Birds of South Africa

© Roger de la Harpe
Lilac Breasted Roller.

Bird Mania

Nothing shouts 'spring' louder than a frenzied colony of weaverbirds setting up house across the grasslands and savanna of South Africa. The Cape weavers are the most manic of all the weaverbirds. But it's not just the nest building that reminds us of a new season, it's the emergence of dazzling breeding plumages, as seen in widowbirds, bishops, whydahs and, yes, those noisy, busy weavers. When they are not breeding, the males look very much like their drab brown partners, but they spruce themselves up come mating season to impress the females, who get to choose a nest and breeding mate. Watch out for the desperate gleam in a male weaver's eye as he is made to destroy a substandard nest…

The best thing about watching birds is that you can do it just about anywhere. provides informative, educational content on many South African bird species that ornithologists and bird-watchers would enjoy, in all 11 official languages.

Africa's Birds

Southern Africa has one of the most diverse ranges of bird species in the world. The different climates, vegetation types, and habitat reflect greatly on the more than 900 species of birds in Southern Africa....more

African Black Oystercatcher

The adult oystercatcher is entirely black with bright red eyes surrounded by an orange ring. The wedge-like orange-tipped red bill is somewhat longer than the head and the mandibles do not meet at the tip....more

African Fish Eagle

In South Africa, the African fish eagle is often seen in the Kruger National Park. It is widespread in Southern Africa and particularly common in and around some of the Rift Valley lakes....more

African Green Pigeon

They are usually gregarious and found in small groups. African green-pigeons forage in trees, flap their wings to keep their balance and often hang upside down....more

African Jacana

The African jacana is around 30 cm in length, with the female being up to double the size of the male....more

African Purple Swamphen

The African swamphen is around the size of a chicken, 43 cm. It has bright purple plumage, with a bronze-green /blue back and scapulars (shoulder feathers) the frontal shield and bill is red....more

African Pygmy Kingfisher

The African pygmy kingfisher is an intra-African migrant and can be found in South Africa between September and March, the adults and juveniles migrate north in March....more

Bat Hawk

The bat hawk only hunts for about half an hour each day in Africa, but longer in the East, where the prey is swiftlets rather than bats....more

Bateleur Eagle

The bateleur eagle is the most famous of the snake eagles. Bateleur is French for ‘tightrope-walker’. This name was probably chosen because of its distinctive aerial acrobatics....more

Bee-Eaters of South Africa

There are nine species of bee-eaters found in South Africa, from the commonly found white-fronted bee-eater to the rare vagrant, the Bohms bee-eater....more

Bird Monogamy

Birds have to catch food and feed their chicks directly as they have no internal source of nourishment like the mammary glands of mammals....more

Bird Song

When a bird wishes to vocalize, it contracts its lungs sending a jet of air through the syrinx and by vibrating the fleshy membranes it controls the pitch and tone of the sound....more

Birds: Food and Feeding

Because eating seeds are much like eating dry biscuits without any milk, doves are very water dependent and can be found in droves at waterholes early morning and late afternoon....more

Black Headed Oriole

The adult black-headed oriole is a striking bright yellow colour with a distinctive black head. Its long, strong bill is good at devouring most insects, with caterpillars, locusts and beetles all being fair game....more

Black Heron

The black heron is a medium-sized heron, at 55 cm in length. It is a very dark grey to black, with black plumage, black legs, black bill and yellow legs....more

Black Shouldered Kite

The black-shouldered kite is a small but distinctive bird of prey with grey and white plumage and a black shoulder patch....more

Black Stork

At this time the immature black storks are noisy and aggressive, especially when somebody approaches the nest. A baby black stork is covered with white down and has a yellowish or yellowish-orange beak....more

Brown Headed Parrot

The brown-headed parrot is a small (22-25 cm) green parrot with a brownish-grey head. The under wing coverts are yellow which unfortunately can only be seen properly when in flight....more

Burchell's Coucal

The Burchell’s coucal is a medium-sized bird with a length of around 41 cm. The back and wings are rufous brown, with white underparts....more

Cape Cormorant

In South Africa the Cape cormorant is a winter visitor to the KwaZulu-Natal coast. It is an endemic resident along the entire south-western Cape coast and up to 50 km out to sea....more

Cape Crow

The Cape crow is around 50 cm in length. This crow is black throughout. The head, bill, legs, feathers and eyes are black. This is the only glossy black crow in the region....more

Cape Gannet

The adult Cape gannet is an unmistakable, large black and white seabird with a yellow head and hind neck. It has distinctive black lines on the bill and face and a long black line down the centre of the throat...more

Cape Robin-chat

The Cape robin-chat has an orange breast and grey belly. The bird has a white eyebrow and a black band across the face....more

Cape Sparrow

The Cape sparrow is a small bird of 15 cm. Male and female birds differ slightly in appearance....more

Cape Wagtail

Cape wagtails can usually be found near freshwater or coastal lagoons but has also adapted to city parks and gardens of South Africa....more

Caspian Tern

The Caspian tern is the largest tern in South Africa. It has a white body, black cap on the head and a massive red bill. Immature birds are distinguishable from the adults by the brownish mottling on the back....more

Collective Feasting of Birds

Birds of different species of birds, frequently associate in mixed feeding parties and are found together in what is known as a ‘bird party’....more


Cormorants are often referred to as sea crows because of their black coloration. The family name, Phalacrocoracidae, means bald raven in Greek. Cormorants appear black but they are in fact a variety of dark...more

Crested Barbet

Crested barbets are common in South Africa. They are also found in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana and Northern Namibia....more

Crowned Cormorant

The crowned cormorant prefers rocky coastlines, coastal islands and occasionally lagoons....more

Damara Tern

The Damara tern breeds near Table Bay in South Africa, beyond Rocky Point right up to the Cunene River and also the Namibian coast. The nest is a plain scrape in dune-slacks and gravel plains 1 - 5 km from the sea....more

Feather Functions

Birds have feathers to enable them to fly, another feature virtually unique to them amongst warm-blooded creatures (except bats)....more

Giant Kingfisher

The giant kingfisher is the biggest of the kingfishers, with an average length of 44 cm, and dimorphic in colouration....more

Goliath Heron

Standing at 1.43 m and with a wingspan of around 2 m, the Goliath heron is the world’s largest heron....more

Greater Flamingo

The greater flamingo is an easily recognised slender large bird, up to 1.5 m tall. It has a pale pink to white plumage, with a long neck and long pink legs....more

Green-backed Heron

The green-backed heron is one of the smaller herons at around 45 cm in length. The green-backed heron has a greenish black back with distinctive grey underparts....more

Grey Go-away Bird

The grey go-away bird is a uniform all grey bird with a shaggy crest. The legs, feet and bill are black....more

Grey Headed Kingfisher

This grey-headed kingfisher will remain motionless on a perch for extended periods waiting for any sign of movement, then bobs its head before diving onto its prey....more

Grey Heron

The grey heron is a tall bird, standing around 1 m tall, but a real lightweight for its size, weighing in at between 1 and 2 kgs....more

Greyheaded Gull

The breeding adult grey-headed gull have an all-grey hood. The non-breeding gull’s head is white with a grey smudge on the ear coverts. The eyes are pale yellow and the bill and legs a bright red. The immature gull...more

Hartlaub's Gull

The Hartlaub’s gull is a white gull, measuring 38 cm, with grey upper wings and back. It has dark wing tips. It has a dark red bill and legs....more

Hawk Eagle

The African hawk eagle is a medium to large eagle with a blackish upperpart. It is white below but heavily streaked with black, except on the legs. The trailing edge of the underwing is broadly black...more

Helmeted Guineafowl

Of all the birds in Southern Africa, the helmeted guineafowl is surely one of the most iconic, unmistakable for its bony bare casque or ‘helmet’ on its head, its red wattles and flecked plumage....more

Kelp Gull

The adult kelp gull is white with black upperparts and wings. The bill is bright yellow with a red spot near the tip and the eyes are dark brown with an orange eye ring. The feet are a whitish-yellow....more


Kingfishers are some of the most brilliantly coloured birds in South Africa. Many of them have strident voices and dramatic courtship displays....more

Knysna Turaco

Knysna Turaco or commonly known in South Africa as a Knysna Lourie or in Afrikaans as the Knysna loerie....more

Kori Bustard

The kori bustard is Africa’s heaviest flying bird and can weigh up to 19 kg. It is a light brown to grey ground-dwelling bird with a long neck. The underparts are buff coloured with dark brown vermiculations...more

Lesser Flamingo

The lesser flamingo is smaller than the greater flamingo, up to 1.2 m tall, it has the same slender build as the greater flamingo....more

Lilac Breasted Roller

The average lilac-breasted roller is 36-38 cm. The green head is large, the neck is short, the greenish-yellow legs are rather short and the feet are small....more

Long-crested Eagle

The long-crested eagle is an eagle that prefers the forest edge and moist woodland with adjacent marshes, grassland and rivers....more

Malachite Kingfisher

The malachite has a short crest on its head and there are white patches on the throat and the back of the neck. Legs are red....more

Marabou Stork

The marabou stork is a large, unusual looking bird and reaches a height of 1.5 metres with a wingspan of 2.6 m. It is a heavy-bodied stork with a massive conical bill. Marabous are bald-headed, dull...more

Martial Eagle

The martial eagle is the largest of the African eagles. They are incredibly powerful and reputedly have enough power in one foot to break a man’s arm or knock an adult man off his feet. This eagle weighs almost 6.5 kg...more


The ostrich is a member of a group of birds known as Ratites. They are flightless birds without a keel to their breastbone. They are very fast runners and can maintain an average speed of 50 km/h....more

Pearl Spotted Owl

Pearl-spotted owls are one of Southern Africa’s smallest owls. They are only 18–19 cm and do not have ‘ear’ tufts. They have cinnamon brown heads with off-white facial disks. The upper parts are brown with numerous...more

Pied Crow

Both sexes are alike with a black head, neck and upper breast. The wings and tail are uniform black. The pied crow has a white collar on its upper mantle, extending to the breast and sides of the body....more

Pied Kingfisher

The pied kingfisher is gregarious and uses co-operative breeders, with the helpers usually being male offspring....more

Purple Heron

The purple heron is a tall bird, standing around 85 m tall, but light for its size, weighing in at between 0.5 and 1 kgs....more

Purple Roller

The purple roller is a large stocky roller with a length of 35–40 cm and a weight of 160 g. The sexes look alike. From a distance or in poor light it appears a plain dark brown. It has a broad pale supercilium (eyebrow)...more

Red-knobbed Coot

The red-knobbed coot has all black plumage with a white bill and frontal shield. 2 red knobs are found on the head, at the top of the shield....more

Scops Owl

It is larger than the African scops owl (Otus senegalensis) and has orange not yellow eyes. This scops owl is mostly resident throughout most of Africa south of the Sahara....more

Secretary Bird

The secretary bird is a bird of prey, but unlike other raptors, it has long a tail and legs. Its most distinctive feature is the 20 black crest feathers stuck behind its invisible ears. The bird gets its name from...more


The African spoonbill is a long-legged wading bird with a height of 90 cm. Its body is predominantly white and the face, bill and legs red. It has a wingspan of 365-403 mm....more

Squacco Heron

The squacco heron is a small squat heron, 43 cm high, with 2 distinct looks, breeding and non-breeding. In the non-breeding phase, the plumage is brown with streaks on head and throat....more

Swift Tern

The swift tern breeds from March - October in South Africa. The nest is a shallow scrape on the ground and typically on some open, flat area. It is sometimes lined with a little grass. There is usually...more

The Jackal Buzzard

The jackal buzzard gets its English name from the call it makes, it sounds very similar to a black-backed jackal when calling....more

Three-banded Plover

The three-banded plover’s back, wings and the top of its head are brown. The face and underparts are white....more

Verreaux's Eagle

The Verreaux's eagle feeds primarily on rock hyraxes (Procavia capensis) but will take a wide range of other mammalian prey including monkeys, young baboons, small antelope, squirrels and hares....more

Verreaux's Eagle Owl

The eagle owl is seen alone or in pairs and mainly from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa northwards. They are found along tree lining drainage lines and watercourses....more

Violet-backed Starling

The plum-coloured starling weighs 45 g. The bill and legs are black and the eyes have a yellow outer ring around a brown centre. The sexes are dimorphic in plumage. The male’s upperparts, including the chin, throat...more


Vultures play a vital role in the bush – they clean up dead and decaying carcasses and thereby remove centres of disease....more

Wahlberg Eagle

The Wahlberg eagle can be found in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and northern Kwazulu Natal, and is quite common in the Kruger National Park....more

Weaver Birds

Weavers are named for their intricately woven nests. The nests come in various sizes and shapes, with different material used to build the nests....more

What is the Difference Between Birds of Prey?

Kites are named for their habit of hovering like kites when hunting. The Black-shouldered kite will hover at height while tracking its prey, before swooping down to catch the prey....more

White -throated Swallow

The White-throated swallow is a small bird that is around 16 cm in length with both sexes being alike, other than the female having a shallower tail fork....more

White Faced Duck

The white-faced duck eats underwater tubers and seeds of aquatic plants, molluscs, small aquatic animals and invertebrates such as aquatic insects. They usually obtain their food by diving....more

White-backed Night-Heron

The white-backed night heron has a black head with a large eye that is surrounded by a white eye-ring. The white-backed night heron has a rufous upper chest and neck....more

White-breasted Cormorant

The white-breasted cormorant breeds throughout the year in South Africa. The peak periods are August or January in the Cape and March to October inland....more

White-browed Robin-chat

The white-browed robin-chat has a bright orange underpart, a black crown with a white eyebrow. The back and wings are grey-brown....more

White-throated Robin-chat

The white-throated robin-chat has a white breast, shoulder bar, eyebrow and throat. An orange rump is visible....more

Whydah Birds

The whydah birds genus is Vidua, which is the Latin for widow, due to the breeding male’s black plumage and long tail, which looks like a black veil....more

Woodland Kingfisher

The woodland kingfisher has a dark strip through the eye, where it does not extend through the eye with the mangrove kingfisher....more

Yellow-billed duck

Both sexes of the yellow-billed duck are alike. The yellow-billed duck has darkish to grey plumage, with a darker head....more