AppearanceThe African oystercatcher is a large, noisy wader, with completely black plumage, red legs and a strong broad red bill. The sexes are similar in appearance, however, females are larger and have a slightly longer beak than males. Juveniles have soft grey plumage and do not express the characteristic red legs and beak until after they fledged. The call is a distinctive loud piping, very similar to Eurasian oystercatchers. As the Eurasian oystercatcher is a migratory species they only occur as a vagrant in southern Africa, and its black-and-white plumage makes confusion impossible.
NamingThe scientific name "moquini" commemorates the French naturalist Alfred Moquin-Tandon who discovered and named this species before Bonaparte.
DistributionThe African oystercatcher is native to the mainland coasts and offshore islands of Southern Africa sometimes occurring as a vagrant in Angola and Mozambique. Its breeding range extends from Lüderitz, Namibia to Mazeppa Bay, Eastern Cape, South Africa. There are estimated to be over 6,000 adult birds in total.
Typically sedentary African oystercatchers rarely leave their territories, which include a nesting site and feeding grounds. These will usually be located on or near rocky shores where they can feed.
StatusThe IUCN lists the African oystercatcher as being "Near Threatened". The population trend seems to be upward as the local community becomes more involved in adopting conservation measures. The current Red Data list under construction lists the species as Least Concern, once this is published this link will be updated.
ReproductionThe nest is a bare scrape on pebbles, sand or shingle within about 30 metres of the high-water mark. On rock ledges there may be a rim of shells to keep the eggs in place. The female generally lays two eggs, but there may be one or three, which are incubated by both adults. The incubation period varies between 27 and 39 days and the young take a further 38 or so days to fledge. Breeding success is greater on offshore islands where there are few predators and less disturbance than mainland sites.
The eggs average about 65 mm long, ranging from 45 to 73 mm, and have a breadth of 41 mm, ranging from 34 to 45 cm.
FoodAfrican oystercatchers predominantly feed on molluscs such as mussels and limpets, although are known to also feed on polychaetes, insects and potentially even fish. They are adapted to pry open mussels and loosen limpets off the rocks but have been recorded picking through sand to locate other food items.
PredatorsThe lifespan of an African oystercatcher is about 35 years, of which they are known to pair up for 25 years. Although adults are rarely predated most mainland egg and chick fatalities are due to disturbance by people, off-road vehicles, dog attacks and predation by the kelp gull " and other avian preditors. Off shore pairs experience similar avian predation although most chicks perish due to starvation.
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