Coast KZN

17 Jul 2018

Facts you need to know about the Bird of the Year

Judi Davis (South Coast Herald) Picture: Meet the African black oyster catcher, our 2018 Bird of the Year

Facts you need to know about the Bird of the Year This striking black and red shoreline dweller is a conservation success.

REPRESENTING a modern-day conservation success story, our African black oyster catcher (Haematopus moquini) is a good choice as Birdlife South Africa’s 2018 Bird of the year.

It is a great story. I remember the excitement many years ago when a couple of pairs of these gorgeous shore birds were spotted on KwaZulu-Natal’s Lower South Coast. Local birders rushed to see these unusual visitors but, when the excitement died down, it was clear they planned to settle in this area. Today, the oyster catcher is a fairly common sight along our shores.

Recently I enjoyed a visit to Nature’s Valley, which is part of the mosaic of conserved areas that make up the Sanparks Garden Route National Park. Members of Nature’s Valley Trust are working with Sanparks to conserve our near-endemic bird of the year and the two organisations have provided excellent educational material on the oyster catcher at the entrance to the beach and on line.

Speaking to members of Nature’s Valley Trust, it seems as if conservation methods are meeting with huge success.

Conservation efforts were started by the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology in 1998 when the African black oyster Catcher was categorised as a threatened species.

According to Birdlife South Africa the population of these seaside dwellers has increased dramatically since then. In 2000 its regional red listing status was downgraded from Near Threatened to Least Concern.

Nature’s Valley Trust members told me that the conservation programme had done much to assist the oyster catcher and this work had been enhanced by the spread of the alien Mediterranean mussel, which provided extra food for the bird. The ban on driving on South African beaches had played a major part in boosting African black oyster catcher numbers.

However this bird is not quite out of the woods yet. It still faces serious threats from coastal development an the subsequent habitat loss. Breeding birds are also susceptible to disturbances by beach visitors and their dogs. The good news is that Nature’s Valley Trust and Birdlife South Africa are putting together innovative ways to allow humans, dogs and shoreline birds to share our magnificent shoreline without harming nature.

Here are some interesting facts about our handsome bird of the year:
* The African black oyster catcher is a near-endemic and is only found on the Namibian and South African shoreline and off-shore islands.

* It is a handsome, black shoreline dweller with red eyes, bill and legs.

* Although it is called an oyster catchers it feeds on a wide range of sea creatures, including mussels, limpets and cockles.

* The male and female mate for life.

* The oyster catchers mostly breed at the beginning of summer, usually laying two greenish eggs in an exposed scrape in the sand, making eggs and chicks very vulnerable to predation and disturbance. Threats include natural predators like jackals, genets and snakes as well as humans, their vehicles and their dogs.