The “Red List” records the African black oystercatcher as “Near threatened”, which means that it could be threatened with extinction fairly soon if there isn’t a turnaround in its dwindling numbers. On the southern coast of Namibia and also parts of the South African coast, though, this oystercatcher is locally quite common and it presents a splendid sight as it searches for food along the rocky coastline, avoiding the thundering waves with great agility.
The African black oystercatcher is a large (approximately 40 cm long) wader with totally black plumage and with bright red legs, red eyes and a strong red bill with which to open shellfish such as mussels, limpets whelks, and periwinkles that make up a large part of its diet. But strangely, they don’t often eat oysters. Although the sexes are alike in plumage, the adult females are larger than the males.
The oystercatcher is apparently monogamous and the pairs mate for life – they can live for up to 35 years – and the female lays 2 to 4 eggs in a shallow scrape in the sand on an exposed beach or rocky area during summer. The human activity on the beaches at the height of the holiday season makes it difficult for the birds to breed; the eggs and nest are not easily visible and many eggs are probably lost under the trampling feet of holidaymakers. It is this increased human presence along the coast that poses a significant threat to the survival of the species.
They are usually to be found in pairs or in small groups, and are fascinating to watch as they forage for food within the rocky intertidal zone, dodging incoming waves with an uncanny sense of timing. Often the breaking waves seem to be directly overhead before the birds react, but they never seem to get caught and dragged off the rocks.
They call while on shore or while flying, a loud klee-weep, klee-weep and several birds may call together.
The binomial for the African black oystercatcher is Haematopus moquini. Haematopus being from the Greek words for “blood” and “foot”, referring to the colour of the legs and feet, and moquini after Horace Benedict Alfred Moquin-Tandon (1804-1863), a French collector, ornithologist and author.