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. Find out all about the birds of South Africa including both common and rare bird species.

Africa Red-eyed Bulbul

The African red-eyed bulbul has greyish/brown plumage on its upper parts, extending onto the chest, with white plumage on their underparts....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 Finfoot

The African Finfoot can be mistaken for a cormorant from a distance, but the bright orange legs, feet and bill make this bird easily distinguishable....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

All you need to know on Kingfishers

Kingfishers are conspicuous birds in the Lowveld thanks to their bright colours and noisy, active habits....more

All You Need to Know on Oxpeckers

Oxpeckers live in association with medium to large mammalian herbivores....more

Bank Cormorant

The bank cormorant is a heavy-bodied black bird with a bronze sheen and webbed feet. The adult has a small crest on the head and usually a white rump and dark brown wings....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

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

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 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

Black-winged Stilt

The black-winged stilt is a wader, with long red to orange legs. The plumage is black above and white below, with a white head and neck. This bird has a thin pointed black bill....more


The bokmakierie is a bushshrike around 23 cm in length. The bokmakierie has olive-green underparts, with a bright yellow tip on its black tail....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 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 Shovler

As with most ducks found in South Africa, the sexes appear similar. The Cape shoveler has a long black spatulate bill that is distinctive....more

Cape Sparrow

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

Cape Sugarbird

One of only two sugarbirds found in South Africa, the Cape sugarbird is easy to recognise....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

Common Greenshank

The common greenshank can appear very like a marsh sandpiper when wading, but the bill on the greenshank has an upturned appearance and the body is heavier and less slender in appearance...more

Common Tern

The adult common tern is very pale grey above with a black bar on the shoulder of the wing. The crown is usually a mottled black with a sooty black over the eye and on the back of the head and...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

Crested Guineafowl

The crested guineafowl is one of the larger of the ground birds in South Africa, at 50 cm in length. This guineafowl has almost black plumage with an overall dense pattern of white spots....more


The curlew is a non-breeding summer migrant from the Palaearctic (Europe and Asia north of the Himalayas) to the South African coasts and larger vleis. They over-winter fairly regularly....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

Dark-capped Bulbul

The dark-capped bulbul has grayish/brown plumage on its upper parts, extending onto the chest, with white plumage on its underparts....more

Diderick Cuckoo

The diderick cuckoo is one of the smaller cuckoos, with a length of around 19 cm....more


The name finch is colloquially given to a lot of birds such as twinspots, firefinches and waxbills....more

Fork- tailed Drongo

The fork-tailed drongo is a medium sized bird at 25 cm in length, including the tail. The fork-tailed drongo has a mainly glossy black plumage, with the wings being a little duller....more

Francolin and Spurfowl

Francolin and spurfowl were for a long time all referred to as francolin. Although the birds all look similar scientists have discovered that they are not even that closely related....more

Fulvous Duck

The fulvous duck is around 46 cm in length. This duck has a grey bill and grey legs....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

Great White Pelican

The great white pelican is a huge water bird, with short legs and massive long, pink and yellow bill, with a large pale yellow gular pouch. The bill is up to 45 cm in length....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 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

Grey Plover

The grey plover is a summer migrant from the Palaearctic (Europe and Asia north of the Himalayas) to South Africa’s saltwater marshes, tidal mud-flats, and lagoons. They will remain at the warmer western coast during...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

Ground Hornbills

Ground hornbills are conspicuous by their size and their striking black plumage and red wattles....more

Hamerkop Nests

Hamerkops are esteemed for their enormous nests, which may contain material including sticks 1.5 m in length and assortments of human debris such as bicycle tyre tubes....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

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


South Africa is home to both honeyguides and honeybirds, with honeyguides being larger than honeybirds....more


All species of hornbills, excluding the ground hornbill, share an intriguing nesting method. They are monogamous, with a pair bond normally lasting only a single season....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

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

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


Nightjars are the superbly adapted swallows of the night. They are often spotted sitting on roads just after sundown....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 Owlet

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

Pel's Fishing Owl

The pel’s fishing owl is quite unmistakable, as the second largest owl found in South Africa, with its rufous plumage, with dark markings....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

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


The little sparrow-hawk, the Lowveld’s smallest raptor, is the same size as a dove....more

Red-billed Firefinch

The red-billed firefinch is a very small bird at around 10 cm in length. The adult male red-billed firefinch has a pinkish red crown, breast, nape and face, the lower belly and undertail coverts are a...more

Red-fronted Tinkerbird

The red-fronted tinkerbird is a smaller barbet, measuring around 12 cm. This tinkerbirds head has black, white and yellow markings, with a red forecrown....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

Ruddy Turnstone

The ruddy turnstone adult’s head and neck is a unique black-and-white pattern and the scapulars and wing-coverts are a bright chestnut. The head is mainly white with black streaks on the crown and a black pattern...more


The sanderling is rather dull with white below, a pale grey on the crown and upper parts and a black shoulder marking. The eyes are brown and the short heavy bill and legs black. It has no hind toe,...more


Sandgrouse are superbly cryptically-coloured ground birds and they choose to sit-up on open sandy habitats that perfectly match their attire....more

Sandwich Tern

The sandwich tern is much larger than the common tern. It has white underparts and the grey back is paler than other similar-sized terns. Sandwich terns have a slight shaggy crest and a black cap when breeding....more

South Africa Bird Guide

The South Africa Bird Guide offers a wide range of bird behaviour and birding facts that will interest even the most reluctant student. The actions of a bird in response to environmental situations...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

Spotted Thick-knee

The spotted thick-knee is a medium sized bird, standing at around 40 cm in height. Males and females are alike, with brown heads, short plover like, with a yellow and brown beak....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


South Africa has 21 species of sunbirds found locally. They all fall under the family Nectariniidae, referring to their preference for feeding on nectar....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

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

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

Water Thick-knee

The water thick-knee is a plover like bird, around 40 cm in height. Males and females are alike, with a light brown upper body, streaked with dark brown....more


A total of nine species of waxbill are found in South Africa, all falling under the family of Estrildidae. The swee waxbill is endemic and the violet-eared is a near-endemic....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

Weavers Nests

Since the ultimate selection of a mate is usually up to the female, the male weavers leave nothing to chance in their construction of delicately and expertly woven homes....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 Eared Barbet

The white-eared barbet is a medium sized barbet at around 18 cm in length. This is the only chocolate to brown coloured barbet in South Africa....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-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-fronted Plover

The adult white-fronted plover is white below and grey-brown above. The eyes are brown and the bill and legs are black. The male has a more conspicuous black line behind the eye and usually small dark...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


Woodpeckers are remarkable for their ability to chisel into bark and wood in search of insect larvae or to create their hole-cavity nests during the breeding season...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