home   about   search

biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Haematopus moquini (African black oystercatcher) 

Swarttobie [Afrikaans]; Afrikaanse zwarte scholekster [Dutch]; Huîtrier de Moquin [French]; Schwarzer austernfischer [German]; Ostraceiro-preto-africano [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Charadriiformes > Family: Haematopodidae

Haematopus moquini (African black oystercatcher)  Haematopus moquini (African black oystercatcher) 

African black oystercatcher, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ©]

African black oystercatcher adult with two juveniles. [photo Peter Steyn ©]

Haematopus moquini (African black oystercatcher) 

African black oystercatcher, De Hoop Nature Reserve, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Distribution and habitat

Near-endemic to southern Africa, occurring along the coast of southern Angola, Namibia and much of South Africa, largely excluding coastal KwaZulu-Natal. It generally prefers rocky and/or sandy shores of islands or the mainland, occasionally moving to lagoons, estuaries and coastal pans.

Distribution of African black oystercatcher in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Movements and migrations

Adults are largely sedentary and territorial, generally breeding on sandy beaches and islands, often heading to more rocky areas of the coastline in the non-breeding season. Juveniles on the south-eastern coast disperse widely after becoming fully independent, usually travelling at least 150 km's away from their parents' breeding territory. Juveniles originating from the western and southern coast of South Africa often head to five 'nursery' areas on the Namibian and Angolan coast, where they stay for about 2-3 years before returning to the area they grow up in.


It mainly eats mussels and other aquatic invertebrates, doing most of its foraging in the intertidal zone, dislodging molluscs from rocks with a jab of its bill or probing the sand for other animals. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Invertebrates
    • mussels
      • Choromytilus meridionalis (Black mussel)
      • Perna perna (Brown mussel)
      • Aulacomya ater (Ribbed mussel)
      • Mytlilus galloprovincialis (Mediterranean mussel)
      • Semimytilus algosus (Bisexual mussel)
      • Donax (sand mussels)
        • Donax serra
        • Donax sordidus
    • limpets
      • Scutellastra
        • Scutellastra granularis
        • Scutellastra cochlear
        • Scutellastra longicosta
      • Cymbula granatina
      • Cymbula oculus
      • Cellana capensis
    • whelks
      • Burnupena catarrhacta
      • Burnupena lagenaria
    • polychaetes
      • Pseudonereis variegata
      • Marphysa depressa
    • Aulactinia reynaudi (Sandy anemone)
    • Pyura (red bait)
    • Dosinia lupinus (Heart clam)
    • Discinisca tenuis (Disc lamp shell)
    • Talorchestia (sand hoppers)
    • Macoma (tellins)
    • Solen (pencil bait)
  • Vertebrates


  • Monogamous, solitary nester, with pairs defending their territory by performing the piping display, in which they point their bills downwards, hunch their shoulders and call loudly.
  • The nest is a simple scrape in the ground excavated by both sexes, usually dug into sandy soil and lined with shells and rock chips. If the substrate is too hard to dig into, it places extra shells and rock chips along the rim of the nest. It is typically placed close to the high-water mark, concealed by an adjacent object such as kelp or a rock.
  • Egg-laying season is from September-April, peaking from November-January.
  • It lays 1-2 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 27-39 days.
  • The chicks leave the nest after about 24 hours and are cared for by both parents, who regularly feed them in or near the intertidal zone. They fledge at about 35-40 days old, becoming fully independent about 2-6 months later.


Near-threatened, due to its small population size, low reproductive rate and susceptibility to human disturbance, especially urban development and use of offroad vehicles on beaches (destroying nests). Conservation efforts have significantly reduced occurrence of the latter. About 30% of its global population is based on offshore islands, so protection of them from predators and disease is key to its conservation.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.