Learning About Africa’s Birds

Birds have been around since the dinosaurs and fill a variety of roles in African ecosystems, including large predators like the fish eagle, scavengers like the vulture, and helpful sidekicks like the oxpecker. Africa is the world’s second largest continent and home to an incredible variety of bird life. South Africa is one of the most well-known birding destinations in the world, with over 850 species recorded.

Why are birds important?

The big question posed by Nat Geo is “why do birds matter?” “ Thomas Lovejoy, an internationally famous biologist and conservationist, believes that “if you take care of birds, you take care of most of the issues in the world.” For others, it’s a little less ‘scientific’ and a little more intangible. Birds are works of poetry. They elicit strong feelings. Whether lying in bed listening to the dawn chorus or watching a swarm of swallows dive and swim in the sky like dolphins. 

Birdlife South Africa lists over 800 South African bird species, including the ostrich, Cape Vulture, and stonechat… It’s an incredible amount of bird life in one country!

Birds of Africa

1. Cape Gannet

Because of its large size, the Cape Gannet (Morus capensis) is an easily identified seabird. It belongs to the Sulidae family of Gannets. The only difference between Cape Gannets and Northern Gannets is that the Northern Gannet is entirely white with black wing tips.

The total breeding population of Cape Gannets is around 150,000 birds, with 12 percent in Namibia (although numbers on the Nambian Islands have declined over the last fifty years) and 88 percent in South Africa. Malgas Island, South Africa, has the largest colony of this large seabird.

2. Grey Lourie

The Grey Lourie (Corythaixoides concolor) is a South African bird found in the tropical west and Central Africa. Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, northern Botswana, western Mozambique, and northern South Africa are among the countries where it can be found. The Grey Loerie bird is a medium-sized bird also known as the ‘Go Away Bird’ or ‘kwêvol’ in Afrikaans. The population of these amazing birds is unknown.

 3. Greater Flamingo

The Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) is the most common and widespread member of the flamingo family, accounting for six species on our planet. The Greater Flamingo is a brightly colored wading bird that is frequently seen flocking with the Lesser Flamingo in Africa’s great salt lakes.

4. Grey Go-Away Birds

Grey go-away birds are found throughout Southern and Central Africa, inhabiting a variety of habitats ranging from dry to moist savanna and woodlands, particularly where acacia trees are present. They announce their presence with unusually loud and nasal calls that sound like “kweh” or “go-way.”

5. Lilac Breasted Roller

The lilac-breasted roller, a photographer’s favorite, can be found in savanna and open woodland throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

It can be easily identified because it prefers to perch conspicuously on top of high vantage points such as trees and poles, looking for prey on the ground such as insects, scorpions, snails, and rodents. During mating seasons, males fly high and perform massive dives and swoops while making loud calls.

6. Secretary Bird

In terms of size and habitat, the secretary bird is one of the largest raptors that spends most of its time on land. It is endemic to Africa and can be found in the open grasslands and savannah of the Sahara. It has long been admired in Africa for its striking appearance, and it is a popular motif on African postage stamps.

The secretary bird forages for food on foot. Insects, small mammals, lizards, snakes, young birds, bird eggs, and occasionally dead animals killed in grass or bush fires serve as prey. It also hangs out near fires, eating anything that tries to flee. Secretary birds form monogamous pairs. They perform a nuptial display during courtship by soaring high with undulating flight patterns and calling with guttural croaking. Males and females can also engage in a grounded display by chasing each other with their wings up and back, similar to how they chase prey.

7. Vulture

Vultures in Africa include the Hooded Vulture, the Lappet-faced Vulture, the White-headed Vulture, the Egyptian Vulture, the Palmnut Vulture, the Cape Griffon, the Ruppel’s Griffon, and the White-backed Vulture.

The White-backed Vulture of Africa (Gyps africanus) is an Old World Vulture related to the European Griffon (Gyps fulvus). It stretches from Mauritania to Ethiopia, then south through East Africa to South Africa. Most birds of prey eat live prey, but vultures are specialized ‘eaters of the dead.’ It is not uncommon to see a group of different Vulture species feeding on a dead animal at the same time.

8. White Stork

The White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) is a large wading bird in the Ciconiidae family. The African White Stork can be found in both North and South Africa. When suitable trees are unavailable, the White Stork is known for building large stick nests on top of buildings and other structures.

The White Stork breeds in greater numbers in areas with open grasslands, particularly wet or frequently flooded grasslands, and in smaller numbers in areas with taller vegetation cover, such as forests and shrublands. During the breeding season, non-breeding birds congregate in groups of 40 to 50.

9. Hoopoe

The African Hoopoe (Upupa africana) is a species of African bird that belongs to the Upupidae family, which also includes the Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops).

Males of the African Hoopoe differ from those of the Eurasian Hoopoe in coloration; females are similar in appearance. The male African Hoopoe has darker cinnamon upperparts, no subterminal white band on the crest, and all black primaries. Both species have the same habits and vocalizations.

Except in the western and central equatorial lowlands forests, African Hoopoes are found throughout Africa. Some African Hoopoe populations are migratory, while others are sedentary.

10. African Fish Eagle

African fish eagles are found primarily along bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, floodplains, coasts, estuaries, mangrove lagoons, and swamps throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. As the name implies, fish is their primary food source. A person can eat half a pound of fish per day. Soaring followed by diving to the water’s surface to catch fish with their talons is typical fishing behavior. A successful catch often takes several attempts, with only one in every seven to eight attempts ending in success. Adult African fish eagles are large raptors with a pure white head, neck, chest, and tail and a dark chestnut brown body. They have broad, relatively long wings and a short, rounded tail.