Conservation of the eastern subspecies of the American oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus palliatus) is a high priority in the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan, but previous population estimates were unreliable, information on distribution and habitat associations during winter was incomplete, and methods for long-term monitoring had not been developed prior to this survey. We completed the aerial survey proposed in the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan to determine population size, winter distribution, and habitat associations. We conducted coastal aerial surveys from New Jersey to Texas during November 2002 to February 2003. This area comprised the entire wintering range of the eastern American oystercatcher within the United States. Surveys covered all suitable habitat in the United States for the subspecies, partitioned into 3 survey strata: known roost sites, high-use habitat, and inter-coastal tidal habitat. We determined known roost sites from extensive consultation with biologists and local experts in each state. High-use habitat included sand islands, sand spits at inlets, shell rakes, and oyster reefs. Partner organizations conducted ground counts in most states. We used high resolution still photography to determine detection rates for estimates of the number of birds in particular flocks, and we used ground counts to determine detection rates of flocks. Using a combination of ground and aerial counts, we estimated the population of eastern American oystercatchers to be 10,971 +/- 298. Aerial surveys can serve an important management function for shorebirds and possibly other coastal waterbirds by providing population status and trend information across a wide geographic scale.
Additional publication details
Population size and winter distribution of eastern American oystercatchers