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Abaco, American Oystercatcher, Berry Islands, breeding range, conservation, distribution, Exumas, Florida, Florida Current, Grand Bahama, Gulf Stream, Haematopus palliatus
The American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus) is known to nest sparingly in the Caribbean into the southern and central Bahamas. However, details of its Caribbean breeding distribution, including that in the northern Bahamas, remain unclear. This study documented the oystercatcher’s previously unappreciated status as a breeding resident in the northern Bahamas and also confirmed breeding in the Exumas of the central Bahamas. The presently known breeding distribution in the Bahamas excludes the extreme northwestern islands, creating a distributional gap between the population in North American and that of the Bahamas. Intriguingly, the gap appears to correspond to the path of direct influence of the Florida Current (Gulf Stream). Birds found in this study during the summer breeding season in the northern Bahamas were only on rocky shores, and nests similarly were placed above rocky shorelines. In its predilection for rocky shores, the population appears similar to oystercatchers in the West Indies and dissimilar to those in Florida. If birds nesting in the Bahamas population are considered part of the Caribbean population, total numbers there would constitute a significant portion of the currently estimated regional total. Bahamian oystercatchers were once considered their own subspecies based on bill size differences. Additional study of the taxonomy, food habits, habitat use, and more details on breeding distribution is desirable. However, current understanding of morphological and habitat differences as well as the distributional gap from the North American population suggest that the Bahamas population deserves explicit attention in conservation planning.
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