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the web of life in southern Africa

Dromas ardeola (Crab plover) 

Krapvreter [Afrikaans]; Krabplevier [Dutch]; Drome ardéole [French]; Reiherläufer [German]; Caranguejeiro [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: Dromadidae

Dromas ardeola (Crab plover)  Dromas ardeola (Crab plover) 

Crab plover, Mahe, The Seychelles. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Crab plover, Sunday's River Mouth, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

Distribution and habitat

Breeds on coasts and islands of Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Eritrea, Oman, Abu Dhabi and Iran, heading south in the non-breeding season to the coast of East Africa and islands of the west Indian Ocean, from southern Mozambique to the western Bay of Bengal. In southern Africa it is uncommon and localised, occurring in patches along the coast of Mozambique, while it is a vagrant to the coast of South Africa. It generally prefers large intertidal flats with firm substratum, while avoiding rocky shores and exposed sandy beaches.

Distribution of Crab plover 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).

Movements and migrations

Its movements are not well understood, mainly because it migrates close to sea level offshore; it is mainly present in southern Africa in summer, although juveniles often overwinter.


Not studied in southern Africa, but elsewhere it mainly eats crabs, doing most of its foraging using the typical technique of plovers, running, stopping then searching for prey with its head tilted to the side. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Invertebrates
    • crabs
    • Marphysa (polychaetes)
    • Solen (pencil-bait)
    • other bivalves
    • shrimps
  • Fish


Does not breed in southern Africa. It is unique among shorebirds, breeding colonially in underground burrows, usually situated in an area with plentiful crabs, suitable substrate for digging and with hardly any terrestrial predators. Since this type of habitat is quite rare, it is thought to be the main cause of the Crab plover's rarity. It lays a single egg, which relative to the body mass of the adult is the largest of any bird.


Not globally threatened, although its population is small and concentrated at certain localities and its chicks and eggs are sometimes collected for food.


  • 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.