The African Oyster Catcher

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.

How fittingly the eggs are patterned in camouflage:  like dried filigreed kelp fronds.
How fittingly the eggs are patterned to be camouflaged: like dried filigreed kelp fronds.


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 –

A circling pattern of warning.
A circling pattern of warning.

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.

The birds forage for mussels, limpets and other molluscs along the intertidal zone.
The birds forage for mussels, limpets and other molluscs along the intertidal zone.
They must wait to feed until the tide drops and the water recedes.
They must wait to feed until the tide drops and the water recedes.

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.

18 thoughts on “The African Oyster Catcher

  1. Fascinating stuff, there’s something really compelling and attractive about birds eggs to me. Your pics are fabulous. I once found an oystercatcher nest/eggs on a remote beach in N Scotland, the eggs were very similar as perhaps one might expect. Thanks for the post I didn’t know about the African version but now I do 🙂

  2. Interesting – we’re inland, so we don’t get too many seabirds here. However there are some that are found in both environments. Your Oystercatcher’s seem to behave similarly to the Plovers we have here. They nest on the ground and distract people away with agitated movements and loud calling, to try to lead the intruder away from the nest. Good photos too – and I love the photo of the eggs. So far I haven’t got close enough to photograph the eggs. Only the chicks. Lisa

    1. Thanks for the comments, Lisa. You’re spot-on, my bird book describes them as ‘plover-like’ birds of the seashore. Hadn’t intended to get close to the nest, but there is was right alongside the hightide mark; took a quick shot and then moved off as the parents were getting pretty agitated.

  3. Because they’re so rare we always treasure a sighting of black oystercatchers. Good to know the ban on 4x4s on our beaches seems to have turned around their decline!

    Great photos again Liz!

    1. Thanks for the comments, de Wets 🙂 That ban was good foresight for the general health of the beach ecosystem too – the plant life is regenerating etc. Here we’re lucky to see and hear their calls almost daily 🙂

    1. They’re at risk that’s for sure, although there is flotsam, jetsam for the chicks to scurry under and hide. There’s been recent research into their nesting habits, and it’s been discovered that they’re tending to produce three eggs and not the usual one or two. An intuitive reaction to push up the population?

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