Birding in Africa: What to Expect from a Birdwatching Safari

Birding in Africa is not just a hobby; it’s an adventure, a journey into the heart of the wild where every flutter of wings and every song from the treetops tells a story. The continent is a birder’s paradise, home to more than 2,500 species of birds, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth. From the savannas and rainforests to the wetlands and mountains, Africa’s diverse ecosystems offer a unique and exhilarating birdwatching experience.

What to Expect from Birding in Africa

Embarking on an African birding safari is a journey into the vibrant heart of the continent’s natural beauty, where every moment offers the potential for discovery and wonder. Here’s a glimpse into what you can expect from an extraordinary Africa birding adventure:

Diverse Birdlife

Africa is renowned for its incredible avian diversity, with over 2,500 bird species spread across its varied landscapes. From the iconic African fish eagle and the striking lilac-breasted roller to elusive endemics like the shoebill, birders can expect to encounter a vast array of species. Whether you’re in lush rainforests, expansive savannas, serene wetlands, or rugged mountains, the birdlife is as diverse as the environments themselves.

Spectacular Landscapes

Birding safaris often take you through some of Africa’s most breathtaking landscapes. Picture yourself exploring the open plains of the Serengeti, the intricate waterways of the Okavango Delta, the dense forests of Bwindi, or the dramatic cliffs of the Drakensberg. Each location not only offers unique birdwatching opportunities but also immerses you in the stunning natural beauty that Africa is famous for.

Expert Guidance

Most birding safaris are led by experienced guides who are not only experts in bird identification but also deeply knowledgeable about the local ecosystems and wildlife. Their expertise concerning birding in Africa enhances the experience, helping you spot and identify birds you might miss on your own and providing fascinating insights into bird behavior and habitat.

Unique Birding Moments

Expect to experience unforgettable birding moments, such as:

  • Morning Chorus: Early morning excursions when the air is filled with the songs of a multitude of birds greeting the new day.
  • Special Sightings: The thrill of spotting rare or endemic species, often after patient tracking and listening.
  • Migratory Spectacles: Witnessing the awe-inspiring sight of large flocks of migratory birds, such as flamingos or pelicans, creating a dynamic display.

Wildlife Encounters

While the focus is on birds, a birding safari in Africa often includes sightings of other wildlife. It’s not uncommon to come across elephants, lions, giraffes, leopards, rhinos and various antelope species as you explore different habitats. These encounters add an extra layer of excitement to the safari, making it a well-rounded wildlife adventure.

Comfortable Accommodations

Accommodations on a birding safari range from rustic campsites to luxurious lodges, often located in prime birding areas. Many Africa birding lodges and camps offer amenities like guided walks, observation decks, and even bird feeders to attract local species, providing birdwatching opportunities right at your doorstep.

Cultural Experiences

In addition to birding, you might have opportunities to engage with local communities and learn about their traditions and way of life. Many safaris include visits to villages or cultural sites, enriching your understanding of the region’s human and natural history.

Photographic Opportunities

Africa’s birdlife and landscapes offer incredible photographic opportunities. Whether you’re an amateur photographer or a seasoned pro, you’ll find plenty of chances to capture stunning images of birds in their natural habitats. The play of light at dawn and dusk, combined with the vibrant plumage of many African birds, makes for spectacular photography.

The Big Five of Africa Birding

Just as Africa is known for its Big Five mammals, it also boasts a Big Five of birding in Africa: the ostrich, the shoebill, the African fish eagle, the marabou stork, and the southern ground hornbill. Each of these birds embodies the grandeur and mystery of Africa’s avian world.

The Ostrich

Birding in Africa - Ostrich

The world’s largest bird, the ostrich, roams the open plains and deserts, its powerful legs and distinctive stride a sight to behold. Watching a group of ostriches sprint across the savanna is a quintessential African experience.

The Shoebill Stork

Birding in Africa - the Shoebill Stork

Often called the “whale-headed stork,” the shoebill is one of Africa’s most enigmatic birds. Found in the swamps of central Africa, this prehistoric-looking bird with its massive bill is a bucket-list species for many birders.

The African Fish Eagle

Birding in Africa - African Fish Eagle

With its piercing call echoing over the waterways and lakes, the African fish eagle is the symbol of wild Africa. Watching this majestic bird dive for fish is a moment of pure excitement and awe.

The Southern Ground Hornbill

Birding in Africa - Southern Ground Hornbill

These large, charismatic birds with their striking red facial skin are often seen striding through the grasslands. Their deep, booming calls resonate through the air, marking their territory and presence.

The Marabou Stork

Birding in Africa - Marabou Stork

Known as the “undertaker bird,” the marabou stork is a large, somewhat ungainly bird often seen scavenging alongside vultures. Its presence is a reminder of nature’s recycling process and the intricate web of life.

Top Destinations for Birding in Africa

  • Kruger National Park, South Africa: One of the largest game reserves in Africa, Kruger is not just for big game enthusiasts. The park is a haven for birdwatchers, with over 500 species recorded. From the vibrant lilac-breasted roller to the elusive Pel’s fishing owl, Kruger offers endless birding opportunities.
  • Maasai Mara, Kenya: Famous for its annual wildebeest migration, the Maasai Mara is also a birding hotspot. The Mara River is home to a variety of waterfowl, while the savanna and acacia woodlands support an array of raptors, songbirds, and more.
  • Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda: While known for its mountain gorillas, Bwindi is also a birder’s paradise. The forest is home to numerous Albertine Rift endemics, such as the African green broadbill and the Grauer’s warbler. Read more about birdwatching spots in Uganda.
  • Okavango Delta, Botswana: This vast inland delta is a labyrinth of waterways and islands, creating a diverse habitat for birds. The Delta is particularly renowned for its waders and kingfishers, making it a must-visit for any birder.
  • Etosha National Park, Namibia: Known for its salt pans and wildlife, Etosha is also a key birding destination. The pans attract large flocks of flamingos and other water birds, while the surrounding savannas are alive with species like the secretary bird and Kori bustard.
  • Serengeti National Park, Tanzania: Beyond the iconic wildebeest migration, the Serengeti offers incredible birding opportunities. Look out for the Kori bustard, the world’s heaviest flying bird, and the resplendent secretary bird, known for its snake-hunting prowess.
  • Cape Coast, Ghana: The coastal lagoons and wetlands of Ghana are perfect for observing migratory species. Kakum National Park’s canopy walkway provides a bird’s-eye view of the forest dwellers.

Africa Birding: Tips for a Successful Birdwatching Safari

  • Preparation: Bring a good pair of binoculars, a field guide specific to African birds, and a reliable camera.
  • Guides: Local guides are invaluable for their expertise and knowledge of the best birding spots in Africa.
  • Timing: Early mornings and late afternoons are typically the best times for bird watching.
  • Respect: Always maintain a respectful distance from birds and their habitats to avoid disturbance while birding in Africa.

When to Go Birding in Africa?

Southern Africa

Best Time: November to April

  • Highlights: This period coincides with the rainy season, which is ideal for birding. Migratory birds from Europe and Asia arrive, and resident birds are in their breeding plumage.
  • Top Locations: Kruger National Park (South Africa), Okavango Delta (Botswana), and Etosha National Park (Namibia).
  • Key Species: Carmine bee-eater, African fish eagle, southern ground hornbill.

East Africa

Best Time: November to March and June to October

  • Highlights: November to March sees many Palearctic migrants arriving. June to October is the dry season, making it easier to spot birds as they congregate around water sources.
  • Top Locations: Serengeti National Park (Tanzania), Maasai Mara (Kenya), and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (Uganda).
  • Key Species: Flamingos in Rift Valley lakes, African green broadbill, Kori bustard and Shoebill.

West Africa

Best Time: November to April

  • Highlights: The dry season offers the best visibility and access to birding sites, with many migratory species present.
  • Top Locations: Mole National Park (Ghana), Ankasa Conservation Area (Ghana), and Cross River National Park (Nigeria).
  • Key Species: Egyptian plover, white-throated blue swallow, grey parrot.

Central Africa

Best Time: December to February and June to September

  • Highlights: December to February is the short dry season, while June to September is the long dry season, providing good conditions for birding.
  • Top Locations: Dzanga-Sangha Reserve (Central African Republic), Virunga National Park (DR Congo), and Odzala-Kokoua National Park (Republic of Congo).
  • Key Species: Congo peafowl, African grey parrot, green-breasted pitta.

North Africa

Best Time: February to May and September to November

  • Highlights: Spring and autumn are the best times, coinciding with migration periods when many birds pass through or arrive to breed.
  • Top Locations: Souss-Massa National Park (Morocco), Lake Qarun Protected Area (Egypt), and Djebel Babor (Algeria).
  • Key Species: Northern bald ibis, desert sparrow, Egyptian vulture.

Where to Stay While Birding in Africa?

Kenya

Maasai Mara National Reserve

  • Governors’ Camp: Offers a variety of bird species with the added attraction of big game.
  • Little Governors’ Camp: Known for its excellent birding and guided nature walks.

Lake Nakuru

  • Sarova Lion Hill Lodge: Overlooks Lake Nakuru and offers birding opportunities right from the lodge.

Uganda

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

  • Buhoma Lodge: Ideal for birding with over 350 species in the area.
  • Mahogany Springs Lodge: Located on the banks of the Munyanga River, offering great birding opportunities.

Tanzania

Serengeti National Park

  • Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge: Offers good birding within the lodge grounds and surrounding areas.
  • Kubu Kubu Tented Lodge: Combines excellent birding with luxury accommodations.

Ngorongoro Crater

  • Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge: Ideal for birding within the crater and surrounding highlands.

South Africa

Kruger National Park

  • Singita Lebombo Lodge: Known for its luxurious accommodation and excellent birding.
  • Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge: Provides a unique birding experience with professional guides.

KwaZulu-Natal (iSimangaliso Wetland Park)

  • Thanda Safari Lodge: Offers diverse birdlife with a range of habitats from wetlands to forests.
  • Phinda Private Game Reserve: Known for its birding safaris and diverse ecosystems.

Botswana

Okavango Delta

  • Mombo Camp: Located in a prime area for birding, with both water and land species.
  • Vumbura Plains Camp: Offers excellent birding and access to varied habitats.

Chobe National Park

  • Chobe Game Lodge: Known for its birding opportunities along the Chobe River.
  • Savute Safari Lodge: Offers a unique birding experience in the Savute Marsh.

Namibia

Etosha National Park

  • Onguma The Fort: Provides excellent birding within the private reserve and nearby park.
  • Mushara Outpost: Located close to Etosha’s eastern gate, offering great birding activities.

Birding in Africa. A Conclusion

Birding in Africa is more than just a hobby; it’s an immersive experience that connects you with nature and the continent’s incredible wildlife. Whether you’re trekking through tropical forests, navigating the waterways of a delta, or scanning the skies above a savanna, Africa promises a birding adventure filled with wonder and excitement. So, grab your binoculars, don your adventure hat, and set out to discover the avian treasures of Africa. The birds are waiting!

RELATED POSTS

Customize your safari

Create your own safari experience with a bespoke itinerary.

Talk to us