American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus) numbers along the east coast of the United States are declining in some areas and expanding in others. Researchers have suggested that movement from traditional barrier beach habitats to novel inland habitats and coastal marshes may explain some of these changes, but few studies have documented oystercatcher reproductive success in non-traditional habitats. This study compares the reproductive success of the American Oystercatcher on three river islands in the lower Cape Fear River of North Carolina with that of birds nesting on barrier island beach habitat of Cape Lookout National Seashore. There were 17.6 times more oystercatcher breeding pairs per kilometer on the river island habitat than barrier beach habitat. The Mayfield estimate of daily nest content survival was 0.97 (S.E. ± 0.0039) on river islands, significantly higher than 0.92 (S.E. ± 0.0059) on barrier islands. The primary identifiable cause of nest failure on the river islands was flooding while the main cause of nest failure on the barrier islands was mammalian predation. Fledging success was equally low at both study sites. Only 0.19 chicks fledged per pair in 2002, and 0.21 chicks fledged per pair in 2003 on the river islands and 0.14 chicks fledged per pair in 2002 and 0.20 chicks fledged per pair in 2003 on the barrier islands. Many questions are still unanswered and more research is needed to fully understand the causes of chick mortality and the functional significance of non-traditional nesting habitats for the American Oystercatcher in the eastern United States.
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Vol. 28 • No. 2