Bird watching in Africa can arguably be not be replicated anywhere in the world and many exciting discoveries are to be made.
With almost 2,800 bird species spread across 68 territories, the African region could keep one busy for a lifetime. Aside from its unique cultures and customs, Africa is home to thousands of rare bird species, most of which display remarkable habits that are alluring to watch. As such, Africa is the best place to go on bird watching tours.
Most of the bird species found on the continent only live in tropical forests, with their rare appearances being termed as mythical. Some experts even contend that many of the birds found in Africa are yet to be classified.
Tanzania is one of the superb bird watching destinations in Africa, with 1140 species with 200 migrants and 74 marine birds present. The distinguished birding sites cover Arusha National Park, with 400 bird species. Tawny eagles and buzzards hover above Ngurdoto Crater, whilst the Momella Lakes is the place for water birds and waders. Lake Manyara National Park offers pink flamingos, pelicans, storks, cormorants, hornbills and many more with over 400 recorded species. Greater and lesser flamingos are also found in Ngorongoro Crater and millions mass on their breeding ground at Lake Natron. Tarangire’s swamps are home to over 550 species, with weighty kori bustards, ostriches, secretary bird and helmeted guinea fowls on the drier plains, where weavers and lovebirds are also common. A Serengeti 500 birding species safari reveals endemic Fischer’s lovebird, a bright-hued small parrot also found in Ngorongoro Conservation Area, grey crowned crane, and the brown snake eagle. Buff-crested bustards and spike-heeled larks nest on the plains below Mount Kilimanjaro, best known for Abbot’s starlings. Selous Game Reserve, the Rufiji and the Great Ruaha Rivers provides ideal habitats for mangrove kingfishers, yellow-billed stork, malachite kingfishers, African skimmers, palm-nut vultures and 400 bird species are recorded.
Zambia had a bird list of around 750 recorded species, which is a fair number when considering that most of the country falls under the Zambezian biome, which is made up largely of Miombo Woodland. It has only one true endemic species, Chaplin’s Barbet, though Black-cheeked Lovebird is almost an endemic, occurring marginally across the border into Namibia (though the status of birds in Namibia is uncertain). Considering the size of the country, the rates of endemism are very low, but where Zambia comes into its own in birding terms is the Miombo specials of south-central Africa, Zambia being one of the most accessible places for these species, and also offering a shot at some of the Congolese rainforest specials in the far north-west of the country. Another feather in Zambia’s cap is the Shoebill population of the Bangweulu Swamps, this strange, pale ‘stork’ being one of Africa’s most sought-after birds.
Zimbabwe has 672 bird species, of which at least 80 are considered to be vagrants. Rainfall is the most important factor influencing bird distribution in Zimbabwe. The contrasts in climate and vegetation between the Zambezi and Save–Limpopo river valleys and the central plateau are important to avifaunal geography. Zimbabwe’s avifaunal can be seen as part of a biological range, shared in varying degrees with all neighbouring countries. The species characteristic of the Zambezian biome (mainly confined to miombo woodland) have some links with the avifauna to the south, but their principal affinities are with the north.
Namibia is a fantastic destination for birders, with over 630 bird species on record. Namibia has a diverse and very interesting range of habitats. The mosaic of waterways of the Caprivi make it great for birding, and with over 400 species on record the area is home to around 70% of Namibia’s birdlife. The region’s unique ecosystem – a combination of bush and wetlands – is unlike anywhere else in the country and attracts some rather rare species as a result.
The Walvis Bay Lagoon is the most significant birding spot on the bay, and is particularly famous for its large number of flamingos and pelicans. It is also a great place for spotting migratory birds en route from Africa to the Arctic Circle. The Etosha is home to 340 different species of bird and is a great place for twitchers. The Erongo Mountain Nature Conservancy, which lies deep in the heart of the Erongo Mountains, is one of Namibia’s top birding spots.
South Africa is one of the best value birding destinations on the entire continent and offers a range of birding habitats, from grasslands, wetlands and forests, to savannahs, fynbos, the seashore and open oceans. Bird-watching in South Africa allows birders to explore a diverse range of habitats. These habitats offer a spectacular diversity of beautiful birds, from the diminutive, fynbos-restricted Orange-breasted Sunbird to the large, desert-adapted Ludwig’s Bustard. A remarkable 841 bird species are found in South Africa, about eight percent of the world’s bird species. Seventy-four species are endemic to South Africa, i.e. they do not occur naturally anywhere else in the world.
Bird-wise South Africa can be divided into seven major natural regions: Grassveld – almost treeless grassland; Fynbos (pronounced fain-bos) – a sort of Macchia or chaparral; Karoo – an arid to very arid semi-desert; Afromontane Forest – more or less evergreen with a closed canopy; Bushveld – a fairly arid to arid open to closed woodland often referred to in South Africa as Savannah; the East Coast Littoral – a moist tropical to sub-tropical mosaic of forest, coastal thicket and grassland; and Pelagic – open sea up to 200km off-shore. Each of these regions have their own suite of birds and the first four hold many endemic species.
With nearly 600 bird species including over 500 regularly occurring species, Botswana offers some brilliant birding opportunities. The country is essentially a semi-desert, covered largely by dry tree, shrub and grass savanna. Only in the wetter north (Okavango Delta and, within it, the Moremi Game Reserve) and northeast sectors of Chobe National Park and the Kasane Forest Reserve where the tropical woodlands occur. In the extreme southwest the dunes of windblown sand form a transition between the Kalahari and Namib-Karoo zones (Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park).
There are no endemic bird species in Botswana, and the country’s only near-endemic is the Short-clawed Lark with the major global stronghold in the grasslands of the south-east (Gaborone – Ramatlabama area). However, populations of globally threatened Wattled Crane and Slaty Egret in the north are of international importance. When flooded, Sowa Pan, to the east of the Makgadikgadi Pans, attracts globally significant numbers of Lesser and Greater Flamingos.