Southern Africa's Best Birding Spots

Home to more than 960 bird species (98 of which are endemic), Southern Africa is a veritable birder’s paradise. The region’s prolific birdlife is explained by an incredible array of unique habitats, ranging from the arid savanna of Namibia and Botswana to the lush coastal forests and fynbos of South Africa. For the purpose of this article, Southern Africa is defined according to the perimeters of popular bird book Sasol Birds of Southern Africa. This includes Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland and parts of Mozambique

  • 01 of 08

    Mkhuze Game Reserve, South Africa

    Pink-Backed Pelican, Southern Africa Best Birding
    ••• Pink-Backed Pelican. Heinrich van den Berg/Getty Images

    Located to the northwest of Zululand’s iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Mkhuze is one of the best year-round birding sites in South Africa. It boasts a number of habitats ranging from acacia savanna to rare sand forest and provides a home for more than 420 species. With good roads and a series of excellent hides, it’s also easy to navigate. The sand forest is a great place to spot endemics like the Pink-throated Twinspot and the Neergaard’s Sunbird, while guided walks through the park’s Fig Forest offer the chance to spot Southern Banded Snake-eagles and Broad-billed Rollers. Nsumo Pan is a hotspot for waterbirds ranging from Pink-backed Pelicans to Pel’s Fishing Owls. 

  • 02 of 08

    Cape Town, South Africa

    Northern Royal Albatross, Southern Africa Best Birding
    ••• Northern Royal Albatross. David Tipling/Getty Images

    More than 100 seabird species have been spotted along the length of South Africa’s spectacular coastline, but when it comes to pelagic birding, the nutrient-rich waters of the Cape are second to none. At the fishing grounds south of Cape Point, trawlers attract a smorgasbord of species. Winter (May - September) is the most prolific birding season, bringing with it exciting visitors from the Southern Ocean including the Black-browed Albatross, the Northern Royal Albatross, and the Antarctic Prion. In summer, phalaropes, shearwaters, and skuas are commonly seen, while a visit to Cape Town also provides the opportunity to visit a colony of endemic African Penguins at nearby Boulders Beach

  • 03 of 08

    Caprivi Strip, Namibia

    Wattled Crane, Southern Africa Best Birding
    ••• Wattled Crane. Franz Aberham/Getty Images

    A narrow strip of land at the northeast corner of Namibia, the Caprivi Strip is bordered by the Okavango, Kwando, Chobe and Zambezi Rivers. Its tropical climate offers a sharp contrast to many of Namibia’s more arid birding destinations, and a chance to spot more than 450 species. Popa Falls is an area highlight, known for woodland species including the African Wood Owl and the African Goshawk. Mahango Game Reserve is home to approximately two-thirds of Namibia’s bird species, including floodplain residents like the Wattled Crane and the Rufous-bellied Heron. Okavango Delta specials like the Slaty Egret and the Coppery-tailed Coucal can also be spotted in the Caprivi, while migrants are common between November and April. 

  • 04 of 08

    Walvis Bay, Namibia

    Greater Flamingos, Southern Africa Best Birding
    ••• Greater Flamingos. Panoramic Images/Getty Images

    Sheltered, shallow bays are hard to come by on Namibia’s dramatic coastline, but Walvis Bay ticks both boxes - making it one Southern Africa’s most important coastal wetlands. It is a paradise for seabirds, shorebirds, and waders, which often gather in aggregations of up to 150,000 birds at a time. Walvis Bay is known for its vast flocks of Greater and Lesser Flamingos, and for its high density of intra-African and palearctic migrants. October to April offers the best chance to spot these visitors, with highlights including the Chestnut-banded Plover, the Red-necked Phalarope, and the Black-tailed Godwit. Harbor cruises also offer the chance to spot petrels, skuas and Great White Pelicans. 

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  • 05 of 08

    Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique

    African Green Pigeon, Southern Africa Best Birding
    ••• African Green Pigeon. Nigel Dennis/Getty Images

    Mozambique may be less geared for birders (and tourists in general) than South Africa or Namibia, but there are nevertheless 15 Important Bird Areas within its borders. Washed with turquoise waters and famous for its scuba diving, Bazaruto Archipelago is also a birding hotspot with over 180 species recorded on its five main islands. It’s a winter migration destination for northern hemisphere waders like the Lesser Sand Plover and the Grey Plover, making the austral summer the optimum time to visit. The islands of the archipelago also provide the opportunity to spot an array of colorful residents, including the Narina Trogon, the African Green Pigeon, and the locally-rare Madagascar Bee-eater.

  • 06 of 08

    Nyanga National Park, Zimbabwe

    Livingstone's Turaco, Southern Africa Best Birding
    ••• Livingstone's Turaco. K S Kong/Getty Images

    Part of the Eastern Zimbabwe Mountains Endemic Bird Area, Nyanga National Park is home to more than 300 different types of bird, including several rarities. Its patches of wet montane forest provide particularly good birding, harboring endemic species like the Swee Waxbill, the Barratt’s Warbler and the Chirinda Apalis. Other highlights include the vulnerable Blue Swallow, the Livingstone’s Turaco and the Taita Falcon. The park is also known as a hiking destination and is therefore safe to explore on foot, giving birders and bird photographers the opportunity to get closer than vehicle safaris would typically allow. November to April is the best time to visit, although birding is good all year round.

  • 07 of 08

    Okavango Delta, Botswana

    Lesser Jacana, Southern Africa Best Birding
    ••• Lesser Jacana. Peter Johnson/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

    Arguably one of the best birding destinations on the continent, the jewel-like Okavango Delta boasts more than 500 recorded bird species. It is spectacular throughout the year, although those willing to brave the rains of the southern hemisphere summer (November to April) will be able to add intra-African and palearctic migrants to their resident sightings. Traditional dugouts or mokoros offer a soundless way to explore the Delta’s waterways, whose reeds provide a haven for kingfishers, cormorants, and rails. Okavango specials include the Slaty Egret, the Lesser Jacana and the Hartlaub’s Babbler, whilst Pel’s Fishing Owls and White-Backed Night Herons are also much sought-after highlights. 

  • 08 of 08

    Chobe River, Botswana

    Carmine Bee-Eaters, Southern Africa Best Birding
    ••• Carmine Bee-Eaters. Heinrich van den Berg/Getty Images

    Over 450 bird species have been recorded in Chobe National Park, most of which can be seen on or near the mighty Chobe River. River cruises are a good way to make the most of potential sightings, while the optimum birding season runs from September to March. At this time, the arrival of visiting migrants increases the river’s resident bird population by up to 20%. Diversity is key here, with sightings ranging from kingfishers to waders to raptors. Large storks are frequently seen, including the Marabou, the Saddle-billed and the Openbill; while the riverbanks provide nesting space for colonies of iridescent Carmine Bee-eaters. Rarities include the Rock Pratincole and the African Skimmer.