In the world and across Africa, South Africa and its South African birds stand out as being highly biodiverse with a very large number of bird species scattered across its climatic and environmental zones.
With over 160 bird species that are endemic, the country offers wildlife enthusiasts, and bird watchers a fabulous destination full of natural wonder and beauty.
Below is a list of 13 of some of the common and breathtaking birds of South Africa.
1. African Black Oystercatcher
This bird is a resident on the islands and rocky coasts of Southern Africa and is the largest of the Oystercatcher species.
The bird stands out with its noisiness, red eye rings, jet black feathers, strong broad sharp red bill, and pink-red legs.
These South-African birds mate for life and are highly territorial throughout the year, and are often known to attack en-masse.
The black oystercatcher lives on sandy and rocky shores but it can also be found on coastal lagoons and estuaries.
In South Africa, large flocks can be found along the coast from Arniston and Lamberts Bay in the Western Cape region to Mazeppa Bay on the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape.
2. The African Penguin
Also known as the black-footed penguin, the African penguin is closely related to the Magellanic and Humboldt penguins in South America.
Standing at just 50 cm high and weighing 2.1 to 3.7 kg, these birds are awkward on land with their flipper-like front wings which enable them to swim really well.
The penguins are black-footed, with a black chin and face separated from the crown by a white band.
This white and black plumage serves as protective camouflage while they are in the water.
The black-footed penguin is found in two sites along the Western Cape coast which are Stony Point and Boulders Beach, and in further several islands in Algoa Bay in the Eastern Cape region.
These islands include Dyer Island, Bird Island, Robben Island, St Croix Island, and Dassen Island.
3. The Blue crane
The Blue crane is South Africa’s National bird and has suffered a decline in numbers in recent decades as a result of habitat loss, power line collision, and both direct and indirect poisoning.
Their numbers stand at around 25,000 in the world with half of these birds being found in Cape Overberg.
The blue crane has plumage that is a combination of silver, blue, and gray becoming darker on the lower half of the head and the upper neck.
The crown has light gray feathers while the ear coverts, cheeks, and nape are dark gray.
The blue crane prefers dry grasslands, but where shallow wetlands are available they will feed and roost in them.
The bird is also endemic to South Africa with 99% of the population being found within the country.
Although it can be found extensively around South Africa even being spotted pecking on grasses along major highways, you can see them by visiting Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, Austin Roberts Bird Sanctuary in Pretoria, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, and Natal Zoological Gardens.
4. The Bokmakierie Shrike
The name Bokmakierie comes from the melodious calls uttered in duets by the bird from the top of a tree or bush; “bok-bok-mak-kik”.
It is a very peculiar sound as you can hear in the video below:
The bird has a broad black collar, a brilliant yellow underpart, olive green wings and back, and a grey head with thin yellow eyebrows.
The Bokmakierie is endemic to South Africa and is found in open habitats including semi-desert scrub, Karoo and Highveld koppies.
You can see the bird at Wonderboom Nature reserve near Pretoria, bird sanctuaries in the Garden Route National park, the West Coast National Park, and Mkhomazi State Forest in the Drakensberg.
5. Cape Gannet
These beautiful birds are easily recognizable from their contrasting black and white plumage. On the face and around the beak, they have distinguishing black lines.
The bill is pale blue, long, and pointy, with serrations near the tip, while the feet are largely webbed.
While they are clumsy on land, the cape gannet is beautiful and graceful in flight.
One feature of Cape Gannets is how they fish; from a height of about 30 meters from the water’s surface, the bird dives and submerges for up to 10 meters to catch fish.
The cape gannet is restricted to habitats on the continental shelf, going no more than 100 km from the shore.
In South Africa, they can be found in the West Coast National Park, Bird Island Nature Reserve, and Verlorenvlei.
6. Cape Griffon Vulture
Also known as the Cape Griffon or the Cape Vulture, this is a strikingly beautiful bird, quite intelligent, and is the third largest of the old world vultures, and the largest bird of prey in South Africa.
Weighing at an average of nine kilograms, these are the heaviest vultures in South Africa and can fly surprisingly high, with some known to have flown up to 3,100 m (10,200 ft.)
Unlike the assumption that vultures being carrion eaters are unclean, these birds are clean and can often be seen washing and preening themselves at clean water sources.
The Cape Griffon vulture nests on cliff faces, breeding in pairs, but it can also be found in shrubby landscapes and open savannahs.
In South Africa, the largest breeding colony can be found in Blouberg Nature Reserve. There are other colonies in Marakele National Park, De Hoop Nature Reserve, and in the Magaliesberg at Sterkfontein Dam.
7. The Cape Gull
The Cape Gull is a black and white bird that likes to be stationed in one place and in large colonies often in a favored coastal area or beach.
These birds are omnivores and are happy to dine on whatever is available to them, from fish, mollusks, and berries to fast foods.
They live along the coastline and are rarely found a few kilometers away from the sea.
To see these birds you can visit the Cape Columbine Nature Reserve, the St Croix Island Marine Reserve, Tsitsikamma national park along the Garden Route, and the Cape Coast Biosphere Reserve in Cape Town.
8. The Cape Parrot
The Cape Parrot is critically endangered in the wild.
This parrot has a dull gold or olive green or grey head, green belly and rump, dark green-black wings, and a black or brown tail.
They are able to mimic human speech and can easily be taught to perform tricks.
Their diet may vary from a smarting of nuts, seeds, and fruits, but their preferred fruit is the yellowwood fruit.
The bird is endemic to South Africa and can be spotted in the Afromontane forests.
They are most common in the forests of the Eastern Cape, but their numbers have been decimated resulting in large gaps where they were previously.
9. The Jackal Buzzard
Endemic to the Southern part of Africa the Jackal Buzzard is a beautiful raptor characterized by black legs, back, and parts of its wings.
When in flight and seen from below, the wing feathers are white except for the tips, while its chest, throat, and chin are a rich brown-red color.
The South African birds can be found in places that are mountainous, hilly, semi-desert areas, grassy savannahs, and open woodlands.
In South Africa, the bird can be found in its natural habitat in the Karkloof Crane and Conservation Area in Kwa Zulu Natal, Kragga Kamma Game Park, Karoo National park, and the Marakele National Park
10. The Namaqua Sandgrouse
The Namaqua Sandgrouse is a breathtakingly beautiful bird with a stout stature and vivid markings.
The males unlike the females and juveniles are vibrantly colored, with an orange chest, throat, and head.
The wings are speckled with large white markings, while at the base of the neck are two stripes, one dark brown and the other white.
The Namaqua Sandgrouse is a tough little bird adapted to semi-arid and arid conditions.
The bird is common in parts of the Western Cape, Namaa Karoo, and the Kalahari desert.
11. Pale Chanting Goshawk
A beautiful bird of prey, the Pale Chanting Goshawk has grey plumage that gets continuously darker from the head downwards to the back.
The underside has a fine grey wavy pattern and is white. The female is larger than the male and during the mating season, they can be seen soaring in circles as breeding pairs.
These South African birds like open and spacious habitats like arid and semi-arid areas. The bird can be found in the Eastern and South of South Africa.
They can be spotted in Ligwalagwala Conservancy near Barberton, Blouberg Nature Reserve, Ben Lavin Nature Reserve, and at Kruger National Park.
12. Southern Bald Ibis
Also known as the wild turkey or the bare-headed Ibis, the Southern Bald ibis is a less common bird when compared to other ibis species in South Africa, but its numbers face decline due to habitat degradation and loss.
The bird is characterized by its shiny black feathers, with the head bare but topped with a fleshy crown that is a vibrant red.
The bird is found in the North and East of South Africa and is endemic to the region between the Eastern part of Kwa Zulu Natal, Free State, and the Limpopo River.
You can spot the animal in the Ntiskeni Wildlife Reserve, Vryheid Hill Nature Reserve, Ntendeka Wilderness area, and Golden Gate National park.
13. Yellow Billed Hornbill
A common resident of South Africa commonly found in dry woodland areas and scrubs, these birds have been given the name ‘ flying bananas’ because of their large yellow bills.
The birds have a grey neck, white belly, black back with white stripes and spots, and the skin around the eyes and in the malar stripe is vivid red.
These South African birds like broad-leafed woodlands and dry thorn fields.
It is widespread across South Africa and particularly in Kruger National park, also in kieserite Game Reserve, Sabi Sands Game Reserve, and the Timbavati Game Reserve.
Are you thinking about buying binoculars to have a good look at all the magnificent birds of Africa? You might find what you are looking for here!
My Final Conclusion.
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