A list on àll of the thousands of African bird species would take us a bit too far because there is so much variation in them 😉
From the giant Ostrich, colorful sunbird, and various scavenging vultures to the small bee-eater: with over 2500 species of birds, the continent is a bird watchers’ paradise, with many bird-watching spots South of the Sahara.
For those planning to go on a safari, here is a list of 30-plus birds that are common and iconic, so let’s dive straight into things!
1. The Ostrich
Across Africa, there are two known distinct species of ostriches: the Somali and the common ostrich.
- The Somali ostrich is native to the horn of Africa and is also known as the blue-necked ostrich.
This ostrich is generally similar in appearance to the common ostrich but has ecological and behavioral differences that make it genetically distinct.
The Somali ostrich can be found in Somalia, Kenya, North-Eastern Ethiopia, and Djibouti.
- The common ostrich prefers open grassland and savannah habitat as it is a grazer, while the Somali ostrich prefers areas that have thicker vegetation and bushes as it is mainly a browser.
The common ostrich is spread throughout the Continent from the North and South of the equatorial forest zone.
The ostrich is the largest and heaviest bird on the planet and is also the fastest on land reaching a top speed of 78 km/h.
Their diet consists of small reptiles, insects, seeds, berries, grass, and succulent plants.
Females have dull brown plumage, while males have black and white plumages.
Ostriches can be quite funny, just don’t forget that they are wild animals! 😉
2. The Flamingo
In Africa, there are two species of these magnificent birds, the lesser and greater flamingos.
Flamingos’ main sources of food are blue-green algae and brine shrimp, but they also feed on water insects.
Their bills are adapted to filtering silt and mud from their food. They are famous for their bright pink plumage that is easily recognizable from a long distance away.
They are also capable flyers and swimmers but you will rarely see them swimming.
Flamingos are also very social and thus you will mostly find them in colonies numbering in the thousands.
They congregate in numbers to maximize feeding, escape predators or avoid them and use their nesting sites better.
Flamingos will generally congregate around salty lakes and breeding grounds.
Breeding grounds are found in various lakes in the great rift valley such as Natron in Tanzania, Elementaita, Bogoria, and Nakuru in Kenya.
In Africa, there are 11 species of vultures, with a majority considered endangered.
These birds are beneficial to humans as they help in reducing diseases by cleaning up carrion.
They are not exclusive carrion eaters though, and will hunt when a good enough opportunity arises.
These vulture species include:
- lappet-faced vulture,
- cape vulture,
- hooded vulture,
- white-headed vulture,
- Ruppell’s vulture,
- white-backed vulture,
- Egyptian vulture,
- bearded vulture,
- and palm nut vulture.
Some of these vulture species are struggling and are considered critically endangered or endangered.
Poisoned either by poachers who don’t want the authorities alerted to their activities, or by pest control poison when they eat the carcasses of animals poisoned by farmers who only want to protect their herds is one of the major reason behind their decline.
The only vulture species that isn’t under the threat is the palm nut vulture.
Some explanation below on the different species of vultures:
White Backed Vulture
This species is the most widespread and common vulture in Africa and its status is critically endangered due to a loss and degradation of habitat, poisoning, hunting, and collisions with man-made features like power lines.
These vultures have a long necks, bald heads, the body feathers are brown with darker flight and tail feathers, and they have a white rump patch.
They prefer wooded savannahs, with tall trees for nesting. They are distributed South of the Sahara from West Africa to East and the South of Africa but are extinct in Nigeria.
Endemic to South Africa, the hooded vulture is critically endangered.
The bird is in decline due to trade for traditional medicine, hunting, indiscriminate poisoning, habitat loss, and electrocution.
They feed on carrion and insects, often being seen following a plow on the farm to feed on bugs and their larvae.
They have a pink bald head, beige hood and brown feathers, and they are smaller than other vulture species.
They are found along coasts, wooded savannah, open grassland, edge of forests, deserts, and in populated settlements.
It is widespread across sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal, southern Niger, Mauritania, Chad, Sudan,and Ethiopia, to Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa.
Ruppell’s vulture are in honor of German zoologist and explorer Eduard Ruppell, this vulture is also critically endangered with its population estimated at 22,000 mature birds.
The Ruppell’s Griffon vulture has the record of the world’s highest flying bird having been recorded at 11,278 m (30,000 ft).
They are medium-sized vultures with black to dark brown plumage, with the flight feathers being a shade darker, pale head, and white ruff.
They are found in mountainous regions, open grassland, and woodland areas with an abundance of acacia trees. They occur throughout the Sahel region and East Africa.
The white-headed vulture is a shy bird that has been suffering from a rapid decline in numbers ( population estimate of 5,500 adults), with one of the major reasons being poisoning.
This shy bird tends to avoid human populations, and is usually the first vulture species to arrive at carcasses, but will wait for larger vulture species such as the lappet-faced vulture to move off before feeding.
The feathers are mainly black and white, with a downy white head, white crest, orange-pink hooked beak, with the skin around the cheeks, eyes, and neck bare.
They prefer dry woodland areas and will avoid semi-arid regions.
They are distributed across sub-Saharan Africa from Guinea-Bissau, Gambia, and Senegal in the West to Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya in the East, and only Eastern and Northern regions of South Africa.
8. The Grey-crowned crane
Also known as the golden crested crane, or African crowned crane, this bird has white wings, a crown with stiff golden feathers, a bright red inflatable throat pouch, and the sides of the face are white.
The grey-crowned crane is an omnivore eating seeds, plants, grains, and eggs of water animals, small fish, snakes, worms, frogs, and insects.
They spend their days foraging for food and at night resting in trees. It is also the national bird of Uganda, appearing on the country’s coat of arms.
The bird likes regions that are dry savannah but will build its nest in wetter habitats.
They can also be found in grassy flatlands near lakes and rivers, cultivated lands and marshes. These birds are distributed throughout Eastern and Southern Africa.
9. Marabou stork
Commonly referred to as the undertaker bird, the marabou stork is a large scavenger bird that frequents rubbish dumps and landfill sites.
These birds are massive with a wingspan of over 3 meters and are easily recognizable by their bare neck and head, white underparts, black back, legs and wings, a neck ruff, pick throat gular, and large bill.
Just like vultures, these birds have bare necks and heads to stop them keep clean as they scavenge rotting waste.
A peculiar habit of marabou storks is defecating on their exposed legs during hot hours of the day as a means of regulating body temperature.
As they like scavenging in landfills and garbage dumps, marabou storks will be found around populated regions.
They are distributed throughout Sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal in the West, and Kenya in the East to South Africa.
10. Yellow-billed stork
Also called the Wood Ibis, the yellow-billed stork is a wading bird that is found around lakes and rivers.
The yellow-billed stork has a fascinating feeding tactic; they use one foot to stir the mud in shallow waters, and when disturbed prey come out of their hiding place, the bird is quick to snatch them.
The bird has bright pink-grey plumage, a black tail and flight feathers, a grey-white neck, a long yellow beak, and red facial skin covering the eyes and extending to the nostrils.
Due to their feeding habit, they don’t like deep waters.
They are spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa and are usually found around freshwater lakes and wetlands.
11. Saddle-billed stork
The saddle-billed stork is a strikingly unique bird that has the title of the tallest stork in the world, taller even than the Marabou stork at about 5 feet, but not quite as heavy.
It is most noticeable from its unique red, yellow, and black bill.
The bird also has an unusual red and yellow chest pouch also known as a brood patch.
A brood patch is most useful during the breeding season, as it ensures easy transfer of body heat from parent to an egg.
The saddle-billed stork prefers to live in open areas along swamps, wetlands, and near large bodies of water.
They are distributed throughout Sub-Saharan Africa in countries such as Chad, Senegal, Gambia, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya to South Africa.
12. Secretary bird
The secretary bird has a distinct look and is thought to have gotten its name from its resemblance to the 19th-century secretary or clerk.
It is a tall bird standing at over 4 feet tall, with long bare pink legs, black upper leg feathers, sharp curved yellow beaks, and a bare red face.
It spends so much time on the ground, doing most of its hunting while walking.
The secretary bird is endemic to Africa and is found in the open savannah.
It is distributed throughout Sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal in the West, Kenya to the East to South Africa.
13. Southern Ground Hornbills
One of two ground hornbill species in Africa, the Southern Ground Hornbill is the largest hornbill species in the world.
The bird is easily recognizable from its jet-black feathers, bright red throat, and yellow eyes.
It spends a lot of its time on the ground searching for food, with its diet consisting of seeds and fruits, but it will also eat lizards, insects, toads, snakes, and small mammals.
They are social living in groups of up to 8 individuals with the dominant pair breeding exclusively.
The Southern Ground Hornbill can be found in open grasslands, woodland areas, and open savannahs with enough trees to roost in.
They are distributed from Burundi and Kenya in the East to Angola and Namibia in the South.
Amongs the African bird species, the shoebill is an extremely interesting bird that is a very patient hunter and aggressive going as far as picking fights with crocodiles.
Their beaks which are shaped like shoes give this bird its name.
The beak can be more than 24 cm long and 20 cm wide, being more than a quarter of their total body size.
These beaks are used to eat small fish, and animals swallow them in a single gulp. They have spectacular wings, as the wingspan can easily top 2.4 m.
Their habitats include areas of dense swamps and marshes.
They are distributed through Eastern and Southern Africa in companies such as Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan, and Zambia.
There are two pelican species in Africa, the pink-backed and the great white pelicans.
Pelicans are easily recognizable by the large throat pouches and long bills.
Great White Pelicans
The great white pelican is a huge bird with an enormous yellow and pink bill with a dull yellow gular pouch.
This gular pouch is extremely flexible and able to hold several liters of water and fish.
Their diet mainly consists of fish which they do not have to dive into but instead scoop the fish into their mouths, with each pelican needing about 1.2 kg(2.6 pounds ) of fish daily.
Their diet is not made up of exclusively fish but also young birds, and crustaceans.
Pelicans are aquatic birds and will be found around large water bodies such as freshwater lakes, deltas, marshes, and swamps.
They are specially adapted to life on the water with their webbed feet, but they are graceful fliers, able to fly more than 500 km (320 miles) nonstop.
They can be found, in Nigeria, Northern Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, and Tanzania.
Pink Backed Pelican
Smaller than the great white pelican, it is nonetheless a huge bird with a wingspan ranging from 2.1 to 2.9 m ( 7 to 9.5 feet).
Their feathers are largely grey, but the back feathers have a pink hue, hence their name, light yellow bill, and pink-yellow gular pouch.
Their diet is mainly fish, but they are opportunistic feeders and can feed voraciously when the opportunity arises.
Just like other pelicans, they are awkward on the ground but are very graceful fliers often flying in a slanting V formation to help reduce drag.
They can be found in open wetland and water habitats such as lakes, dams, rivers, and lagoons, but will prefer shallow waters with an abundance of fish and vegetation.
They are distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa from West Africa to South Africa.
Commonly known as the sea crow due to their black plumage, these birds have a range of colors from bronze, and green to violet.
They have a distinctly long and hooked bill and gular sac just like pelicans.
These sacs are used when fishing to hold prey and are also a mechanism of thermoregulation during hot times.
They are found in both salty and freshwater bodies with their diets mainly consisting of fish, but also crustaceans, and small amphibians.
Even though cormorants are aquatic birds their feathers are not waterproof and you will find them on rock’s wings spread drying out.
They generally prefer lakes, swamps, coasts, and rivers but will not venture far into the water.
They are distributed across sub-Saharan Africa along the coast and large water bodies.
Cormorants in Africa include white-breasted cormorant, cape cormorant, long-tailed cormorant, crowned cormorant, and great cormorant.
17. Tawny eagle
The tawny eagle is a medium to large eagle, that has a range of colors from dull grey to bright brown.
Its legs are heavily feathered and short, and it has a long gape line that stops at the eye.
Just like other raptor birds, they have acute eyesight and hearing, helping them to locate prey from afar.
They are very opportunistic as hunters, and will steal prey from other birds, feed on carrion, and hunt a diverse number of prey.
They are also known to scavenge from humans regularly, which makes them special among eagles. They are monogamous and will hunt in the same area for many years.
They prefer areas that are generally dry like savannahs, and desert areas. They are spread throughout Africa but there has been a rapid decline in North African countries like Morocco.
They are abundant across East Africa and Southern Africa in Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
18. African fish eagle
There are many eagle species in Africa but none are as iconic as the African fish eagle.
This iconic bird which is also the national symbol of Zambia and Namibia can be found perched on trees around lakes and rivers.
The bird has unmistakable black wings, a chestnut belly, leg and fore feathers, and a white tail, head, and breast feathers.
They are strong swimmers and have spurs on their feet to aid them in holding on to slippery prey. Their diet consists of fish, reptiles, and small birds.
They are found near large water bodies both running and still such as rivers, dams and lakes.
They are spread throughout Sub-Saharan Africa With lake Victoria in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania are very good places to spot them.
19. Yellow-billed kite
Distinguishable from the black kite by its yellow bill, this kite has yellow feet, black talons, and brown feathers.
Their diets are varied from scavenging for carrion, to eating invertebrates, insects, small amphibians, mammals, and fish.
These birds also scavenge for food around human settlements and can be as bold as stealing food from picnic baskets and plates.
They are found in a variety of habitats from wetlands, forests, savannah,s and to a lesser extent arid and semi-arid areas.
They are spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa from Kenya, and Uganda to South Africa and Namibia.
20. The Augur buzzard
The augur buzzard is a big bird of prey but is smaller than eagles.
It has a distinctive plumage with a white underside, black back, a fan-like tail with red ends.
Their diet is quite varied as they can be opportunistic hunters, eating snakes, small mammals, and reptiles, they scavenge on carrion and will also forage on the ground for insects.
Augur buzzards can be found in areas that are mountainous or elevated and will be found in elevated savannahs and the lower slopes of mountains.
They are spread in Eastern and South Western Africa only ad can be found in countries such as Uganda, Kenya, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, and Tanzania.
The hamerkop is a unique wading bird whose name comes from the shape of its curved bill, back crest, and head which resemble a hammer.
Its plumage is mainly brown with hints of purple on the back.
It has a shorter neck and legs when compared to other wading birds, with the feet partially webbed with a comb-like middle toe which is used to groom its feathers.
They feed during the day usually in pairs and their diet mainly consists of aquatic invertebrates, and other prey such as amphibians, fish, rodents, insects, and shrimps.
The hamerkop prefers habitats that have slow-moving, still, and shallow waters such as irrigated lands also forests, and savannahs.
They are spread throughout Sub-Saharan Africa in shallow waters.
22. The Oxpecker
The oxpecker is a bird that you are guaranteed to see on an African Safari.
Their name comes from their habit of perching on large mammals such as rhinos, giraffes, zebras, buffalos, and cattle as they feed on ticks, botfly larvae, insects, other parasites, and animal’s blood.
The relationship they have with these mammals is more parasitic than mutual as they have been seen to open wounds on these animals’ backs to feed on their blood.
These birds have brown plumage but with an underbelly that is a lighter beige, grey or cream.
Their eyes are surrounded by either orange or red rings and have black pupils, and the beak can either be yellow or red depending on the two species of oxpeckers in Africa: the yellow-billed oxpecker and the red-billed oxpecker.
Oxpeckers prefer savannahs or anywhere there are large mammals from whom they get their food.
They are spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa but the red-billed oxpecker is found in Eastern Africa.
23. Helmeted guinea fowl
The helmeted guinea fowl is a terrestrial bird that has a distinct red wattle, bright blue head and neck with black with white spots plumage.
About the size of a regular chicken, this sociable bird will be found trailing herds of antelopes, zebras, and troupes of monkeys searching for food.
Although they prefer running on the ground, they can fly and glide for short distances.
Just like chickens, they scratch the soil in search of worms, insects, spiders, and snails, but they will also tackle large prey such as small snakes, lizards, frogs, and toads with their strong claws.
They like habitats such as open savannahs and grasslands. There are six species in Africa and they are spread throughout the sub-Saharan part of the continent.
24. The Weaverbird
These birds are known for their nest-building skills, whereby the males will make an intricate nest from twigs, grass, leaves, and feathers in a bid to attract a mate during the breeding season.
In Africa, there are over 60 species of weaverbirds across Sub Sahara Africa with most of them having the same conical short beaks made for nest weaving and feeding on seeds.
They will build their nests in places that will be hard for predators to get to their eggs and you will find them on the shores of lakes and along riverbanks.
25. The Lilac-breasted roller
The lilac-breasted Roller is a beautiful stunning bird known for its breathtaking aerobatic displays during the mating season.
It is a large-headed chunky bird with a lilac-coloured breast, a spring green crown, and rusty cheeks and it is also the national bird of Kenya.
They make their nests in natural holes such as in trees, with the female laying two to four eggs, which are incubated by both parents.
Their distribution ranges from East Africa to Southern Africa.
They live in open savannah habitats with scattered shrubs and trees, but will be found less often in riverine areas and light forests.
The lilac-breasted roller is found in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.
26. The Sacred ibis
The African sacred ibis is well known for its role in the Ancient Egyptian religion, as it was linked to Thoth.
Even though the bird has Egyptian roots it exists no longer in modern-day Egypt.
The sacred ibis likes to habit places near water as they feed by wading. Their diet consists of reptiles, amphibians, fish, mammals, and other birds.
The bird is distributed throughout Africa South of the Sahara region.
In West Africa, they can be found along the Niger delta in Mali, Lac Fitri in Chad, Logone of the Central African Republic, and the Saloum Delta in Senegal.
Along the Nile delta in Sudan, the birds are plentiful.
27. 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.
28. The Crowned plover
The crowned plover, also known as the crowned lapwing, is a highly adaptable and noisy bird.
Its most distinguishing feature is a white halo on the crown.
Its plumage consists of white and black feathers with a black crown and a white halo. Their diet is mainly made up of insects with a strong preference for termites.
They will be found in areas that have dry grassland and will avoid mountainous areas.
When conditions are unfavorable they migrate to other areas. In Africa, they can be found from the red-sea region, Somalia, to Southern Africa.
29. The Kori Bustard
Native to Africa, the Kori bustard is the heaviest bird known to take flight. The bird has a black head crest, yellow legs, and grey body plumage.
Kori bustards are opportunistic feeders and will forage terrestrially. Spending most of their time on the ground, they can be a little wary and will run on the first sign of danger.
Males which are typically 2-3 times heavier than females can weigh up to 18 kg (40 lb).
Their habitats include open grassy areas, plains, plateaus, semi-arid, lightly wooded savannah and Highveld scrub.
The Kori bustard’s distribution is from Eastern to Southern Africa in countries such as South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola.
30. The Pied Kingfisher
The pied kingfisher is Africa’s most common kingfisher specie.
Just like other kingfisher species, this bird has a dagger-like beak and even more distinct black and white plumage.
This bird has a distinctive hunting technique, as they have the record for the largest hovering bird.
These birds will hover about 15-20 m ( 50-65 feet) above the water then diving bill first into the water.
They can hover over water and eat on the fly, unlike other birds who require to perch to eat.
Thus they can hunt over large bodies of water without places to land or perch. Their diet mainly consists of fish both freshwater and saltwater but also include insects and amphibians.
Pied kingfishers are found near large water bodies such as lakes and rivers and are widespread throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.
31. The Swamp Flycatcher
The swamp flycatcher is a dull brown feathered bird with a white throat and brown chest band.
This sparrow-like bird feeds mainly on flying insects such as flies which they eat mid-flight.
They can be found in swampy areas and moist shrubland where there are a lot of flying insects.
They are spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa from West Africa; Chad, Ghana, Benin, East Africa; Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Southern Africa; South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
32. The Sunbird
Sunbirds are strong active flying birds that mostly feed on nectar and insects. Not to be confused with the nectar-eating hummingbirds, sunbirds don’t hover, instead, they perch and their beaks are curved.
Just like hummingbirds, sunbirds serve an important ecological function pollinating fruit trees such as orange trees.
Males are quite colorful due to their shimmering plumage which makes them appear varied depending on the light source and brightness. Females are less colorful.
Sunbirds are distributed across Africa south of the Sahara and also east towards the pacific islands such as Comoros and Seychelles.
The most widespread species found in Africa is the splendid sunbird, with black wings, black tails, greenback, and a purple head.
33. The Little bee-eater
The little bee-eater is a brightly colored bird that is abundant throughout the African savannah.
They have green and brown wings, black beaks, yellow throats, green upperparts, and breast feathers that are a rich brown color.
Their main diet consists of hornets, wasps, and bees which they smash rapidly on a hard surface, to remove the stings.
They are solitary nesters, unlike other bee-eaters, and often bee-eaters nest in sandy banks.
They like open country spaces such as open woodlands, and bushveld that is close to water bodies such as rivers.
They are distributed throughout Africa to the South of the Sahara, from Senegal, Nigeria, Sudan, Kenya, DRC, and Angola to South Africa.
This is a common term for a small group of parrots; nine species, of which are native to Africa.
These birds get their name from the strong bonds formed between pairs.
Among parrot species, they are quite small at just over 5 inches. In the wild, they live in small flocks and have a diet of seeds, grasses, vegetables, and fruits.
Most lovebird species are native to the African continent, even the grey-headed lovebird that is found in Madagascar; Madagascar is part of Africa.
My Final Conclusion.
Well, this article on all these African bird species took me a few days to write haha!
But if you have any more questions though, feel free to ask them below in the comment section! Or feel free to share your pictures in my Facebook group.
I wish you happy birding in Africa!