On a recent survey in Saldanha, participants in our Terrestrial Volunteer Program managed to take this picture of two African Oystercatchers (Haematopus moquini). Did you know that the African Oystercatcher mates for life?
The African Oystercatcher is a large, noisy wading bird with striking jet black plumage, red eyes, red legs and a dagger-like red bill for prying open mussels with females being slightly larger than males with longer bills. Juveniles have soft greyish-brown plumage and do not yet have the red legs and bill.
The African Oystercatcher is found along the southern African coast from the Eastern Cape in South Africa all the way to northern Namibia. It prefers to live on rocky and sandy shores but is also found in estuaries and coastal lagoons. It does, however, prefer to breed on offshore islands and sandy beaches.
Without having to search too hard, we found their nest nearby. While the nest may not look like much, this is nothing unusual for them. Nests are usually just a bare scrape on pebbles or on beach sand. Female Oystercatchers lay between 2 and 4 eggs, which are incubated by both adults.
Unfortunately for Oystercatchers breeding season coincides with summer which is the busiest time of year at the coast for tourists. Sadly, this results in many birds being unable to breed successfully, due to disturbance and increased predation risk as a result of this disturbance.
On land, though, the African Oystercatcher doesn’t have many predators. Egg and chick fatalities are mainly due to off road vehicles, disturbance by people, dog attacks and predation by kelp gulls. Other predators include foxes, jackals, genets and snakes.
Although African Oystercatchers may live for 35 years they do not breed until they are three years old. Luckily, many local communities have become involved in adopting conservation measures. According to IUCN’s conservation lists, this had led to an upward trend in their population, which is why they are now only listed as “Near Threatened”.
Despite their name, African Oystercatchers do not feed on oysters but rather on limpets and mussels. They feed day and night but only at low tide, making them even more susceptible to human activity. One of the biggest dangers for them is becoming entangled in abandoned fishing line which can be lethal for them.
Research on the migration of the young of this species is ongoing. If you come across any African Oystercatchers with metal, coloured or numbered rings on their legs, please take note of the colour or number and report it to SAFRING.