The Oystercatcher is one of the few British waders that I knew well, and whose call I could already easily recognise, before I came to live in this country because we also have Oystercatchers in New Zealand and, indeed, they can be found on coastlines around much of the world. They are not all the same species though – the most common New Zealand species is Haematopus unicolor and the British bird is Haematopus ostralegus.
Those Latin names are a bit of a mouthful so let’s stick with Oystercatcher, though whoever gave them that name wasn’t very observant – they don’t actually ‘catch’ anything and, while I’m sure they enjoy breaking open the odd oyster when they find one, they eat all types of shellfish.
I particularly like some of their vernacular names (listed in Stefan Buczacki’s Fauna Britannica): in Norfolk they’re known as Dickie birds; in Scotland Gilliebrides (the word ‘bride’ is a reference to St Bridget of Ireland who was said to be the patron saint of birds and carried an Oystercatcher in each hand); in Yorkshire they’re known as Sea nanpies; and as Seapies (‘pie’, meaning black and white, just as in the name Magpie), in Lancashire, Norfolk, Gloucestershire and Cornwall; and in northern England, appropriately enough, they’re called Mussel crackers. But, if all those names are too much to remember, we could just call them Oyks, for short.