African black oystercatcher (Haematopus moquini)

Also known as: African oystercatcher
  
French: Huîtrier noir
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderCharadriiformes
FamilyHaematopodidae
GenusHaematopus (1)
SizeLength: 42 – 45 cm (2)
Male weight: 482 – 757 g (2)
Female weight: 646 – 800 g (2)

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1) and listed on Appendix II of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (3).

Large flocks of this bulky bird can be found along the coast of South Africa (4). The African black oystercatcher has glossy black plumage, which contrasts with its red eye, and bright orangey-red eye-ring and long bill. The sturdy legs are a deep pinkish-red. Males can be distinguished from females by their blunter, shorter bills (2), and immature oystercatchers have duller, browner plumage with a dark tipped bill (4).

The African black oystercatcher breeds along the southern African coast from northern Namibia to the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa (2).

The African black oystercatcher inhabits rocky and sandy shores, and sometimes estuaries and coastal lagoons. It prefers to breed on offshore islands and sandy beaches (2).

African black oystercatchers forage in the intertidal zone of their coastal habitat (5). In rocky areas the primary prey for the African black oystercatcher are mussels and limpets, but this coastal bird also feeds on whelks and other bivalves and crustaceans (2) (6). Feeding on such prey can pose difficulties as the tasty flesh is hidden within a hard shell. However, with its strong bill the African black oystercatcher can cut the muscle that holds the two halves of the shell together and stab the prey inside, or hammer the shell open on rocks (2).

The African black oystercatcher can lay eggs from October to April, but laying occurs primarily from December to February. In a scrape in the sand, among shells or sometimes on bare rocks, a clutch of one to two eggs is laid (2). The eggs hatch after 27 to 39 days of incubation, and the young fledge between 35 to 40 days of age, ending a period in which the eggs and young are exceptionally vulnerable to terrestrial predators. African black oystercatchers are believed to first breed at the age of three or four, and live for over 18 years (2).

The coastal breeding site of the African black oystercatcher makes it vulnerable to human disturbance, particularly as the breeding season coincides with the height of the summer tourist season. Eggs and chicks are crushed by people or off-road vehicles, or eaten by domestic dogs (5). Coastal development has also caused populations to decline in some areas (2). As the African black oystercatcher forages exclusively in the intertidal zone, it has a limited time to obtain the food it requires before the tide comes in. Disturbance during this period may result in birds having insufficient time to obtain enough food for themselves and their young (5). African black oystercatchers breeding on islands are less vulnerable to human disturbance; instead the major threat to these populations is the introduction of terrestrial mammalian predators (2) (7).

The Oystercatcher Conservation Programme, launched in 1998, undertakes research on the African black oystercatcher and aims to develop a conservation strategy for the African black oystercatcher (8). In addition, this bird is listed on Appendix II of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement, which calls on parties to the agreement to engage in a wide range of conservation actions (3).

For further information on the African black oystercatcher see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2007)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (April, 2007)
    http://www.unep-aewa.org/
  4. Borrow, N. and Demey, R. (2001) Birds of Western Africa. Christopher Helm, London.
  5. Leseberg, A., Hockey, P.A.R. and Loewenthal, D. (2000) Human disturbance and the chick-rearing ability of African black oystercatchers (Haematopus moquini): a geographical perspective. Biological Conservation, 96(3): 379 - 385.
  6. Hockey, P.A.R. and Underhill, L.G. (1984) Diet of the African black oystercatcher Haematopus moquini on rocky shores: Spatial, temporal and sex related variation. South African Journal of Zoology, 19(1): 1 - 11.
  7. Hockey, P.A.R. (1983) The distribution, population size, movements and conservation of the African black oystercatcher Haematopus moquini. Biological Conservation, 25(3): 233 - 262.
  8. Oystercatcher Conservation Programme Newsletter (October, 2007)
    http://sacoast.uwc.ac.za/education/resources/envirofacts/oystercatcher/oystercatcher_tidings.htm