Birders and twitchers have over two thousand reasons to flock to Africa: from its irridescent kingfishers and bee-eaters, to majestic grey and black crowned cranes with their bright red gular pouches, to terrestrial hunting ground hornbills, bustards and secretary birds, and its suite of rare and fascinating raptors that prowl the skies - this truly is a birdwatcher’s paradise.
Africa is home to over 2,300 species of birds, of which 1,400 are endemic to the continent including fascinating ostriches, shoebills, hamerkops, francolins and turacos. Other avian families such as bustards, sand grouse, honey guides and larks are predominantly African.
The continent is also home to aquatic predators such as storks, geese, ducks and several species of kingfishers which can be found soaring over its waterways. Here you will find a number of raptors including eagles, hawks and owls that hunt small mammals. Africa’s important scavengers include vultures, kites and large marabou storks which form a crucial part of the ecosystem.
The air space above Africa is constantly buzzing with life as huge flocks of migratory birds make their annual pilgrimage from their wintering grounds in Europe and Central Asia to their breeding grounds in Africa. Cuckoos, turtle doves, swallows and songbirds are included in this group. There are also many intra-African migrants which breed in southern Africa during the summer months and then back head north as winter comes. Many swallows and bee-eaters fall in this category.
Finally, there are some species which are considered partial migrants, such as South Africa’s cattle egrets – some fly north in the winter months, whilst others stay behind, maintaining a continual yet fluctuating population throughout the year.
Our Top Birding Destinations
BotswanaIn full flood, the Okavango Delta is one of the best places on earth for birdwatching. Keep your eyes pealed for Pel’s fishing owls, African jacanas, western banded snake eagles and of course the brightly coloured kingfishers. In the Moremi and Savuti, search the trees for the beautifully neon coloured lilac breasted rollers or keep a look out for elegant saddle billed storks frolicking on the banks of the Chobe River. Along the Makgadikgadi salt pans one of nature’s most spectacular sights awaits when seasonal rains flood the pans, ushering in thousands of flamingos, turning this lunar surface bright pink. The best time to visit is during the rainy season from October to April.
EthiopiaEthiopia boasts 830 species of birds, 23 of which can only be found here. There is no better place to discover Ethiopia’s vibrant and diverse birdlife than in the Bale Mountains. Lake Awassa makes for a stunning backdrop to discover certain species, such as the brown snake eagle, wattled ibis, malachite kingfisher, African firefinch and red-billed hornbill. Ethiopia is also home to one of Africa’s most striking and fascinating birds – the vulturine guineafowl, which roams around its southern border with Kenya. The best time for birding is from September to February.
KenyaKenya is a birdwatcher`s dream, bursting with birdlife in a range of diverse habitats. Over 1,100 bird species have been recorded in the country, and it is possible to see a good percentage of these without great effort in a two to three-week trip. Keep a look out for ospreys, fish eagles, ostriches, reed and great cormorants and the rare bone-eating bearded vulture. Kenya also hosts one of Africa’s most impressive wildlife spectacles as massive numbers of brightly coloured flamingos hop along its otherwordly alkaline lakes along the Rift Valley. Our recommended time to visit for prime birdwatching is from September to April, with the flamingos in their highest concentrations during January and February.
South AfricaThis is home to over 900 species, including many rare and endemics inhabiting an incredibly diverse array of habitats. In and around Cape Town, expect to see native species such as the Cape sugarbird, Hottentot buttonquail, orange-breasted sunbird, Cape siskin, and Protea seedeater. Cape Town and its surrounds offers the best seabird watching in South Africa, attracting a variety of albatrosses, giant petrels, Antarctic prions, flesh-footed shearwaters as well as South polar skuas and Artic terns. Lastly, iconic African penguin colonies thrive here.
The Kruger/Sabi Sands is a birding bonanza featuring 507 different species including the Bateleur eagle, southern ground hornbill, African fish eagle and black-bellied bustard. KwaZulu-Natal's iSimangaliso Wetland Park is home to more than 530 bird species. The best time to visit is from November to March when the wetlands flood, attracting migratory birds such as the African pygmy-goose, black-rumped buttonquail, pale-crowned cisticola and rosy-throated longclaw. The rest of South Africa is a year-round birdwatching destination.
UgandaThere are so many reasons to visit Uganda – its mountain gorillas, chimpanzees and multitude of wildlife rich natural reserves. It is also one of the world’s best birding destinations and over 1,000 different species of birds call Uganda home – almost 10% of all bird species. The entire country a birder's paradise, with Murchison Falls National Park ground zero for bird enthusiasts. This natural wonder is home to the rare, pre-historic looking shoebill stork which can be found wading through the park’s network of Nile waterways. Here you can also meet Uganda’s national bird, the dancing grey-crowned crane. The optimal time to visit is from November to April.
ZambiaThe wildebeest migration across the vast plains of the Serengeti and Masai Mara may be the most famous, but the world’s largest mammal migration actually takes place in Zambia. Every year from mid-October to late November, millions of African giant fruit bats descend on Zambia’s Kasanka National Park. This is an incredible spectacle in itself, however for birders, the main event is the massive array of Africa’s raptors that hungrily follow the bats, including varieties of eagles, vultures and the rarely seen bat hawks.
For twitchers travelling with non twitcher friends or family, we have good news. Most prime birdwatching areas can be found in the prime wildlife viewing areas so rest assured everyone will be satisfied.
As for equipment, no birdwatching trip is complete without a good pair of binoculars, and to maximize your experience, you will not regret investing in a good quality pair. For photographers a 400mm lens or longer is recommended, especially for smaller birds. Finally, depending on where you are travelling, a good pair of comfortable, supportive walking boots are also highly recommended, particularly for forest birding expeditions.
Africa is bird nirvana. Whether you are gliding on a mokoro along Botswana's Okavango Delta, hiking through Ethiopia's Bale Mountains, or exploring the rainforests of Central Africa, peering through your binoculars from a camouflaged hide or just gazing across the savanna from the window of a safari vehicle, Africa’s most colourful and fascinating creatures will never fail to impress and excite even the most seasoned birder. And your trip will surely add hundreds of new species, and a few 'lifers' to your list.
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