Breeding and ecology
The variable oystercatcher is a familiar stocky coastal bird with a long, bright orange bill, found around much of New Zealand. They are often seen in pairs probing busily for shellfish along beaches or in estuaries. Previously shot for food, variable oystercatchers probably reached low numbers before being protected in 1922, since when numbers have increased rapidly. They are long-lived, with some birds reaching 30+ years of age.
The existence of different colour morphs (black, intermediate or ‘smudgy’, and pied) caused early confusion, and they were variously thought to be different species, forms, or hybrids. This confusion was compounded by a cline in morphs, with the proportion of all-black birds increasing from north to south. The colour morphs inter-breed freely and are now all accepted as being a single species.