A Bird Migration Radar: The Best Times Of The Year For Birdwatching In Africa.

Bird migrations usually cover very long distances between the two hemispheres, and you’ll find in many cases, the birds will time their departure and arrival with the availability of food. This will form a sort of bird migration radar, that gives information on where and when the migration happens.

Avian migration is spectacular and can be summed up as birds simply chasing summer across the globe.

Other than for food, there are usually several reasons why they migrate, thus you’ll get to know why and the best time of year for birdwatching in Africa.

Are you thinking about buying binoculars to have a good look at all the magnificent birds of Africa?

Why Do Birds Migrate and need a bird migration radar?

1. To Find Food

This is the main reason why birds migrate: food.

Spring in the Northern hemisphere brings about an abundance of food, and birds will migrate to these regions to take advantage of this bounty.

As autumn and winter approach, food becomes scarce, forcing the birds to migrate to the tropics which have had time to regenerate.


2. Birds Need Family Too

The second main reason is breeding, the need to ensure the next generation of birds are hatched and survive past infancy.

Birds have thus developed different migration timing, patterns, and destination to suit their individual breeding needs.

3. The Climate

As winter approaches and the temperatures drop to a below-freezing point, birds will migrate as they can’t survive the harsh winter weather, or they need more temperate climates to lay eggs and raise chicks.

In the tropics, birds will migrate during the hot and dry seasons to a more amenable climate to lay eggs.

The tropical heat doesn’t provide the best atmosphere for laying eggs, so they migrate farther North to cooler temperate climates.

4. Predators

When birds group together in a single place for too long, they tend to attract a multitude of predators.

And the biggest threat predators present is to chicks, as they can’t fly or even fend for themselves.

Some birds have even chosen quite special locations for their breeding that is inaccessible to all land dwellers and can only be accessed through the air.

Major Migration Hubs in Africa

As birds migrate from Eurasia to Africa, they use specific flyways, such as over or around the Mediterranean and at the strait of Gibraltar, using their bird migration radar.

Once in Africa, they will use the Mediterranean sea, down the horn of Africa region, the Nile delta, across the Sahara ( though most birds try and avoid the Sahara desert because of the heat, and scarcity of both food and water), and along the North Western coast.

The Congo forest is also widely avoided because of how insanely territorial the birds within are.

Once South of the Sahara, birds will move around looking for the most suitable place to rest, recover and stock up

1. East African Region

Many species of birds migrate along well-established routes and flyways from Central Asia, Europe, the Americas, East Atlantic, and the Mediterranean region to East Africa.

There are two migration corridors preferred by birds.

  • Some species such as the red-backed shrike, willow warbler, barn swallow, and Lanius Colluria, favor a route through the Lake Victoria Basin and Uganda.
  • While others such as the Basra Reed Warbler, thrush nightingale, and marsh Wabler prefer a route further East through the Kenyan highlands.

In the East African region, the best time to go bird-watching is generally throughout the year.

But from the months of September to April, when summer is ending in the North, there is usually an abundance of migratory birds, and this also coincides with the rainy seasons.

Birding at Lake Victoria! :

Some of the Best Birdwatching Spots in East Africa and their times.

  1. Lake Nakuru, Kenya.

This is one of the best bird spotting destinations in Kenya with over 450 different species of birds.

The best time to go bird watching here is throughout the year, but the best time to spot migratory birds is from the months of November to April which are the breeding seasons.

Some of the bird species you can spot at Lake Nakuru include the characteristic lesser flamingo, grey Crested Helmet Shrike, Greater Spotted Eagle, Madagascar pond heron, and the Pallied Harrier.

  1. Nyungwe Forest National Park, Rwanda

Nyungwe Forest National park, is one of Rwanda’s best parks to bird watch and spot with over 600 bird species including visiting migratory birds.

There are endemic species, which means you can birdwatch all year round, but the spectacular months are from October to May, which are the wet months.

  1. Bwindi impenetrable forest, Uganda.

The Bwindi impenetrable forest is well known around the world for mountain gorillas, but it is also a well-kept secret in that it is also a birding paradise.

The best time to come birdwatching at Bwindi is during the rainy season as this is the time when migratory birds stop over, from March to May and September to November.

Some of the bird species to spot include the short-tailed Warbler, Grauer’s Warbler and the green Broadbill.

The forest is usually home to more than 348 bird species during the migration period.

Bwindi impenetrable forest, Uganda

2. Southern Africa

In South Africa, as the summer months begin, millions of birds will find their way here to feed on the South African bounty and to enjoy a bit of a warm climate.

The long-distance migratory birds are mainly insect and seed feeders.

During the short summers that occur further North in the Northern hemisphere, birds use the resources available to breed.

Want to find the best binoculars for a safari? Check out my blog post here!

As autumn and winter approach, then they start journeying South through Europe and the Mediterranean region to winter in Africa.

The best time to go birding in South Africa is from the entry of spring in September to the end of summer in April.

Though the peak birding seasons start in earnest in November, until February; a period when migratory birds come, rest, and go back North.

This time is not only good to catch a glimpse of long-distance migratory birds, but also endemic and short-distance migration birds.

Some of the best birding spots in Southern Africa.

  1. Okavango Delta, Botswana

A jewel to behold not only in South Africa but all of Africa, and a place that I have visited in all its beauty.

The Okavango Delta plays host to more than 500 species of birds and offers spectacular birding experiences throughout the year.

To those who want some fun and the chance to spot even more dynamic bird species, then the best months to visit are from November to April; to note though is that you must be willing to brave the rains at this time.

I have visited the Okavango Delta and loved it!

  1. Walvis Bay, Namibia.

Walvis Bay is made of sheltered bays that are shallow, making them one of Southern Africa’s important coastal wetlands.

The best time to visit is between the months of October to April.

Some of the birds to spot at Walvis bay include the Greater and lesser flamingos, black-tailed Godwit and Chestnut banded Plovers.

  1. Kruger National Park, South Africa.

This is South Africa’s premier wildlife destination and a top birding spot too. The best time to visit Kruger National Park is from October to March.

The onset of summer in Southern Africa usually heralds the beginning of the rainy season.

The availability of water ensures that there is the availability of food, and this is also when migrants and nomad birds arrive, swelling the park’s bird population by about 200 species.

3. West African Region

One of the most well-known and researched migration paths or flyways followed by birds is the East Atlantic Flyway.

It links a band of arctic breeding grounds stretching from Siberia to Eastern Canada, to wintering grounds in West Africa and Europe.

Many migrating birds that soar need constant winds and up thermals to help them, and the Mediterranean poses a big challenge, so they will make the crossing into Africa at the narrowest point; the strait of Gibraltar.

Some of the top birdwatching spots in West Africa.

Below are a few locations in West Africa that receive an abundance of bird Populations during the migration period.

  1. Arquipelago dos Bijagos, Guinea Bissau.

Composed of 88 islands, and situated at the mouth of the Rio Geba river.

This area is extremely important in West Africa, only second to Banc d’Arguin National Park in Mauritania.

It is an important stop for many Palearctic migrant birds, with over 700,000 birds having been documented during the migration period.

Most migratory birds will start arriving at the end of October, but for the endemic and intra-african migrants, the breeding season is during the rainy season from May to September.

Arquipelago dos Bijagos

  1. Djoudj Wetlands, Senegal.

The Djoudj Wetlands in Senegal is also an important migratory hotspot for Palearctic birds.

The best time to visit is from December to March to coincide with the visiting birds.

Are you thinking about buying binoculars to have a good look at all the magnificent birds of Africa?

  1. Banc d’Arguin National Park, Mauritania.

This is a world heritage park and arguably the most important spot for migratory birds in West Africa.

The best time to visit the park is between December and January, which is also the mating period for most birds.

Some notable species include pink flamingos, spoonbills, black terns, royal terns, grey pelicans, and white pelicans.

How do birds know where to go when they migrate?

Ornithologists have speculated that birds might use a number of sights, sounds, smells, and learned social cues to get where they’re going on their migration trip.

But young birds making their trip for the first time have been observed migrating successfully with no chaperones.

What gives?

Research has revealed that migratory birds have vision-based magnetoreception, they can see magnetic fields to kind of get a clear “bird migration radar”

Planet earth is loaded with magnetic fields, and by the rotation of the earth and the produced iron, it is really good at conducting electricity while creating a dynamo somehow: a generator of electric and magnetic fields.

This basically makes the earth function like a giant bar magnet.

North is positive, south is negative and our planet is wrapped in slopes and curves of magnetic fields arcing in between them.

Migratory birds can sense those fields.

Experiments over the past couple of decades have shown that birds preparing to migrate south, and will align themselves with the magnetic south.

Also, these birds see magnetic fields.

The popular theory goes that magnetic fields cause a chemical reaction in birds’ eyes that affect their sensitivity to light, so magnetic fields might show up as brighter or darker patterns spread out over everything the bird sees.

Fascinating, right?

A Sad Decline in the number of Migrant birds

Even as you plan your Safari, to align with the migration routes and seasons, birds are facing pressure from all sides, particularly the migratory birds, whose survival depends on things staying more or less the same.

So it is getting harder for scientists to map out a clear bird migration radar.

Some of the reasons they are facing a decline is:

  • Loss of wetlands along the flyways, which act as an important source of food and water for the birds as they rest before continuing South.
  • Loss of forests and habitats to human activities in the place they are migrating to.
    Human activities such as large-scale farming and illegal logging of trees are leading to a reduction in the size of the land available for birds to forage from.

My Final Conclusion.

I hope that you found this blog post on an African bird migration radar informative enough to help you with all the questions that you might have.

If you do have more questions though, please feel free to ask them down below in the comment section or join my social media pages or Facebook group for more pictures and stories of my travels/African Wildlife, and more!

I wish you happy birdwatching!

Kind regards,


4 thoughts on “A Bird Migration Radar: The Best Times Of The Year For Birdwatching In Africa.”

  1. Your explanation of the use of bird migration radars was particularly fascinating.  your suggestion to visit the Rift Valley in Kenya during the winter months to witness the massive migration of flamingos was eye-opening. The sheer number of birds that migrate to this region is awe-inspiring and definitely on my bucket list now!

  2. This is an awesome article on the best times of the year for birdwatching in Africa! You gave me some great ideas for my next vacation. I would love to take a birdwatching tour in Africa sometime. Do you have any recommendations for birdwatching group tours? I think I would be more comfortable in a group.

    • hello Kevin

      Thank you so much for your positive comment!

      About the birdwatching tours, yes there are several tours, divided in each country, but I will go into depth about these soon on my blog, there are a lot!

      I wish you happy birding!

      Kind regards



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