Date of Award

7-2008

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Legacy Department

Wildlife and Fisheries Biology

Advisor

Jodice, Patrick

Abstract

The majority of American Oystercatchers (Haematopus palliatus) in South Carolina make their nests on narrow, elevated mounds of oyster shells deposited naturally along the edges of bays by storms or formed artificially by boat wakes along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AICW). I compared reproductive success of American Oystercatchers nesting along the AICW with those nesting on naturally formed shell mounds in Bulls Bay within the Cape Romain Region of South Carolina during the breeding seasons of 2006 and 2007. I identified timing and causes of nest failure and attributes of re-nesting. Hatching success (15%) and productivity estimates (0.25 chicks per pair) were low and variable between locations and between years. Oystercatchers nesting in Bulls Bay were the most successful and more nests hatched in 2006 compared to 2007. Overwash was the primary cause of nest loss (59%) followed by predation (14%). Birds re-nested frequently after nest failure.
In addition to studying reproductive success, I also examined attributes of foraging oystercatchers during the breeding season. I compared percentage of time parent oystercatchers were absent from the nest territory during low-tide foraging periods for birds nesting along the AICW with those nesting in Bulls Bay. Parents in Bulls Bay attended the nest site more frequently and fledged more chicks than parent oystercatchers nesting along the AICW. I also examined attributes of oystercatchers foraging including prey choice, searching times and handling times of prey in two primary oyster reefs within the Region. More oystercatchers were observed foraging in Bulls Bay than in Sewee Bay and eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) were the primary diet item consumed during the breeding season.

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