The beauty of birds in East and Southern Africa

In our experience, few people embark on their first safari with the primary goal of birdwatching. Yet, many leave Africa with a newfound fascination for all things feathered. The incredible diversity and vibrant beauty of the region’s birdlife often turn casual observers into enthusiastic birders. East and Southern Africa are home to some of the world’s most spectacular avian species and host significant migratory events, making them prime destinations for birdwatching enthusiasts.

The Beauty of Birds in East and Southern Africa
Papyrus Gonolek, Magashi Camp, Akagera National Park, Rwanda

Geographical Hotspots

Throughout the region you will find amazing birds and in some instances, such as with flamingos or shoebills, in very specific geographical areas. Below are just some of the prime areas to enjoy some birdwatching in Africa.

1. The Serengeti, Tanzania

The Serengeti is world-renowned for its mammalian wildlife, particularly the Great Migration. However, it’s also a birdwatcher’s paradise with over 500 bird species. Key species include the Fischer’s lovebird, Kori bustard, and the striking Lilac-breasted roller. The diverse habitats ranging from savannas to woodlands provide ample birdwatching opportunities.

2. The Okavango Delta, Botswana

This UNESCO World Heritage site is not only famous for its lush landscapes and wildlife but also for the birds found here. With over 400 bird species, the Delta is a haven for birdwatchers. Look out for the African fish eagle, Pel’s fishing owl, and the rare Wattled crane. The Okavango’s floodplains, woodlands, and lagoons create ideal conditions for a rich avian diversity.

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Black-bellied bustard, Splash Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana

3. South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

South Luangwa is often hailed as one of the best wildlife parks in Africa. It’s also a treasure trove for bird enthusiasts, boasting over 450 species. Highlights include the African pitta, the seasonal Carmine bee-eater, and the Goliath heron. The Luangwa River and its oxbow lagoons are particularly fruitful areas for spotting birds.

4. The Cape Peninsula, South Africa

The Cape Peninsula offers unique birdwatching experiences due to its diverse habitats, from fynbos to rocky shores. The area is home to endemic species such as the Cape sugarbird and the Orange-breasted sunbird. The nearby wetlands and coastal areas also attract a variety of waders and seabirds.

5. The Great Rift Valley Lakes, Kenya

Lakes such as Nakuru, Naivasha, and Baringo in the Great Rift Valley are teeming with birds. Lake Nakuru, for instance, is famous for its flocks of flamingos that turn the shores pink. Other notable species include the Great white pelican, African fish eagle, and the elusive Greater painted-snipe.

The Beauty of birds in East and Southern Africa
Flamingo at Loldia House, Lake Naivasha, Kenya

6. Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda

Birdwatching in Nyungwe Forest National Park is a remarkable experience, offering enthusiasts the chance to encounter an exceptional diversity of bird species in one of Africa’s oldest rainforests. Located in the southwestern part of Rwanda, Nyungwe is a biodiverse haven home to over 300 bird species, including 27 Albertine Rift endemics. Highlights include the striking Great Blue Turaco, the colorful Ruwenzori Turaco, and the rare Red-collared Mountain Babbler.

Particular Species

There are number of birds which are favourites amongst bird lovers; some because they are instantly recognisable due to their colourful plumage, whilst others are rarer making any sighting of them particularly special. Examples of both of these categories include;

1. The African Fish Eagle

The call of the African fish-eagle is synonymous with Africa. With its distinctive call, this large bird is commonly seen around lakes, rivers, and coasts across the continent, from the Okavango Delta to Lake Victoria.

2. The Carmine Bee-eater

These vibrant red and blue birds are a spectacular sight, especially in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia. Nesting in colonies along riverbanks, the air turns crimson as they all take to the wing. Their song is distinctive and watching them perform acrobatics catching insects on the wing is a wonderful experience.

The Beauty of Birds in East and Southern Africa
Carmine bee-eaters, The Bushcamp Company, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

3. The Secretary bird

A striking bird of prey which is endemic to Africa. Mostly terrestial it has long legs and a unique hunting style, the secretary bird is often seen stalking through the grasslands of the Serengeti and the Kalahari Desert.

4. The Shoebill

An elusive and prehistoric-looking bird, the shoebill can be found in the swamps of Uganda and Zambia. With its distinctive shoe-shaped bill, from where it gets its name, spotting this bird is often a highlight for avid birders due to its rarity.

Sitting Shoebill - Ganders Travel
Shoebill, Robin Pope Safaris, Zambia

5. The Lilac-breasted Roller

With its stunning array of colours, the lilac-breasted roller is instantly recognisable and a favourite among birdwatchers and photographers alike. It’s commonly seen perched conspicuously in savanna areas throughout East and Southern Africa, with the distinctive colour of its wings a striking combination of blues when seen in flight.

6. Southern Ground Hornbill

The Southern Ground Hornbill is a remarkable and iconic bird native to the savannas and woodlands of sub-Saharan Africa. Known for its striking appearance and deep, resonant calls, it serves as a distinctive feature of the African landscape. These large birds spend most of there time on the ground, feeding on insects, small reptiles, mammals, and even other birds. As sociable creatures, Southern Ground Hornbills are often seen in groups led by a dominant breeding pair.


Inter-Africa migratory birds, such as Carmine bee-eaters and various species of storks, showcase the incredible journeys undertaken within the continent.

The Carmine bee-eaters, renowned for their striking red plumage, migrate seasonally between Southern and East Africa, breeding in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana between August and November each year. The large colonies can often be seen along riverbanks. These agile flyers follow insect swarms, which provide them with ample food during their travels.

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Fish eagle, Sitatunga Private Island, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Similarly, storks like the White Stork and Abdim’s Stork traverse vast distances across Africa, moving between breeding grounds and feeding sites. These storks can be observed in a variety of habitats, from wetlands and savannas to agricultural fields, where they feast on insects, small mammals, and amphibians. These inter-African migrations are essential for maintaining the ecological balance and supporting biodiversity across the continent.


East and Southern Africa’s rich avian diversity and significant migratory events offer endless opportunities for birdwatchers. Whether you’re a seasoned birder or a novice, the region’s birdlife is bound to captivate and inspire you. From the wetlands of Botswana to the savannas of Tanzania, each destination promises unique sightings and unforgettable experiences. So, next time you embark on an African safari you might just discover a new passion.

We will be exhibiting at the Global Bird Fair at Lyndon Top, close to Rutland Water, between 12th and 14th July and would be delighted to chat about birding safaris if you are planning to attend.

Please do get in touch to discuss a holiday to see the birds of Africa, or for any other plans for a holiday to Africa or the Indian Ocean. Lucinda will be delighted to help.