Top 5 birding locations in Africa

Birds are not just for birders. They are a fascinating and diverse group of animals that often don’t get the attention they deserve compared with Africa’s mammals. However, once you take the time to look at some of the smaller animals while you’re on safari, you come to realise the importance of birds, as they capture your attention with their colours, diversity, and behaviours.

Ngorongoro Highlands, Tanzania

The Ngorongoro Highlands area is a Mecca in Africa for birding. The main reason for this is the huge diversity within over 500 bird species that can be found around here. This region has many different habitats, encompassing high-altitude forest, dry savanna, soda lakes, grasslands, and rocky escarpments. Each of these habitats contains its own compliment of special birds, and as this high(er)-altitude oasis is fairly isolated in Northern Tanzania it contains a good amount of endemic and near-endemic species (endemic species are those found only in a specific area). The flamingos populating Lake Magadi (the large lake on the crater floor) are a real draw for birders. Couple these with the higher-altitude specials, and you have an unmissable stop-off for serious birders and a great introduction to the wonders of birding to anyone interested in our natural world.

Notable mention: (Jackson’s widowbird, lesser flamingo, Hildebrandt’s francolin, Tacazze sunbird): 500+ species

The Serengeti ecosystem, Tanzania 

The Serengeti ecosystem is vast and full of life. With an enviable total number of bird species that surpasses 500, this incredible park is high on the list for many people with even a passing interest in birds. And even if you are not a birder, by the end of a trip to the Serengeti you will be captivated by the array of colours and behaviours on show! There are always birds to see here, so during the quieter periods of a game drive you can have fun focusing on the smaller things. Most top guides will tell you that they really enjoy observing the diverse birdlife. Around the Serengeti, top species to look for include grey-crested helmet-shrike (very localised populations), black-bellied bustard (the champagne bird) with its spectacular courtship displays, and Fischer’s lovebird (a strikingly colourful small parrot threatened by the pet trade).

Notable mention: (rufous-tailed weaver, silverbird, grey-crested helmet-shrike, Egyptian vulture, ashy starling, Fischer’s lovebird): 500+ species

Okavango Delta, Botswana

The Okavango Delta is one of Africa’s largest wetland ecosystems. Its location within the Kalahari Desert makes this swampland just as much of a draw to birds as is it to the larger animals. The crossover of habitats between arid semi-desert and lush swampland has resulted in over 400 bird species being recorded here. Going on boat trips through the papyrus channels with African fish eagles calling all around while on the search for the elusive Pel’s fishing owl is an unforgettable experience for self-proclaimed birders and non-birders alike! Many of the small islands are home to some of the smaller, colourful birds like the firefinches and waxbills. Out on the water, the African pygmy goose (actually a duck) and two jacana species make their homes amongst the waterlilies, providing some fantastic photograph opportunities.

Notable mention: (rosy-throated longclaw, Pel’s fishing owl, wattled crane, African pygmy goose, brown firefinch): 400+ species

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is one of the more difficult places to see birds (as the name suggests), but the rewards are there if you persevere. Dense rainforest vegetation usually conceals the often bright birds that inhabit it – these species are bright to combat the low light levels for display purposes. However, going on safari around the edges of Bwindi provides opportunities for some good viewing of some of these special birds. The Albertine Rift is a branch of the Great Rift Valley that’s characterised by some isolated mountainous areas. These offer some unique habitats for birds and, as a result, there are 25 species of bird endemic to the Albertine Rift. For anyone interested in indulging their other senses, the bird calls that echo around the forest are a symphony for the ears. They’re the soundtrack to Africa.

Notable mention: (African broadbill, black bee-eater, Ruwenzori apalis, blue-headed sunbird): 350+ species

Zululand, South Africa

South Africa is one of the birding hotspots of the world, containing over 1,000 species in total – that’s around 10 per cent of the world’s bird species! Zululand, on the north-eastern corner of the South African coastline, offers the chance of seeing around a third of SA’s bird species. The Great Kruger area receives an honourable mention, as there are even more bird species on offer here, but Zululand contains some really special and interesting birds. The aptly named gorgeous bush-shrike, with its bright red throat and green-and-yellow body, is a real birding treat. The pink-throated twinspot is a tiny bird that spends most of its time hiding in bushes, but it is quite sought after in the birding world. And the forests of Zululand are home to Africa’s monkey-hunting crowned eagle, one of the fiercest predators of the sky that has well earned the nickname ‘the flying leopard’.

Notable mention: (crested francolin, gorgeous bush-shrike, harlequin quail, pink-throated twinspot, broad-billed roller): 340+ species

Julian Carter-Manning is a Co-founder and MD at Yellow Zebra Safaris. Yellow Zebra Safaris is an award-winning luxury and adventure travel company specialising in ‘Safari Africa’.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

Comments (4)

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  1. Emiliano says:

    I didn’t know these popular spots for safari are also great places for bird watching. I knew there would be birds but I never would’ve thought that there would be like hundreds of species. Africa’s biosphere and vast lands are truly amazing.

  2. Julian Carter-Manning says:

    Hi Emiliano,

    Africa is very diverse and all too often, birds and the smaller things are overlooked. The sheer number of different species is awe-inspiring, and it’s good fun to keep a list of the different species you have seen on your trip!

  3. Brian says:

    Are any measures being taken to ensure that the population numbers of these birds will remain healthy for future generations? If I visit is there any way I can contribute to conservation? Do visitors make donations to preserving the habitats? Are there any significant threats for these birds such as deforestation or use of pesticides? They are beautiful but I worry that once again mankind may be threatening other species survival.

  4. Julian Carter-Manning says:

    Hi Brian,

    You have hit upon a very important issue for anyone involved in safaris/ conservation. There are measures being taken to ensure population numbers remain sustainable, mainly through the preservation of habitat (via the designation & anti-poaching efforts in game reserves & national parks) as deforestation & habitat destruction are the biggest threat to birds and all wild animals in Africa. There is a great NGO called Birdlife international Africa. They are heavily invested in bird conservation in Africa.

    If you would like, you can always give Yellow Zebra Safaris a call and speak to one of our birding experts for more information about birding safaris & how they contribute to sustainability for the future.

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