The African black oystercatcher (Haematopus moquini) was chosen by BirdLife South Africa as the 2018 Bird of the Year. Let's take this as a chance to learn about, celebrate and conserve one of South Africa's most beautiful and iconic coastal critters.
The Two Oceans Aquarium is currently home to the longest-lived captive African oystercatcher in the world and has been involved in the first successful breeding of oystercatchers in captivity, and assimilation of these captive-bred birds into the wild. As such, we feel strongly about the need to conserve these amazing animals and are grateful to be able to share BirdLife South Africa's amazing campaign with you.
What is an African oystercatcher?
The African black oystercatcher is a pitch black coastal bird with a strong, dagger-like orange beak that it uses to feed on mussels, limpets and worms. It rarely eats oysters!
It is a charismatic bird, endemic to Southern African shores, and is an incredible lesson in coastal conservation with numbers climbing as their habitats are being increasingly protected. With a highly restricted habitat, the African oystercatcher remains dependent on ongoing conservation efforts for survival.
What threats are they facing?
African oystercatchers face many threats in the wild, but their biggest threat is human activity. They are shy birds, and when people flock to the beaches in summer, disturbed oystercatchers are often reluctant to return to their nests with humans so nearby, and their eggs inevitably overheat in the sun. Human trash on beaches attracts scavengers like kelp gulls that feast on unprotected eggs, dogs allowed off leashes destroy oystercatcher nests, and irresponsible use of vehicles on the coast also exacerbate an already dire situation.
What conservation efforts are being made?
African black oystercatcher population numbers have recently increased, thanks to effective conservation efforts. As an indicator species, the environmental improvements that have benefitted the oystercatcher have benefitted a wide variety of other vulnerable animals that share their habitats and lifestyles - sanderlings (Calidris alba), Damara terns (Sternula balaenarum), kelp gulls (Larus dominicanus) and white-fronted plovers (Charadrus marginatus) are all reaping the benefits too.
About BirdLife South Africa:
BirdLife South Africa is the national body of BirdLife International, a conservation organisation committed to the harmonious coexistence of humans and the natural world, particularly birds and the environments they depend on. They rely on the public for support - you can find out how you can get involved here.
For 2018, BirdLife South Africa picked the African black oystercatcher as Bird of the Year! BirdLife SA, together with Nature's Valley Trust, Chrissie Cloete and Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust have created this incredible content that we wanted to share with our audience (with their permission). Thanks!