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. SouthAfrica.co.za 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 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

Bearded Vulture

The bearded vulture will hunt live prey, specialising in tortoises, with the tortoises being dropped from a height, the same as the bones, to break open the shell....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 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

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 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 Vulture

The Cape vulture is the heaviest of the Southern African vultures weighing in at up to 9 kgs and is mostly creamy dark brown in colour, with dark flight and tail feathers....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

Cormorants

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

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

Giant Kingfisher

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

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

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

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

Kingfisher

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

Lappet-faced Vulture

The lappet-faced vulture will tackle parts of the carcass that is too tough for other breeds of vultures, like the skin, tendons and ligaments....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

Ostrich

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 Kingfisher

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

Plum Coloured 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

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

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

Spoonbill

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

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

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

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

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 Vulture

White-backed vultures are aggressive feeders and will push other animals, that are smaller than itself, away from a carcass....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

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