Facts on the African Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus moquini)
The African Black Oystercatcher is a marine bird that is endemic to South Africa and Namibia. They are large black birds with a striking orange/red bill, eyes and legs. They can be found on rocks and beaches along most of the coast line. Despite their name they mainly feed on mussels, limpets and mussels worms found in the intertidal zone. This means they do most of their foraging at low tide.
Adult Oystercatchers have a restricted home range of approximately 15km. Juveniles either migrate up to 2000km away from their place of birth to nursing areas, or to areas of high adult density usually within 150 km of where they hatched. They return to their birth areas after 2-3 years.
Females reach sexual maturity at 3 years of age and males around 4 years of age. African Black oystercatchers are monogamous and can mate for life. They lay their eggs within 30m of the high water mark and their nests are usually scrapes in the sand or a collection of shells on a rocky substrate. This close proximity to the high water mark makes the nests vulnerable to storms, windblown sand and predation. They breed from September to April with a peak in November to February. A black oystercatcher couple have a success rate of one surviving chick ever 3-4 years despite laying up to 3 eggs at a time. Research has shown that since the invasion of the Mediterranean mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis) their breeding success on the west coast has increased to one chick surviving every 2-3 years. This success has been attributed to an increased availability of food.
The international conservation status for African black oystercatchers is Near Threatened. The total population is estimated at 5,000-6,000 individuals with roughly half in South Africa and half in Namibia. Their population trend is increasing largely due to the ban of vehicles on the beaches, which stopped the crushing of their eggs and chicks. They are still in danger from predation and increased human activity on beaches. Their peak breeding season coincides with the peak summer holiday season for humans and therefore they are constantly disturbed from their nests, leaving the eggs vulnerable to overheating and predation. In South Africa, the National Oystercatcher Conservation Programme (OCP) is raising public awareness about the threats and disturbances to this species and in the Plettenberg Bay area, the Natures Valley Trust has an ongoing, long term project to measure the effects of disturbance to the Oystercatchers, raise public awareness and implement conservation measures to protect them.
– Scott H.A Dean W.R.J. Watson L.H 2012 DIET AND HABITAT USE BY THE AFRICAN BLACK OYSTERCATCHER HAEMATOPUS MOQUINI IN DE HOOP NATURE RESERVE, SOUTH AFRICA Marine Ornithology 40: 1–10