The magnificent Shoebill with its shoe-shaped bill, Blue-headed Sunbirds with their kaleidoscope of blue, purple and yellow feathers, the tiny yellow belly of a Sharpe’s Pipit…Africa’s diverse ecosystems are full of birdlife. Whether you’re a twitcher looking for a megatick, or a wildlife enthusiast in general, Africa’s birdlife is especially prolific.
Birding safaris in Uganda and Rwanda
Uganda is possibly our favourite for bird watching. Nestled along the edge of the Congo, Uganda’s landscapes are wonderfully luscious and fertile, painting the perfect environment for birds to flock to. Rivers, lakes, rainforests…everywhere you turn you’re likely to spot a flurry of feathers swooping above.
Birdlife enthusiasts will love ticking the Shoebill stork off their list. Looking as if it should come from the Mesozoic era, the large physique and interesting beak is a curious sight, but one you won’t want to miss. Twitchers are best to venture to Murchison Falls for this incredible encounter, or cruise along Lake Victoria to the Mabamba swamp where they regularly rest.
Queen Elizabeth National Park - an astonishingly verdant national park full of thick forest and glistening wetlands – is the place many birdlife lovers gather to in order to spot a few exciting species. A designated Important Birding Area, this stunning park is home to over 600 species – greater than any other national park in East Africa. The Mweya Peninsula, nestled within the Kazinga Channel and Lake Edward, is home to the likes of Squire-tailed Nightjars and Red-capped Lark, whilst the Ishasha Sector is brimming with incredible Wahlberg’s and African Crowned Eagle perched high in the trees. The Ishasha Wilderness Camp offers classic East African style close-by to this birdlife abundant area, and is ideal for avid birdwatchers.
With 23 endemic birds – making up 90% of the Albertine Rift endemics – Bwindi National Park is a popular hotspot for twitchers looking for rare megaticks. There are 14 bird species found only in this National Park, from bottle green African Green Broadbills with their peculiar rounded head to Fraser’s Eagle Owls with tufty ears and striped feathers, making it a twitcher’s paradise. Buhoma Lodge is the perfect spot to relax in between bird watching – the rustic open-air veranda overlooks the lush canopies filled with pretty birdlife.
Nestled next to Uganda, Rwanda’s sceneries are just as jaw-dropping. Recognised as an Important Birding Area, the thick rainforests and peaceful lakes are home to over 600 species of bird, including the little-known Albertine owlet, Collared Apalis, and Grauer’s Warblers. Nyungwe Forest Reserve’s misty mountains shrouded with dense forest are an oasis for bird lovers – with 24 species endemic to its section of the Rift Valley, this is your chance to spot one-of-a-kind birdlife.
Botswana’s bountiful birdlife
Though not home to endemic birds, Botswana’s luxuriant wetlands are fantastic to explore, especially for those looking to tick a variety of water birds off their list.
The Okavango Delta’s mix of fruitful marshlands and seasonally flooded plains is a haven for birds, especially around October time after the rains have created a sodden landscape. Venture to the Okavango Delta at this time and you’re likely to spot an elegant Slaty Egret gliding over the waters, or a gorgeous Lesser Jacana expertly walking across the marshes with its spectacularly long feet. Jao Camp is a brilliant choice for staying in the Okavango Delta – the camp itself boasts incredible sightings of Yellow-billed and Woolly-necked Storks, Black Egret, Painted Snipe, and Pel’s Fishing Owl.
Chobe National Park may be renowned for its large population of elephants, but the birdlife here is just as spectacular, too. Travel to this striking National Park between October and March and there’ll be over 450 species of birds to look out for, including Crested Guinea fowl with their black Mohican-like crest, Saddle-billed Stork with bright orange and yellow beaks, and majestic Brown Snake-Eagle. A cruise along the Chobe River is our favourite recommendation for avid birders – a flutter of feathers can usually be seen perched in the trees or drinking from the river’s edge. Chobe Under Canvas, a classic safari camp nestled right by the river, is one of the best for bird watching activities. This rustic camp certainly brings you back to nature, but this is perhaps the best way to see the area’s wildlife.
Bird watching in Kenya
Whilst the green season is fantastic elsewhere in Africa, if you’re hoping to see a flurry of fuchsia pink flamingos you’re best visiting Lake Nakuru in the drier months of January and February. Higher levels of rainfall lead to less algae, and so these elegant creatures much prefer to flock to this soda lake when the water is shallow, food is plentiful, and the landscapes are dry.
Meanwhile, Kenya’s diverse sceneries are home to the second highest number of species in Africa, and you’ll find a variety all year round. Twitchers with a myriad of wallows, terns and waders on their list should endeavour to visit between October and February, whilst those searching for weavers and bishops will love travelling through the country between June and July.
As for where to see Kenya’s birdlife, the Masai Mara’s big five are regularly greeted with small yet colourful Rosy-throated Longclaws and the long tails of Magpie Shrikes, whilst Samburu’s rare Shining Sunbird is certainly one of the best megaticks to find. A collection of endemic birds makes Kenya a sanctuary for avid birdwatchers, including the Clarke’s Weaver and William’s Lark.
But where should you stay to spot Kenya’s most impressive birds? Elsa’s Kopje Meru has over 300 recorded bird species swooping over its roof, whilst Kicheche Valley Camp is eagerly visited by rare Bush Pipits washing in the nearby spring. For a birding safari you won’t forget, Porini Amboseli’s birding guide Wilson ole Kasaine is one of the best in Africa, and will endeavour to help you find some of the 200 species in the surrounding Selenkay Conservancy.
Tanzania’s prolific birdlife
With over 1000 species of bird, Tanzania is not one to be missed when creating your perfect birdwatching itinerary. Ruaha National Park has over 450 of these, offering some of the best bird watching experiences between November and March. You’ll be sure to spot the vibrant feathers of Violet-crested Turacos and Green-wood hoopoes on your journey, but bird watching experts should be on the look-out for the wonderful endemic birds that reside here, including the Ashy Starling and Yellow-collared Lovebird.
Those looking for truly unique birds will relish in Tarangire’s luscious landscapes, home to the world’s largest bird – the Stocking-thighed Ostrich, and the world’s heaviest flying bird – the Kori Bustard. After the excitement of spotting these impressive creatures, Oliver Camp’s rustic mess tent is the ideal spot to sit back, relax, and watch out for stunning starlings, morning thrushes and flycatchers darting through the sky.
Birding in South Africa
Brimming with over 360 species of bird, Phinda Private Game Reserve has fast become one of our favourite spots for bird watching in South Africa. Home to the likes of small and plump African Broadbills and Neergaard’s Sunbirds with their colourful green, purple and red feathers, this luscious conservancy offers a good chance of seeing South Africa’s greats. Though there are no specific birding safaris here, andBeyond Phinda Homestead offers your own private ranger and tracker who will endeavour to find beautiful birds for you.
Translated from Xhosa as ‘Place of the Blue Crane’, Kwandwe Private Game Reserve is another haven for twitchers, abundant in spectacular yet endangered species. From Black Stork and Stanley’s Bustards, to the incredible Blue Crane with its duck-egg blue feathers, this is your chance to get a few rare species ticked off your list. Stay close to the action at Ecca Lodge, a wonderful lodge for the young at heart.
Kruger National Park is astonishingly rich in wildlife, so much so that wherever you stay you’ll be greeted with striking bird sightings. Whilst rangers do sometimes specialise in flora and fauna, none specifically focus on birding. Nevertheless, embark on a game drive and you’ll have the chance to spot a myriad of endangered species, including Saddle-billed Storks, Martial Eagle, and Grey-headed Parrot.
The best way to bird watch in Africa
Of course, plenty of conservancies and lodges offer specific birding programmes - however, it’s also possible to bird watch anywhere in the continent. Splash out on your own private vehicle and guide and you’ll enjoy a truly personalised birding experience – your ranger can focus solely on birding, and you can spend as long as you like searching for the megaticks.