Amazing African black oystercatcher

The African black oystercatcher Haematopus moquini is one of our resident breeding coastal bird species. It can often be seen on Lookout Beach and other coastal areas in Plettenberg Bay, but ranges from Luderitz in Namibia to Mazeppa Bay in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. They have a very distinctive appearance with all black feathers, pink-red legs, an orange bill and eye ring, and a red eye. Despite its name, the African black oystercatcher doesn’t feed primarily on oysters! They forage in the intertidal zone, and their diet includes limpets, mussels, polychaetes, whelks, and crustaceans. In fact, an invasive mussel species, the Mediterranean mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis, has assisted in the recovery of African black oystercatcher numbers as it is an extensively available food source. This species is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN due to low population numbers, although numbers do appear to be on the increase, one factor influencing this being the spread of the Mediterranean mussel. Other factors include the ban of vehicles on beaches (which would run over nests and crush eggs as well as chicks), and improved management of most near-shore islands (implementing the cessation of guano-scraping). African black oystercatchers breed between September and April, but there is a peak between November to February, just in time to welcome our summer holiday makers. Unfortunately, the increased disturbance of people (and dogs) on the beach leads to a reduction in breeding success as the oystercatchers see us way before we see them, and will move off the nest in an attempt to hide its location. This unfortunately results in the eggs overheating in the hot summer sun – much of the incubation during the day is not to keep the eggs warm, but to keep them cool in the shade of their bodies. An important management and conservation strategy will be to create disturbance free areas on beaches where oystercatchers breed, and forage. Keep an eye out for these stunning birds on Lookout Beach, and remember to keep far out of the breeding colony and walk along the shoreline.

Written by: Minke Tolsma

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