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A short history


Scientific study of Oystercatchers in the Netherlands was triggered by a dreadful event in 1953, when large parts of the Netherlands were flooded during a severe storm. To prevent such a disastrous event from ever happening the world-famous 'Delta plan' was devised, which resulted in damming of our main rivers and sea-arms. What is less well known is that initial plans also included reclamation of (parts of) the Dutch Wadden Sea into agricultural land. Concerns about the destruction of such a unique nature area spawned research on several aspects of the Wadden Sea ecosystem. One of these studies concerned one of the most abundant bird species in the Wadden Sea, the Oystercatcher, which was studies by Jan Hulscher, an ecologist from the University of Groningen. Research on Oystercatchers initially focused on the feeding ecology and space use of Oystercatchers and how this related to the benthic prey species in this inter-tidal area. When in the early 1980's a new field research station was opened on the Wadden Sea island of Schiermonnikoog this opened the possibility to also start a long-term population study on the breeding ecology of Oystercatchers. Building upon the pioneering work of Jan Hulscher, since 1983 five PhD students from the University of Groningen have studied the breeding ecology and life-history decisions of Oystercatchers. This long-term research was part of the Animal Ecology Group (Dr. Jan Hulscher, Prof. Rudi Drent and Prof. Joost Tinbergen).  Recently, the research has been continued by Bruno Ens and Kees Oosterbeek from the Dutch Centre for Field Ornithology (SOVON) in cooperation with Joost Tinbergen (University of Groningen).


Short history






Report colour-rings










Research has focused on life-history decisions such as for example:

  • When to start reproducting (delayed reproduction)

  • Where to reproduce (habitat selection)

  • With whom to reproduce (mate choice and divorce)

  • When to reproduce (timing of reproduction)

  • How to get a territory (territory acquisition and floater tactics)

  • Energetics of reproductive decisions

  • Age and state-dependent life history strategies

Recently, research is focusing more on population dynamics and what has caused the strong decline in recent years.

Below you can find a picture of the PhD thesis of Bruno Ens (1992), Marcel Kersten (1997), Dik Heg (1999), Leo Bruinzeel (2004) and Martijn van de Pol (2006) which resulted from this long-term study:

(see the literature section for all publications)




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     last updated 12/08/07