Bird Watching in South Africa

South Africa’s dense forests, scrubby bushveld, rugged mountain ranges, plunging valleys, endless savannahs, and long stretches of coastline share one common trait; they all provide gorgeous habitats for an inordinate variety of colourful birds. These birds are as varied and diverse as the people that spend hours watching them, and promise exquisite displays and irresistible antics as they enjoy the unspoilt loveliness of South Africa.

Did you know? South Africa has an established avi-tourism industry that invites birding enthusiasts from all over the world to indulge in top-class bird-watching.

The grasslands and wetlands of South Africa are prime areas for bird watchers to catch a glimpse of some endangered bird species like the Blue Crane and the African Black Oystercatcher. Whilst the southwestern interior regions of South Africa are known for their high density of birds per square kilometer, spectacular bird watching can be experienced almost anywhere in the country.

Cape Town is home to the World of Birds in Hout Bay. Here, more than 3 000 birds of 400 different species can be observed in over 100 different landscaped aviaries. Visitors are invited to walk through the open aviaries, listening to the unique calls, and taking in the vivid colours of the feathered residents. This sanctuary is set at the foot of the Twelve Apostles Mountain Range and is a fantastic must-see for birding enthusiasts.

Did you know? An impressive 50 avian species can only be found in South Africa, giving birders a prime opportunity to spot something very special.

Along the Cape west coast of South Africa is a small fishing town called Lamberts Bay. About 60 metres off its coast is the northernmost seabird island in South Africa. A special bird hide was built here and affords birders the chance to view the Cape Gannets through one-way glass. The African Penguin, of which there are sadly only 50 breeding pairs left, is also found here.

The extensive coastline and a few scenic lagoons (such as in Knysna and Langebaan) mean that visitors get to spot an array of coastal and marine bird species. These include albatrosses, gulls, shearwaters, storm petrels, and skuas.

Along the east coast of South Africa in KwaZulu Natal, you’ll find the Tembe Elephant Park. Don’t let the name of this game reserve fool you - there’s over 340 varieties of birdlife to be seen here. Birding enthusiasts will be delighted to know that even rarely seen bird species like the Rudd’s apalis, the Natal Nightjar and the Woodwards batis can be seen here.

For diehard bird watching enthusiasts that want to escape commercial birding spots and prefer an authentic bush experience, there are plenty of ideal bird watching spots in South Africa. Certain reserves offer tailored bird watching trips into the bush, grasslands and wetlands for guests to see the widest variety of birds. Some of the best game reserves and parks in which to see incredible birds is the Kruger National Park, Kariega Game Reserve, iSimangaliso Wetland Park and De Hoop Nature Reserve.

For adventurers in search of utter tranquillity, hiking into the Drakensberg with a sleeping bag and a tent is the answer. Here, bird watchers should look out for the Jackal Buzzard, Drakensburg rock-jumper, Drakensberg siskin, Cape eagle-owl, black-crowned night heron, bearded vulture, African fish eagle and martial eagle, as they can be seen swooping from dizzying heights.

For the avid birding enthusiast, who’s perhaps not quite fit enough to hike into the mountains, the quaint town of Hogsback in the Eastern Cape is an ideal setting for some splendid bird watching. Easy contour paths through the forest will bring you close to such beautiful birds as the Forest Canary, Cinnamon Dove, the Knysna Lourie and the Forest Weaver. If you’re around during the dawn and dusk times, you might even be lucky enough to spot the rare Cape Parrot flying overhead.

South Africa is rich in diversity. Whether man-made bird hides near watering holes, spacious aviaries at sanctuaries, dense forests, or vast expanses of the open African sky; there certainly is no shortage of world-class bird watching, set against breath-taking vistas.

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Search for bird watching destinations and bird sanctuaries or visit our growing bird life section to find out more about birdlife in South Africa.

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