Pied oystercatcher (Haematopus longirostris) Vieillot 1817 - endangered species listing

The Scientific Committee, established by the Threatened Species Conservation Act, has made a Final Determination to list the Pied Oystercatcher Haematopus longirostris Vieillot 1817 as an ENDANGERED SPECIES in Part 1 of Schedule 1 of the Act, and as a consequence, to omit reference to Haematopus longirostris Vieillot 1817 from Part 1 of Schedule 2 (Vulnerable species) of the Act. Listing of Endangered species is provided for by Part 2 of the Act.

NSW Scientific Commitee - final determination

The Scientific Committee has found that:

1. The Pied Oystercatcher Haematopus longirostris Vieillot 1817 is a medium-sized (45 cm), sturdy, strikingly black and white shorebird with a long orange-red bill, red eyes and stout red-pink legs. It has distinctive loud, piping calls. By comparison, the Sooty Oystercatcher Haematopus fuliginosus is wholly black, with similarly red bill, eyes and legs.

2. The Pied Oystercatcher occurs and breeds around coastlines of mainland Australia and Tasmania. It is restricted to the littoral zone of beaches and estuaries, where it nests on the ground just above the tideline. In NSW, the Pied Oystercatcher occupies beaches and inlets along the entire coast. Some interchange occurs with the Queensland and Victorian populations. A pair typically reuses a nest site over many years and will rarely shift its territory. Clutch size averages two eggs (range 1-3). Only one brood is raised per year, but re-laying can occur up to twice after nest failure (Marchant and Higgins 1993). Generation time is about 5 years (based on the Garnett and Crowley (2000) estimate for Sooty Oystercatcher).

3. The Pied Oystercatcher forages in the intertidal and wave-wash zone mostly for marine invertebrates, especially bivalve molluscs. A key prey species, the pipi (bivalve mollusc Donax deltoides), has undergone a severe long-term decline as a result of commercial over-harvesting (A. Harrison 2009). The oystercatcher’s food supply (beach macroinvertebrates) is also adversely affected by other human impacts such as vehicle use on beaches and estuaries (Schlacher et al. 2008a,b).

4. In NSW the population is small, with a survey in October 1998 recording only 232 birds in the state (NSW Wader Studies Group data, cited by Owner and Rohweder 2003); this implies that the number of mature individuals is low. About half of these (119 birds) occurred on the far North Coast between the Queensland border and the Clarence River. A more extended survey in 1996-97 between the Queensland border and the Clarence River found highest densities south of the Richmond River (Owner and Rohweder 2003). In 2005, between the Richmond and Clarence Rivers, there were 23 breeding pairs and 30-70 non-breeding birds (E. Wagner unpublished data December 2005), or approximately 100 birds. A survey in 2003 found 129 birds between Ballina and Sawtell, of which 70% were non-breeders, and a repeat census of the same area in 2005 found 112 birds (A. Harrison 2009). Concurrently, fewer than 40 breeding pairs were estimated to exist south of Sydney, and fewer than 200 breeding pairs in NSW (DECC in litt. 2007). The species’ extent of occurrence is restricted (less than 2400 km2), and its habitat is fragmented by coastal developments.

5. The Pied Oystercatcher has declined throughout much of its range, and is of conservation concern in south-eastern Australia because of habitat destruction, human disturbance (Marchant and Higgins 1993) and decline of food resources. The population on the NSW North Coast between Ballina and Sawtell has decreased rapidly since the 1990s, from 202 and 185 birds in 1998 and 2000, respectively, to 129 birds in 2003. Between 2003-2005, a further 17% decline occurred in breeding pairs, a 5% decline in non-breeding territory holders and a 33% decline in non-breeding floaters occupying this area (A. Harrison 2009).

6. Historically, much littoral and estuarine habitat in NSW was destroyed by coastal development and engineering works. Remaining habitat and food supply are at risk of disturbance by human recreational activities (including vehicle use on beaches and estuaries) and dogs, harvesting of pipis, and hydrological changes to estuaries and lagoons (Harrison 2005 and 2009.). Other threats include egg or chick predation by foxes, feral pigs and artificially high Silver Gull Larus novaehollandiae populations. 'Predation by the European Red Fox Vulpes vulpes (Linnaeus 1758)', and 'Predation, habitat degradation, competition and disease transmission by Feral Pigs, Sus scrofa Linnaeus 1758', are listed as Key Threatening Processes in NSW under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.

7. The Pied Oystercatcher is not listed as threatened in Queensland or Victoria.

8. The Pied Oystercatcher Haematopus longirostris Vieillot 1817 is not eligible to be listed as a Critically Endangered species.

9. The Pied Oystercatcher Haematopus longirostris Vieillot 1817 is eligible to be listed as an Endangered species as, in the opinion of the Scientific Committee, it is facing a very high risk of extinction in New South Wales in the near future as determined in accordance with the following criteria as prescribed by the Threatened Species Conservation Regulation 2002:

Clause 16

The estimated total number of mature individuals of the species is:

(b) low,


(d) a projected or continuing decline is observed, estimated or inferred in:

(i) an index of abundance appropriate to the taxon, and

(ii) geographic distribution, habitat quality or diversity, or genetic diversity.


Dr Richard Major
Scientific Committee

Proposed Gazettal date: 12/02/10
Exhibition period: 12/02/10 – 09/04/10


Garnett S, Crowley G (Eds) (2000) 'The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000.' (Environment Australia: Canberra)

Harrison A (2005) 'The impact of recreation on shorebirds at South Ballina Beach, spring 2005.' Report by National Marine Science Centre, Coffs Harbour, for NSW Department of Lands North Coast Region.

Harrison A (2009) The ecology and impact of threatening processes on two threatened shorebirds (Haematopus longirostris and H. fuliginosus) in northern NSW, Australia: Implications for conservation and management. PhD thesis, University of New England, Armidale.

Marchant S, Higgins PJ, (Eds) (1993) 'Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds (Vol. 2).' (Oxford University Press: Melbourne)

Owner D, Rohweder DA (2003) Distribution and habitat of Pied Oystercatchers (Haematopus longirostris) inhabiting ocean beaches in northern New South Wales. Emu 103, 163-169.

Schlacher TA, Thompson LMC, Walker SJ (2008) Mortalities caused by off-road vehicles (ORVs) to a key member of sandy beach assemblages, the surf clam Donax deltoides. Hydrobiologia 610, 345-350.

Schlacher TA, Richardson D, McLean I (2008) Impacts of off-road vehicles (ORVs) on macrobenthic assemblages on sandy beaches. Environmental Management 41, 878-892.