The African Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus moquini)
BirdLife SA declared the magnificent African Black Oystercatcher was 2018’s Bird of the Year. These birds have a happy story to tell, and it’s worth sharing.
A visit to Cape Town wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t ‘bump’ into these beautiful jet black Oystercatchers with their strikingly red eyes and bill. It’s almost a guarantee I’ll see them – whether it’s when visiting my brother at The Strand, walking along the promenade at Sea Point in Cape Town itself, or wandering around the West Coast.
Recently I found a pair in Clansthal on KZN’s South Coast. This is unusual but exciting and encouraging. No longer is the Oytstercatcher a rare vagrant to the shores of KZN.
African Black Oystercatchers no longer near threatened
However, this wasn’t always the case. Oystercatchers used to be on the Red Data List considered Near Threatened. During my visits to Cape Town at that time, it was thrilling, a treat, to find just one for my trip.
Today, the Oystercatcher is considered Least Concerned.
What’s the reason for this happy outcome? Education and public awareness.
Like most creatures in the natural world, Oystercatchers have their fair share of predators. These are gulls, snakes, genets and jackals who prey on eggs and hatchlings. However, these predators were not the cause of the decline in numbers.
Yes …. You’ve guessed it. Man has been their most dangerous predator and the biggest threat to their survival.
Oystercatchers build their nests is shallow scrapings on the shore or in rocky outcrops.
Unlike birds such as the Kelp Gull who will attack you if you come near his nest – or the courageous Blacksmith Lapwing who will yell at you and stand his ground warning not to come closer, the Oystercatcher chooses to be deceptive.
When disturbed, it will abandon its nest in an endeavour to lure the perceived ‘predator’ in another direction. This leaves the nest and chicks vulnerable to natural predators but also to the harsh sun. If they are left unattended for too long, the eggs will literally cook and the Oystercatcher will lose its chicks. Being slow breeders, this spells disaster.
Nesting African Black Oystercatcher (credit Jenny Parsons)
Conservation efforts to warn beachgoers to stay clear of nesting sites (credit Jenny Parsons)
Thanks to the earnest conservation efforts on the part of organisations such as BirdLife, beachgoers are being educated and made aware of the dangers facing these beautiful birds. For example, around many known breeding sites of shorebirds, you will find signs warning people to ‘Stay Clear’.
So, when next on the beach – especially between October and April, be aware of possible breeding shorebirds such as Oystercatchers and ‘Stay Clear’. This includes dogs!! Hatchlings don’t stand a chance against a curious dog.
Our rocky shores would never be the same without the African Oystercatcher. They need our protection.
Facts about the African Oystercatcher
Appearance: Large all black bird with red legs, long dagger-like bill and red eye ring
Diet: Limpets and mussels (not oysters!)
Reproduction: Oystercatchers mate for life. Both parents incubate the eggs which hatch after 27-39 days.
Number of species worldwide: Twelve, two of which are found in southern Africa – the Black Oystercatcher and Eurasian (which I have yet to see)
Note of thanks to Jenny Parsons who gave me photos for my post of a nesting Oystercatcher and signs near Pringle Bay warning beachgoers to stay clear of nesting sites. She manages Pringle Bay Birding on Facebook, well worth a visit.