, the promise that this nest once held is certainly in the past tense. By looks of it, I’m guessing the perpetrator was a gull of some sort. It’s hard to be sure because no one I know was witness to the attack.

I mentioned that this was a double bummer, and it is. You see, this single egg nest was the second attempt by this pair of Oystercatchers to nest this season. Their first nest, which was up in the dunes was predated as well. The possible suspects there include Raccoons and feral cats. When Oystercatchers suffer a nest failure they will often try again, which is what happened here. Second attempts at nesting are always small clutches. Instead of three or four eggs, a second nest will often contain only one or two eggs. This nest only had the one egg and it was in a terrible location.

After the initial nest failed the Oystercatchers built a second nest right in the middle of a busy section of beach. Perhaps they were over compensating after their failure in the dunes. Despite the fact that the Conservation Department had roped off the area, this nest was still in a lousy place. While it was beyond the tide line, it was nowhere near the dunes and in a heavily trafficked area. People could walk in front of it, behind it, and on either side. I had been monitoring this nest for several days and there was more than a few times when I saw folks setting up their towels and blankets just outside and even around the roped off area.

Whenever folks came nearby, the parents would walk away. Walking away is not a sign of bad Oystercatcher parenting. Rather, it’s a basic strategy that Oystercatchers follow so as not to draw attention to their eggs. In most cases, it’s a plan that works. However, when the beach is so crowded with humans and you stay away from your nest for extended periods of time, it leaves your nest open to predation. And some predators, especially gulls, are not at all shy around humans.

And so, sadly, this pair of Oystercatchers lost two nests in the same season. It was too late to attempt a third so they will have to wait till next spring to try again. I know it’s just nature and I know nature can be harsh but still, my heart is a little bit broken.  JK


Egg Tooth on Oystercatcher Chicks

Wednesday, June 17, 2020,

Okay, so here’s some major coolness. Well, at the very least, it’s pretty cool to me. I will attempt to express some of my awe and wonder in these few paragraphs. These photographs capture two baby Oystercatcher chicks on their very first day. These chicks are literally only a few hours old. Each one still has its egg tooth. The egg tooth is that small white nubbin near the end of their upper bills.

The beak and claws of most bird chicks growing inside of an egg are often undeveloped and therefore not strong enough to allow the chick to break out of the egg when it is ready to meet the world. Nature has provided a solution to this dilemma. A hard, sharp protrusion develops near the tip of the upper beak of the embryonic chick. This is the “egg tooth” and it is used by the emerging chick to break free of its eggshell. Many reptiles and amphibians use a similar strategy.

Having been an amateur naturalist since the age of five, I have been aware of the concept of an egg tooth for decades. These photos mark the very first time I have ever seen, let alone photographed, an actual egg tooth. How cool is that? This remarkable structure, no longer needed, will drop off after a few days.  JK