Africa offers to travelers countless possibilities for a vacation. If you are a bird enthusiast and you are looking for an unforgettable ornithological experience, let me ask you this: have you ever envisioned going on a birdwatching safari in Africa?
Many African countries enclose a broad variety of bird species. As a result, you will not be able to see all the bird species that Africa harbors in one vacation!
Furthermore, you don’t have to be an ornithologist to appreciate birding!
You can easily include bird watching as part of your safari adventure since a full spectrum of wildlife coexists in the same environment.
Therefore, there is no need to choose between the megafauna and the birds, since they share the same habitat.
I have outlined here, the best countries and listed the places within each country to visit for a memorable birdwatching experience along with the bird species that you might encounter. However, this is just a glimpse of what is out there!
Why Is Africa an Excellent Destination for Birding?
Well, the answer is simple: landscape diversity. Africa encompasses a broad range of landscapes that include: forests, marshes, deserts, mountains, and seashores (the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean), and as a result, Africa encloses a diverse population of birds.
The African Continent harbors about 2,600 species of birds, which can be classified into three categories:
- Endemic species: Birds species are only found in one country in Africa.
- Near-endemic species: Birds species found in three African countries or less.
- Migrant species: Temporary residents. They either come from other regions of Africa (African migrants) or the northern hemisphere (Palaearctic migrants) and usually spend the summer in the region.
The top countries to consider for birdwatching on the Dark Continent are South Africa, Uganda, Botswana, and Tanzania.
South Africa is by far, one of the best destinations for bird lovers with more than 820 species of birds, which include 40 endemic bird species. So, if you want to see a Cape Parrot in its natural habitat, you’ll have to go to South Africa!
The best time for birdwatching in South Africa is during the summer (September to March) and especially during the months of December and January.
South Africa is a big country encompassing many ecosystems, and each ecosystem hosts a wide variety of bird species.
To see all the bird species in South Africa, you’ll need more than one vacation to accomplish that colossal undertaking! So, without further ado, let’s get started!
The Boulders Beach is in the Cape Peninsula near Simons Town. The beach is part of the Table Mountain National Park.
Also, the main attraction is the African penguins, an endangered species.
The colony of African Penguins has more than 2,000 members!
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park, formerly known as the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park is in the KwaZulu-Natal Province and the nearest town is Durban.
If you want to visit the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, the best time to do so is between the months of February and April (late summer).
The park features more than 530 species of birds. This impressive number is due to the presence of a diverse landscape throughout the park that ranges from wetlands, savannahs, and subtropical dune forests to sandy beaches, and coral reefs.
Moreover, the species of birds that you might be able to observe within the park are the Mangrove Kingfisher, Swamp Nightjar, Rufous-bellied Heron, and the Flamingos (Lesser and Greater).
The Kruger National Park
The Kruger National Park is mostly known for its game viewing drives of the Big Five (lions, elephants, buffalos, leopards, and rhinoceros).
However, the park constitutes an excellent safari destination for birdwatching, since it harbors over 500 species of birds. Some of the birds present within the Kruger National Park include the African Fish Eagle, the Brown Snake-Eagle, the Lilac-breasted Roller, and the Kingfishers.
Lammergeier Nature Reserve
The Lammergeier Nature Reserve is in the Eastern Cape Province in the vicinity of Lady Grey. The name of this nature reserve “Lammergeier” means lamb vulture. Thus, the nature reserve is named after a vulture!
Moreover, the Bearded Vulture is quite a character! Like many other vulture species, the Bearded Vulture is a scavenger and feeds on carcasses. However, its diet consists mainly of bones and bone marrow!
Furthermore, this vulture can swallow a bone up to the size of a lamb femur!
However, when a bone is too big to be engulfed, the approach used by this raptor to remedy this problem is quite spectacular. The Bearded Vulture will fly to a height of 160 to 490 ft (50 to 150 m) from where it will drop the bone on the rocks below to break it into smaller pieces. Sounds simple, right?
Actually, not really! It could take up to seven years for the Bearded Vulture to master the art of breaking bones!
Have you watched the video above? You didn’t miss a thing, right? Now, can you imagine missing out on the action while you are on your birding safari just because you forgot to pack a pair of binoculars or didn’t want to buy a good pair of binoculars?
To avoid this and to fully appreciate your birdwatching experience, I strongly recommend that you bring your own pair of binoculars!
Apart from the Bearded Vulture, the Lammergeier Nature Reserve encloses more than 280 species of birds, such as the Crested Crane, Cape Vulture, Jackal Buzzard, and the Black Eagle only to name a few.
Uganda is a birding paradise with more than 1,000 species of birds.
The Grey Crowned Crane is featured on the Ugandan flag since it is the national bird of Uganda. A surprising choice since Fox’s Weaver is the only endemic bird of the Pearl of Africa, consequently a logical contender for being the national bird of the country!
Uganda’s Destinations for Birdwatching Safari
I have listed in the following table some of the best places in Uganda for birdwatching along with the number of species present in each location and also some of the birds that you might encounter on your journey. However, bear in mind, that this is a very shortlist!
|Destinations||# Species||Bird Species|
|Kibale National Park||~ 375||Green-breasted Pitta|
Kingfisher African Gray Parrot
|Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary||138||Great Blue Turaco|
|Bwindi Impenetrable Forest||~ 350||African Green Broadbill |
African Emerald Cuckoo
|Queen Elizabeth Park||~ 600||Shoebill|
Pel’s Fishing Owl
|Kidepo Valley||~ 475 (including 56 species of raptor)||Pygmy Falcon|
|Lake Mburo National Park||Over 300||Grey Crowned Crane|
|Murchison Falls||Over 450||Goliath Heron|
|Mt. Elgon National Park||Over 300||African Blue Flycatcher|
|Rwenzori Mountains National Park||217||Purple-breasted Sunbird|
Botswana is home to nearly 600 species of birds. However, there are no endemic birds in Botswana. The Short-clawed Lark is the only near-endemic species of Botswana (also found in South Africa).
The Kalahari Desert mostly covers Botswana. However, the northern part of Botswana contains the largest inland Delta in the world: the Okavango Delta, the perfect destination for bird lovers.
The Delta region encompasses many ecosystems that include seasonally flooded grasslands, permanent swamps, woodlands, and lagoons.
The Okavango Delta
The best time to visit the Okavango Delta is during the wet season, specifically during the months of November to February.
The rainy season coincides with summer and offers an excellent breeding ground for wildlife.
Many migrant birds (African and Palaearctic) spend their summer in the Delta region.
Two of the most famous residents of the Delta are the Slaty Egret and the Wattled Crane, both endangered species.
Other notables of the region are the White-backed Night Heron, the Pel’s Fishing Owl, and the African Skimmer.
Makgadikgadi Pans National Park
The Makgadikgadi Pans are located in the northeastern area of Botswana and southeast of the Okavango Delta and correspond to an area of 12,000 square km.
During the dry season, there is no wildlife present within the Makgadikgadi Pans, because of its arid environment. However, during the wet season, heavy flooding rains will fill the region, leading to the formation of a lake.
The Makgadikgadi Pans are well known for being the breeding ground of the flamingos (Greater and Lesser). However, other birds species visit the region during the wet season and include, but it is not limited to the African Spoonbill, the Great White Pelican, the Caspian Plover, and the Martial Eagle.
The Chobe National Park
The Chobe National Park, named after the Chobe River is well renowned for birdwatching and features more than 400 species of birds. Among them, there are many species of Eagles and Kingfishers.
Furthermore, the Chobe National Park is the perfect safari destination if you want to mix it up a bit! You can combine game viewing drives along with a birding adventure since the megafauna, and the birds share the river banks.
The first thing that comes to mind at the mention of Tanzania is for most people, Mount Kilimanjaro. However, Tanzania has more than 1,100 bird species, and 23 of those are endemic to Tanzania. So, if you are a bird enthusiast, you ought to consider going to Tanzania for a birding safari.
Among the best birding destinations in Tanzania, the Arusha National Park and Lake Manyara should be at the top of your list!
The Arusha National Park
The Arusha National Park encompasses three areas: Ngurdoto Crater, Momella Lake, and Mount Meru. More than 400 species of birds inhabit the Park.
The best place to observe the birds is Momella Lake. Among the birds living around the lake, you will find the Flamingo, the Pelican, the Heron, the Augur Buzzard, and the Verreaux’s Eagle.
Lake Manyara has an abundant birdlife with more than 400 bird species. The Lake is an ideal destination for bird watching because more than 100 different species of birds can be seen on any given day. Here are some of the birds you might spot around the lake: The Grey Crowned Crane, the Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, and the African Jacana.
Africa is the destination of choice for an unforgettable birdwatching experience. The Dark Continent encloses an impressive population of bird species, mainly due to the presence of a wide range of ecosystems throughout the continent.
South Africa and Uganda are well-renowned countries for birding safari, and the number of bird species living in these countries is quite astonishing!
The Okavango Delta offers a sanctuary during the summertime for many migrant birds, either coming from other regions of Africa or other countries.
Tanzania includes an abundant birdlife with more than 1,100 species of birds and is the most popular destination among tourists for game drives, so why not, as the adage says: “kill two birds with one stone” by combining within the same safari adventure, game viewing drives, and bird watching!
Lastly, to fully appreciate your birding safari experience, you need to get your own binoculars. However, don’t rush out to buy any pair of binoculars just yet! If you want to get the best safari binoculars on the market at an affordable price, read my full review by clicking here.
If you have any questions or would like to share stories about birding, please leave a comment below. I will get back to you promptly.
32 thoughts on “Where to Go for a Birdwatching Safari in Africa?”
I never realized that Africa had such a diverse bird population nor that there was such a thing as a birdwatching safari! It seems that typically when people think of Africa, they think of elephants, lions, and zebras. But you’ve pointed out a whole other portion of wildlife that people tend to overlook. Thank you for this informative article!
(By the way, thank you for reminding me that there’s such a thing as African penguins. Those little guys are adorable!)
As you mentioned, Africa is well known for its significant fauna, but there is much more to Africa!
I don’t know if you have a bucket list. If so, you should put at the top of your list a visit to Boulders Beach to observe the African Penguins because they are well worth a detour to South Africa!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Oh, I love the picture of the Lilac-Breasted Roller. Quite a beautiful bird. I would love to go on a birdwatching expedition on the African continent. I was surprised to learn that there are so many birds species in Africa.
Africa is a destination that I will consider for my next vacation. Which country would you recommend for my first bird watching safari in Africa?
Thank you for sharing!
If you are thinking of going on a birdwatching safari in Africa, all the countries that I talked about in this post are excellent destinations. But, of course, it all depends on which birds you would like to see first!
If you want to see up close the Lilac-breasted Roller, then South Africa and, more specifically, the Kruger National Park is the place to go.
Additionally, since South Africa is home to more than 820 species of birds, you might need more than one vacation to see them all!
That gives me entirely different take on Africa. A continent I only associated with wild game. I never realized there was such an abundance of bird life there or such an enormous variety.
To even think they had penguins.
Whether I ever get to Africa is another thing, but if I do, I would certainly take a look at their bird life.
Thanks Sonia for such a fascinating glimpse into the bird life of Africa.
Africa is the most sought-after destination among tourists for the Big Five animals and unfortunately overlooked as a destination of choice to observe other wildlife such the birds.
If you are a bird enthusiast, you ought to make a detour to Africa for a memorable birdwatching safari!
Wow, I’ve never really thought about a bird watching safari before, especially in Africa. When I think of African safaris I usually think about big cats, elephants and giraffes etc., all the obvious ones, but a bird watching safari would be great too. My husband and I have been talking about a doing a safari trip for a couple of years now, this is definitely something different to consider. Thank you!
Well, Africa has a lot to offer! If you are serious about going on a bird-watching safari in Africa, you must bring a good pair of binoculars! It is a must! If you don’t have binoculars, then you should read my review about safari binoculars by clicking here.
Thanks for stopping by.
Very exotic birds. The lamb vulture looks pretty dangerous though. And I didn’t know they even had penguins in Africa. Is Boulders Beach cold? If not I thought Penguins only lived in cold regions. I always thought African would be such an other worldly place and just magnificent views. I’ve only seen them in video clips but I thought it would be such a beautiful place to visit and have phenomenal experiences.
The penguins are found in the southern hemisphere, not only in Antarctica but on every continent as well! Therefore, contrary to popular belief, penguins are living in tropical climates. For instance, besides the penguins of Boulders Beach in South Africa, you also have the Galapagos penguins in the equator region.
I have never actively participated in bird watching, however when I sit in my garden especially sometimes first thing in the morning, I do love watching the birds in the trees and also their singing – it is very relaxing and enjoyable.
I thoroughly enjoyed your article and am planning on going on Safari to South Africa later this year. I will be flagging your website for more interesting reads on this!
PS: Loved the pic of the penguins… so cute!
If you plan to go to South Africa, don’t forget to bring your camera and binoculars to catch a glimpse of the birds! And you should stop by Boulders Beach to say hi to the penguins!
P.S.: When I first took a look at the picture of the penguins, they reminded me of the famous penguins in the movie Madagascar! 😉
Hi Sonia – What a wonderful post. I really enjoyed the video about the Bearded Vulture.
I have never been to Africa but have heard some interesting stories from people who have. Its definitely on my bucket-list of places to visit.
Wildlife is the heritage of the world and should be preserved for future generations to see.
Thanks for sharing such a wonderful post.
I totally agree with you that wildlife needs to be preserved for the future generation so that they can also enjoy it!
I want to go on a birdwatching safari one day. Most of my bucket list items involves different safaris adventures!
Thanks for stopping by 😉
Now there’s an adventure 🙂
I have to admire the folks who go off to Africa on trips like this because that continent is famously beautiful but also a bit risky. I guess the key to having a safer time is having good contacts. Plenty of people are going there and coming back, so with all that’s there to see it’s clearly a nourishing life experience.
Thanks for the inspiration Sonia – one for the bucket list.
Most of the African continent is, overall, a safe destination for tourists. You just need to do your homework and thoroughly research the countries or places you want to visit before booking your vacation.
You should always check via the State Department website in order to find out if there are any warnings or alerts that have been issued for the countries or places you’re planning to visit before booking your trip, and you should be fine.
A birdwatching safari is definitely on my bucket list too! 🙂
Is it difficult to see any sort of bird in its natural habitat? I understand there are conservation parks and such. But can you really get close enough to easily find and see them quickly?
I was surprised to learn that there are so many species of birds living in South Africa.
A prerequisite to bird watching is patience and knowing where to look! Africa encloses a huge number of bird species. So you shouldn’t have any difficulty in finding them.
Make sure to select an experienced tour guide for your safari adventure, and you will be able to capture great shots of a wide variety of birds in their natural habitat!
What a thorough review of the sites to bird watch in Africa. The idea of having a nature reserve named for a vulture is wonderful! Even though the closest vulture I come in contact with is a turkey vulture, I admire the structure and the social characteristics of the vulture community.
In your opinion, if I wanted to go on safari for both mega fauna and birds, where would I go and how much would a guided safari cost?
Many countries offer the possibility of seeing the big fauna and the birds while on a safari adventure.
For instance, South Africa comes to mind where you can go to the very popular Kruger National Park and see the Big Five (lions, buffalos, elephants, leopards, and rhinos) as well more than 500 bird species. As for the price, keep in mind that it depends on the safari package you select since you can get very affordable safari packages, whereas others fall into the category of luxurious.
If you want to learn more about Safaris in South Africa, take a look at my full review here.
Also, Botswana is another excellent destination if you want to observe wildlife and birds. The Chobe National Park has a wide variety of wildlife and more than 450 bird species. The Okavango Delta is the ideal destination for bird watching and also harbors rich wildlife. Read my full review about a safari in Botswana, there are many safaris available.
Hi Sonia, thanks for posting such a wonderful article. I’m very interested in wildlife and would love to see Africa close up going by the images and write up you present here.
What makes it difficult for me is travelling, I’m not too good, but after reading this, I’m quite determined to one day get out there.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park sounds fantastic, and going by your write up, you could spend a week there alone.
Thanks for sharing this, it is food for thought for a holiday destination.
In fact, not only the iSimangaliso Wetland Park but all of the places that I mentioned, you can easily spend weeks in order to see everything!
I personally think that among the best places to go in Africa, especially if it’s your first trip, is Lake Manyara in Tanzania. Because you can see a lot of different species of birds in one day, as a matter of fact, you can observe up to 100 bird species effortlessly!
Wow, I had no idea that, so many bird species existed in the world let alone just in Africa.
My partner loves bird watching. He’s really good at identifying birds, even from a distance and I always wonder how he does it. I guess it’s cause he loves it. Today he spotted a wedge tailed eagle (or wedgie as he likes to call them) and it was so far away it was really just a silhouette and I wondered how he can tell the difference between a wedgie and sea eagles. But of course he could!
I’ll have to show him your site, maybe we’ll go one day to Africa on a bird watching/surf safari. He likes to refer to himself sometimes as the bird nerd, particularly when he gets his bird book out to ID a bird he’s never seen before. Personally, I think it’s a great hobby to have.
Thanks for all the info on your site.
You know, when most people think of Africa, the first thing that comes to mind is the game drive to see the Big Five animals, not bird watching! Africa is definitely overlooked as a destination for a bird watching experience, which is a pity since Africa is a birding paradise on earth for all the bird lovers out there!
My husband and I have been thinking of going on an African Safari but haven’t been able to decide on time of year or where exactly to do this. I never even though of choosing something where we could see some of these birds.
Kruger National Park sounds like it might be perfect for us. Although I would also love to see some African penguins. I had no idea these even existed.
Thanks for all of this wonderful information.
If you’re thinking about going on a safari in the Kruger National Park, then you should definitely take a look at my Kruger Park Safari Review. Also, if you want to visit more than one place, you could always custom-made your own safari adventure, and it’s quite affordable.
As for the best time to go, it would be between September to March for birdwatching.
Thanks for the additional info Sonia. I will take a look at your post about Kruger National Park.
You’re welcome. I hope it helps!
I didn’t realize that you could see penguins anywhere else besides Antarctica! But I bet there are only certain times of the year that they’re prominent, right? You said that they’re endangered. So is the colony of about 2000 you mentioned the only ones that are on the earth today? Or can you find that species elsewhere? Very interesting!
There are, in fact, 17 species of penguins worldwide. Many species, such as the Emperor Penguin, are found in Antarctica. But other species of penguin can be found in Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and Chile. There are also the Galapagos penguins. As the name suggests, they live on Galapagos Island.
So there are many species of penguins that live in warm conditions, even though we tend to associate penguins with frigid temperatures.
As for the African penguins, it is only found in Africa, and their breeding grounds are Namibia and South Africa. It was estimated in 2012 that there were about 18,700 pairs of penguins living in South Africa, and about 2,000 penguins live in the area of boulders beach.
But still, the African Penguins are endangered. As the population of African Penguins continues to decline, if nothing is done to stop the decline, the African penguin will be extinct within 15 years!
Africa really does seem like the perfect place for birdwatching,and I think it’s pretty cool that you can essentially be in any kind of territory to see it.
Are you from africa or do you visit often? Definitely an interesting animal, birds are, and I bet African birds are much different than the ones in America!
No, I’m from Canada. And yes, some birds are unique to Africa, which can only be seen by going on a birdwatching safari in Africa. However, since Africa is the destination of choice for the migrant birds (birds that escape the cold weather in the northern hemisphere) and spend their summer in Africa… We kind of share some bird species with the African continent!
But, just to see the birds next to an elephant or hippopotamus… This is quite an awesome and unforgettable experience!