There’s something about the allure of the Black oystercatchers which conjures up ‘sultry’: maybe it’s the bold, sassie colours, the black and striking red – like the sophisticate at a cocktail party wearing the little black dress and red stiletto heels. They’re an active and agile bird; vocal too, often calling at dusk and well into the night. Eggs are laid between September and April, but they are particularly active now, from November through January. They’re a vulnerable species, coming up as “Near Threatened” on the IUCN list. The nesting sites are typically close to the high tide water mark and as their breeding season coincides with the height of the summer tourist season, they are often disturbed by human activity. It has been noted though, that since the ban on driving 4 x 4’s on the beaches, which was implemented in 2001 by our then Minister of Environment and Tourism, Valli Moosa, that there has been an increase in their numbers.
The nest is generally a simple scrape in the ground.
One has to be careful not to stumble onto the nests as they are not easy to spot, although the parents quickly show their agitation and defend their territory by flying in tight circles performing a piping display –
The eggs are incubated by both sexes for about 27-39 days. Once the chicks hatch they are cared for by both parents, who regularly feed them in or near the intertidal zone. Thereafter they fledge at about 40 days, and it takes another 2 – 6 months before they are fully independent.
It’s quite a sight to watch them nimbly pick over the mussel and limpet beds prising the molluscs open with their pincer like bills. The intertidal zone is a dynamic place, and there’s always an eye out for the swash of the breaking waves. Lets hope that the species continues to make a recovery and that their numbers keep increasing steadily.