African Black Oystercatchers (H. bachmani)
Oystercatchers have been breeding on these beaches for thousands of years. Now human pressure on their beach areas has put them under enormous stress. Please give the birds the little space they need to breed. Here is some information that will help you to help them ensure the future generations of Oystercatchers at Betty's Bay.
- Put your dogs on leads through the breeding areas that are well signposted.
- Be aware of where the breeding Oystercatchers are. One parent Oystercatcher will be standing guard either near the nest or the chicks.
- Keep away from their nests. Sit well away from them. It is an offence in terms of the Seabird Act to disturb them.
- Don't allow your children to chase or throw stones at the adult birds or the chicks.
- When the chicks hatch the parents take them away from the nest and put them into clumps of kelp close to the sea. This is where the chicks hide while the parents feed them.
- If you are sitting too close to the kelp where the chicks are hiding, the parents cannot get to feed them and the chicks could die from dehydration and starvation. Please be aware of where the chicks are hiding by watching the adult birds behaviour.
- When humans or dogs approach chicks they panic and run. If they run into the next door Oystercatcher territory, the parents in that territory will kill the intruding chick.
- If adult Oystercatchers are flying and screeching around you, you are too close to their chicks. Please move away as quickly as possible.
- This could be when the chicks are coming ashore with the incoming tide.
Oystercatchers live on our beaches in the inter-tidal zone (ie: between the low and high tide mark); the living area available to them is extremely limited. They nest between the High Tide and the dunes They start laying early in November, the chicks take 32 days to hatch. If their eggs or chicks are destroyed they will go on trying to bring up a family until the end of March. It takes them about 3 weeks to lay another batch of eggs. They usually lay 2 eggs, sometimes 3.
It takes 45 days before the chicks can fly. During this time they are extremely vulnerable to people and dogs because they cannot run fast and they cannot fly away. The chicks leave their parents at approximately 90 days from hatching.
The youngsters migrate Westwards around the Cape coast – being chased from territory to territory until they reach the West coast. When they know that they are out of the breeding areas they join "clubs" of other youngsters and "hangout" with them until they find a mate. The pairs return to where the female was brought up, where they find their own territory to bring up their family. They live for approximately 35 years and mate for life.
Please do not pick up the chicks, they are not lost – they are waiting for their parents to come back to feed them.
Oystercatchers that have territory adjoining a rocky area will take their chicks onto the rocks at low tide. As the high tide approaches they will bring the chicks ashore again. The chicks swim back to shore the same route every day. If you are standing or sitting too close to where the chick comes ashore he will turn around and swim back into the high tide, which means that he could drown. If you see a chick in the water – don't panic and try to catch it – leave it – it knows what it is doing and where it is going and the parents will take care of it.
The best thing you can do is to move away and let the chick swim back to shore just as he has been doing since his first day on earth. These birds have been looking after their chicks in this way for thousands of years – they don't need human interference.