Common Oystercatcheris a widespread but patchily distributed breeder across much of Europe (especially the north-west), which constitutes more than half of its global breeding range. Its European breeding population is large (300,000 pairs), and increased substantially between 1970-1990. Although most populations were stable or increased during 1990-2000, the species declined in the Netherlands, and underwent a moderate decline (10%) overall.
This bird has a fragmented distribution in Eurasia. The nominate race ostralegus inhabits the Mediterranean, from Spain to Turkey, and the Atlantic and Arctic coasts of Europe. It amounts to about 875000 individuals, 150000-160000 of which breed in the European Union (12 Members States). The birds of southern and western Europe are largely sedentary. Those of northern and eastern Europe are migratory and winter mainly in the Wadden Sea, the Delta region of the southern Netherlands and around the Irish Sea. Since the 1920’s this bird, originally a strictly coastal species, has extended its distribution into the interior of the continent. The race longipes inhabits the coasts of the Black Sea and the interior of central Asia. It amounts probably to only a few ten thousands of individuals and is wintering in the eastern Mediterranean, north-eastern Africa and south-western Asia. It is known as a passage migrant in Greece and Turkey.

Breeding habitats are sandy sites on the islands, spits and big rivers, sea coast and estuaries. The species was recorded breeding in agricultural lands (bare fallow, degraded fallow, perennial herbs) in recent years. Broods and feeding birds occur exclusively in shallow areas and on the water-line. In non breeding season, mostly found on estuarine mudflats, but also salt-marshes and sandy and rocky shores. Breeds on salt-marshes, sand and shingle beaches, less often on rocky coasts, also, especially in NW of range, breeds inland alongside water bodies and in agricultural land.

Nest built in large colonies on ground in the open or in short vegetation; in cultivated or uncultivated land; on cliff-tops or outcrops of rock, clearings in taller vegetation, including woods and moorland. In recent years in the Netherlands, on flat shingle roofs, exceptionally, raised on tree-stump or post. Nest is a shallow scrape about 20 cm diameter and 5-7 cm deep. Lined, if at all, with small pieces of available debris, including pebbles, shells, and rabbit droppings. Clutch is 3 (1-4, rarely 5). Incubation takes 24-27 days, the young fledge after 28-32 days. First breeding 3 years in females, 4 years in males. Longevity more than 40 years.

Mainly migratory, but small numbers dispersive to resident in west (English Channel to Iberia). Some Icelandic birds stay to moult and winter on coasts of Iceland; at other extreme, small numbers of unknown origin penetrate as far south as Gulf of Guinea. Substantial numbers reach Banc d‘Arguin (Mauritania). Post-breeding birds from all west European populations arrive on moulting and wintering grounds from late July, mainly August-September. Return to breeding grounds occurs late January to April, earliest for those breeding in west and south-west of range, latest for those of European Russia early May on White Sea. Immatures (up to 2-3 years old) tend to summer on wintering grounds, though some visit breeding grounds without nesting.

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