The African Oystercatcher occurs only along the coastline of Namibia and South Africa (mainly the Cape Provinces and only sporadically into Kwazulu-Natal) where they frequent the intertidal zone on rocky and sandy beaches, estuaries, lagoons and coastal wetlands looking for molluscs (mostly mussels and limpets) and other aquatic invertebrates.
With an average weight of around 730g, females are slightly larger than males. Adults have a wingspan of about 80cm.
While non-breeding individuals can congregate in flocks of up to 200 birds, especially at roosts, breeding pairs of African Oystercatchers are territorial and monogamous and may stay together for as long as 25 years. They breed in spring and summer, with a peak over December and January, which makes them especially vulnerable to disturbance by holiday makers. Nests are located on rocky islands or beaches and is little more than a bare scrape above the high-water mark. Despite the meagre appearance of the nest the eggs are extremely well camouflaged. Both parents take turns to incubate the clutch of 1-3 eggs for between 4 and 5 weeks, with the chicks leaving the nest as soon as they are a day or so old. Chicks fledge when they are about 6 weeks old but can remain with their parents for up to 6 months.
Today, the IUCN considers the African Oystercatcher as being of least concern, with an increasing population size thanks to improved conservation measures (such as banning 4×4 driving on beaches). It is estimated that there is now around 6,700 of them, which is probably about double the number that existed in the 1970’s, and their conservation status could recently be upgraded from “near-threatened”. Birdlife South Africa has designated the African Oystercatcher as the 2018 Bird of the year – good places to see them is the Agulhas, Garden Route and Table Mountain National Parks.