The African Black Oystercatcher, or known as the African oystercatcher, is a gorgeous, unique shorebird that you will find in the southern region of the African continent. It’s not colorful like other birds, but its eye-catching characteristics will surely capture your attention. This bird is characterized by its jet-black plumage and reddish-orange eyes and bills that stand out.
Its scientific name, Haematopus moquini, was in honor of the French naturalist and doctor Alfred Moquin-Tandon, who discovered this bird before biologist Charles Bonaparte.
This bird species is considered as one of the rarest oystercatchers in the world. It is estimated that only about 6,700 African Black Oystercatchers thrive in the world today. Despite this relatively small number, the global International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List categorized this bird species as Least Concern in December 2017. According to IUCN, the population trend of African Black Oystercatchers is at a constant rise ever since locals became more involved in doing conservation measures.
Its seven levels of scientific classification are as follows:
Species: H. moquini
Physical characteristics of an African Black Oystercatcher
It’s not hard to identify this bird because of its striking characteristics. In general, the African Black Oystercatcher has a jet-black plumage, red legs, orange or red long bill, and reddish-orange eyes. Both male and female African Black Oystercatchers share similar physical attributes. They only slightly differ in size, as a female African Black Oystercatcher tend to be slightly bigger than male. Its average body length ranges from 42-45 cm, its wingspan can reach 80-86 cm, and it can weight for up to 665-730 g.
Juveniles have grey plumage, which darkens as they age. They do not have reddish-orange beaks, legs, and outlines around the eyes until they fledge.
This bird species is closely similar to Eurasian Oystercatchers. The only difference is that they possess black-and-white plumage, which distinctly sets them apart from the African Black Oystercatchers.
Distribution and habitat of African Black Oystercatchers
This bird species is greatly endemic to the mainland coasts and offshore islands of southern Africa, though some vagrant birds are found in Angola and Mozambique. African Black Oystercatchers breed in Lüderitz, Namibia, and South Africa.
They frequent sandy or rocky shores, and sometimes estuaries too. During the summer season, they nest on sandy beaches. African Black Oystercatchers are sedentary who rarely leave their territories.
The behavior of an African Black Oystercatcher
Research suggests that African Black Oystercatchers are highly sensitive to environmental disturbances. Therefore, researchers have used their presence or absence to measure an area’s state of health. These birds usually pair or form small groups together to hunt for food.
As the name suggests, African Black Oystercatchers feed on oysters, mussels, limpets, whelks, small crustaceans, insects, and worms.
The breeding season happens during the summer season, where coasts and beaches are often crowded with humans. African Black Oystercatchers are monogamous. To increase their population size, each pair is expected to raise a single chick every three years. But since humans often visit their breeding areas, this goal makes it hard for the birds to attain.
When the African Black Oystercatchers are disturbed during the breeding period, they may abandon their nests, which leads to the death of chicks due to extreme heat. These chicks are also no match to aggressive predators such as kelp gulls. Eggs are also easily crushed by cars that are going on the beach.
Despite human distraction, these birds are incredibly faithful to their partners. Their nests are usually scrapes on the sand or a collection of shells on the rocky shores. They put their nests near the high water marks to protect their nests from storms and wind blows. A female African Black Oystercatcher usually lays 2-3 eggs. The pair of African Black Oystercatchers will take good care of the young until the end of the incubation period. Female birds reach sexual maturity at the age of 3, while male birds achieve it at around four years old.
Today, various protective measures have been implemented by the locals to protect the population of these shorebirds. Locals have restricted vehicles from going on the beaches so they could not unintentionally crush eggs and kill chicks anymore. In South Africa, there is a long-term program that tracks the dispersal of ringed birds to ensure their safety.
BOTSWANA BIRDS | SOUTH AFRICA BIRDS
NAMIBIA BIRDS | ZAMBIA BIRDS | ZIMBABWE BIRDS