With more than 2500 species of birds, Africa is a bird-watcher’s paradise. From tiny, brightly coloured sunbirds and feisty little bee-eaters, to sinister marabou storks, prehistoric shoebills and even penguins, African birds come in an almost infinite number of sizes, shapes and colours.
While wildlife-lovers tend to focus first and foremost on Africa’s safari animals, its wonderful birds should definitely not be overlooked. If you’re heading off on an African safari, or you just want to find out about some of the amazing birds of Africa, this list is a great place to get to know them.
Below I’ve listed the top 30-or-so African birds. These are a combination of the most iconic birds in Africa, and the common ones that you’re most likely to see on your trip. Almost all of these photos were taken by me on just three visits to Africa – one to Tanzania, one to Uganda, and one to South Africa – so there’s a good chance you should also be able to spot many of these amazing birds too.
1/ Grey crowned crane
Grey Crowned Cranes (Balearica regulorum), or Crested Cranes, reach about 1 metre tall, with a wingspan of 2 metres. They’re one of the easiest African birds to recognise thanks to their bright red throat pouch, white face, blue eyes, and eye-catching crown of bright gold feathers. They are one of only two types of crane that can roost in trees.
Like many birds, Grey Crowned Cranes have an elaborate mating dance involving bowing, jumping, spreading their wings, and hopping. But they don’t just do this during mating season – you may see this display at any time of year, so have your camera ready!
Grey Crowned Cranes are endangered, thanks to habitat destruction and persecution by some farmers, who see them as pests.
Where to see grey crowned cranes in Africa
This scarily prehistoric-looking African bird captures the imagination because it really does look like the dinosaurs from which birds are descended.
The shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) is huge – measuring up to 1.5 metres tall and with a wingspan of up to 2.5 metres. It’s named after its enormous bill which some say looks like a shoe and which can grow up to 24cm long and 20cm wide. Although they are mostly silent, they use this huge bill to make loud, scary clattering sounds to communicate with other birds.
The shoebill (also known as the shoebill stork) is a solitary bird, living alone in marshy swap areas where it can sit still, waiting for fish, frogs and water snakes, for long periods without moving.
Where to see shoebills in Africa
There are only about 5,000 to 8,000 of these amazing birds left in Africa, living in freshwater swamps in central and east Africa, including Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, western Tanzania and northern Zambia.
3/ Common Ostrich
The ostrich (Struthio camelus) is the largest living bird. It’s far too heavy to fly, but it is the fastest bird or animal on two legs and can sprint at over 70 km/hr, covering up to 5 metres in a single stride.
Their long legs can also be powerful weapons, able to kill a human, or a would-be predator like a lion, with a single kick. They lay enormous eggs which are the largest of any living bird and are roughly the equivalent of two dozen hens’ eggs.
Ostriches spend the winter months in pairs or alone, but during breeding season these African birds congregate in ‘herds’, with one male presiding over a harem of up to seven females.
Where to see ostriches in Africa
Ostriches are common across the whole of Africa, all the way from North Africa (including Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco) to East and Southern Africa. They prefer grasslands and savanna areas like the Serengeti and Maasai Mara, where they are fairly easy to spot thanks to their size. In South Africa you can also visit ostrich farms if you want to get up close.
There are six species of flamingo, of which two live in Africa: the greater and lesser flamingos. These in the photo are lesser flamingos (Phoeniconaias minor), the smallest species, which I photographed at Lake Natron in Tanzania.
Adult flamingos can be four to five feet tall, but weigh only four to eight pounds. Thats amazing when you consider that a healthy five-foot-tall human weighs around 100 lb – which probably explains why these African birds can fly but we can’t.
Flamingos feed by scooping up mud from the lakebed and using their specially-adapted bills to filter out small crustaceans and plankton. They’re pink thanks to the colour of the tiny shellfish that they eat.
Where to see flamingos in Africa
Flamingos mainly congregate at specific breeding grounds around salty lakes, so you’ll need to make a special trip if you want to see these amazing African birds. However, if you can get to one of these places, you’ll be rewarded with the spectacular sight of thousands of flamingos all together. Breeding grounds include Lake Natron in Tanzania, Lake Nakuru, Lake Bogoria, and Lake Elmenteita in Kenya, and Kamfers Dam in South Africa.
Vultures are nature’s rubbish collectors – they scavenge on the flesh and bones of dead and dying animals. While they prefer fresh meat, they can eat flesh that is so decayed it’s poisonous to other animals, and a flock of vultures can pick a carcass clean in just a few hours.
These birds have few feathers on their heads and necks so that when they bury their faces inside rotting carcasses, bacteria and other parasites cannot infect them so easily.
A vulture’s senses of sight and smell are among the best of any bird and they are able to find a dead animal from a mile or more away. Because of this, vultures have huge territories and spend a lot of time flying around looking for their next meal.
Where to see vultures in Africa
There are 23 vulture species, of which 11 live in Africa. However, sadly they are now threatened due to loss of habitat and conflict with humans, who see them as pests. However you can still see vultures in the savanna areas of many sub-Saharan countries including Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. Look out for them perched in trees or, if you’re lucky, feeding on an animal carcass.
6/ Secretary bird
The secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) is one of the most impressive-looking birds of Africa. Standing more than 4 feet tall, this mostly ground-based bird of prey is instantly recognisable from its long pink legs, bare red face and sharp, curved yellow beak. It’s thought the name comes from the idea that with its knee-length black ‘pantaloons’, black ‘coat’ and quill-like head feathers, this bird looks a bit like a 19th century clerk or secretary.
Secretary birds are one of only two birds of prey that hunt on the ground instead of from the air (the other is the South American caracara). They eat small rodents, amphibians, and reptiles, and famously use their sharp claws and powerful feet to stomp their prey to death.
Where to see secretary birds in Africa
The secretary bird is usually found in the open grasslands and savanna of the sub-Saharan region, from Senegal to Somalia and down to South Africa.
7/ Marabou stork
The marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus) is sometimes referred to as the ‘undertaker bird’ because of its cloak-like wings, hunched posture, and sinister-looking expression. They are scavengers, and can frequently be seen feeding around Africa’s landfill sites and rubbish dumps.
They’re absolutely massive and were once thought to be the largest living bird, with a wingspan well over three metres (but are now known to be beaten by the wandering albatross which has a wingspan of up to 3.7 metres).
The marabou is very easy to spot due to its enormous size, powerful bill, and naked head. Like vultures, the lack of feathers on its face helps this bird keep clean when scavenging amongst rotting waste.
Where to see marabou storks in Africa
Marabou storks are not afraid of humans, and can even be quite intimidating. These birds nest in colonies in treetops, and as well as seeing them on safari in East African countries like Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, you’re very likely to spot them in and around the cities.
8/ Yellow-billed stork
Yellow-billed storks (Mycteria ibis) are medium-sized wading storks that live around rivers and wetlands, preying mainly on small freshwater fish, as well as crustaceans, frogs, insects and worms.
These birds are intelligent and quick to adapt. When hunting, they use one foot to stir the riverbed, disturbing any potential prey from its hiding place. Once the animal is moving, the stork, with its fast reflexes, is able to quickly grab it from the water.
Where to see yellow-billed storks in Africa
Yellow-billed storks are mainly found around freshwater wetlands and lakes in Eastern and Southern Africa, from Senegal down to South Africa, as well as in some parts of Madagascar.
9/ Saddle-billed stork
Another interesting-looking stork that you may well see on your African safari is the saddle-billed stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis). At almost five feet tall, this is the tallest stork in the world, taller than the enormous marabou, but not as heavy.
It gets its name from its eye-catching colourful beak, with the vivid red bands and bright yellow frontal shield – the ‘saddle’. You’ll also notice it has an unusual yellow and red patch on its chest: this is the ‘brood patch’, an area of bare skin richly supplied with blood capillaries that is used during breeding season to make sure body heat can easily be transferred between the parent and the egg.
Where to see saddle-billed storks in Africa
Unlike marabou storks which form colonies, these birds live alone or in pairs. They are widespread throughout sub-Saharan Africa including in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda in East Africa, and Gambia, Senegal and Chad in West Africa. You may also see in them in South Africa, where they are considered endangered.
There are eight species of pelican, of which two, the great white (Pelecanus onocrotalus) and pink-backed (Pelecanus rufescens) live in Africa.
Pelicans are easily recognised by their long bill and large throat pouch, which they use to scoop up fish and drain away the water before swallowing. It’s said that a pelican can fit three times as much fish into its throat pouch as it can in its stomach.
They’re closely-related to shoebills, and fossil records show that the pelican family dates back as much as 30 million years!
Where to see pelicans in Africa
Pelicans are water birds, so you can see them around lakes, coasts and rivers. You can see both pink-backed and great white pelicans right across sub-Saharan and southern Africa, where their conservation status is assessed as being of least concern.
Read more: A Boat Cruise on the Kazinga Channel, Uganda
Cormorants are another type of African waterbird commonly found around rivers, lakes and estuaries. In Africa the one you will most easily see is the great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), which comes in two varieties: black and white-breasted, like those in the photo above.
To catch fish, cormorants dive underwater and use their wings like fins to swim. But surprisingly for a waterbird, their feathers are not waterproof. That’s why you often see these birds standing with their wings outspread, drying them in the sun.
In the photo you’ll also notice all the birds are facing the same way with their beaks open. It’s believed they face the sun after feeding as the warmth aids their digestion of the cold fish.
Where to see cormorants in Africa
Africa is home to several species of cormorants, including great cormorants, crowned, long-tailed and Cape cormorants. In sub-Saharan Africa the most common is the white-breasted, which is a freshwater-only bird and can be easily spotted around lakes and rivers across the entire region from west to east and down to South Africa. I photographed these guys on a boat ride on the Kazinga Channel, Uganda.
12/ African fish eagle
There are 60 species of eagle, most of which live in Europe and Africa. They are large, powerful birds of prey with extraordinary eyesight – eight times stronger than that of a human – which allows them to spot even a tiny meal like a rabbit from more than a mile away.
The African fish eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer) is one of the most iconic of all African birds of prey and one of the largest African eagles, with a wingspan reaching up to a massive 2.4 metres. Its distinctive screeching call is said to be one of the ‘sounds of Africa’. As its name suggests, it mostly eats fish and has sharp barbs on its toes to help it grip onto its slippery prey.
Where to see African fish eagles in Africa
The African fish eagle is the national bird of both Namibia and Zambia but with its huge range it can be found right across sub-Saharan Africa. Since its main food is fish, it can usually be spotted perched prominently near lakes and rivers. A good place to see them is near Lake Victoria in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
13/ Tawny eagle
The tawny eagle (Aquila rapax) is a medium-sized eagle recognisable by its lighter brown head, dark brown body, and feather-covered legs (not all eagles have this; those that do are called ‘booted eagles’). This bird prefers semi-dry habitats like desert areas and open savanna plains and mainly hunts small mammals, though they will also scavenge for carrion and even steal food from other birds.
Where to see tawny eagles in Africa
The tawny eagle is one of the most common types of eagle in Africa. There is a declining population in North Africa in countries like Morocco, Mali and Chad; but your best chance of seeing one is either in east Africa (including Kenya, Tanzania and DR Congo), where they are the most regularly-sighted brown eagle, or in southern Africa, where they are frequently spotted in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and some parts of Namibia and South Africa.
14/ Augur buzzard
The augur buzzard (Buteo augur) is another large African bird of prey. Like eagles, buzzards are powerful predators with impressive eyesight, but they tend to be smaller than eagles and their tails are more fan-shaped. The augur buzzard is particularly distinctive thanks to its bright white belly and speckled wing tips.
Augur buzzards feed on small vertebrates, reptiles and small mammals and birds, as well as insects and carrion. They usually hunt from a perch, looking for prey by sitting on a tree or rock, but you may also see them soaring and hovering overhead.
Where to see augur buzzards in Africa
The augur buzzard is only found in eastern and southwestern Africa, where it is quite common. Look out for it in elevated savanna grasslands and the lower slopes of mountainous areas in countries including Sudan, Ethiopia, DR Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
15/ Yellow-billed kite
The yellow-billed kite (Milvus aegyptius) is a medium-sized bird of prey that you can recognise from its bright yellow beak and feet, and V-shaped tail. These birds measure about 55 cm tall and have a wingspan of up to 1.5 metres.
Kites are fast and quick fliers, capable of sudden bursts of speed, and can catch and eat insects in flight. They are also scavengers and are bold around humans, even sometimes stealing food from picnic tables or other birds.
Where to see yellow-billed kites in Africa
Yellow-billed kites are not considered threatened and can be seen all across sub-Saharan Africa in almost all types of habitats and even urban areas. I photographed this one flying low over the shore of Lake Victoria at Entebbe, Uganda.
16/ Kori bustard
Although it is one of the largest and heaviest flying birds in Africa, the Kori bustard (Ardeotis kori) spends most of its time on the ground, taking to the air only to escape from predators and landing again as soon as possible. They can reach three feet tall and males can weigh up to 40 pounds, which is quite a difference from the agile flamingo! Male kori bustards are thought to be the heaviest flying birds on the planet.
Sometimes you may see them taking a ‘dust bath’ – this is because unlike other African birds they don’t have a preening gland that produces oil to keep their feathers clean from parasites.
In some parts of Africa kori bustards are hunted for their meat.
Where to see kori bustards in Africa
These birds can be found across eastern and southern Africa, especially in Botswana, Namibia and Tanzania. They mainly live in open grassy areas and savannas, and often follow herds of zebras or antelopes looking for creatures that have been disturbed by their hooves.
Hornbills (Bucerotidae) are native to Africa and Asia and are easily recognised by their long, curved bill. To support its weight, hornbills are the only birds that have their first and second neck vertebrae fused together. They also have very strong neck muscles.
There are 55 species of hornbill, of which 24 are found in Africa. These birds come in a wide range of sizes, from the tiny black dwarf hornbill which is about the size of a pigeon and lives in the African tropical rainforest, to the southern ground hornbill which lives in the savannas of southern Africa and has a nearly 2-metre wingspan.
Hornbills are famous for their breeding behaviour: the female lays her eggs in a hole in a tree or crevice, and then completely seals herself inside with mud and droppings, leaving only a tiny opening. The male then brings her food while she incubates the eggs.
Where to see hornbills in Africa
Of the 24 types of hornbill living in Africa, 13 can be found in open woodlands and savanna, and the rest are found in dense forests. Red and yellow-billed hornbills are fairly common across the whole of eastern and southern Africa, so you should have no problem spotting one on your African safari.
18/ Cattle egret
The cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) is a medium-sized white bird related to the heron. They gather in flocks around wetlands, farmlands and grasslands, and with their dazzling white plumage they are very conspicuous.
Unlike many African bird species that have suffered due to human activity and loss of habitat, cattle egrets have adapted to living alongside humans and are often found near herds of cattle, where they forage for small creatures disturbed by the mammals.
Where to see cattle egrets in Africa
Cattle egrets are very common birds across the whole of Africa, and you are almost guaranteed to see several on your safari or trip. Look out for them around lakes and marshy areas, and alongside herds of buffalo or zebras.
Hamerkops may look like ducks, but they are most closely related to pelicans and shoebills. They’re wading African birds with partially webbed feet, about the same size as a duck. Their name, which means ‘hammerhead’ in Afrikaans, is said to come from the brown crest on the back of the head, which together with the broad bill, makes them look like a hammer.
Hamerkops (Scopus umbretta) are famous for the huge, bulky nests they build in trees. Nests can reach as much as 5 feet across and are strong enough to support the weight of a person. Each breeding pair may make three to five nests per year, though many of them go unused.
Where to see hamerkops in Africa
Hamerkops can be found across the whole of sub-Saharan Africa close to shallow water, such as rivers, reservoirs, marshes and estuaries. Their huge nests are easy to spot, and if you see one there’s a good chance the owner may not be too far away. I photographed the one above in Entebbe Botanical Gardens, Uganda.
20/ Helmeted guinea fowl
The helmeted guinea fowl (Numida meleagris) is a ground-dwelling African bird, about the size of a chicken, with a featherless head and a round body covered with spotty black and white feathers. They’re sociable birds and hang out in large flocks, often following herds of larger mammals like zebras, antelopes and monkeys looking for food like insects and seeds. They also play a vital role in keeping ticks, locusts and flies under control.
As far back as ancient Roman times guinea fowl were prized for their meat, eggs and feathers. Today they are hunted for consumption and also kept as domestic animals.
Where to see guinea fowl in Africa
There are 6 species of guinea fowl native to Africa; all of them can be found across sub-Saharan Africa in mainly open habitats like grasslands and savanna where they are easily spotted. In groups they can be very noisy and quite funny to watch as they madly scurry about.
21/ Black-headed weaver bird
Weaver birds (Ploceidae) are famous for their extraordinary nest-building skills. To attract a mate, the male weaver bird builds an elaborate nest from grass, leaves and twigs, in hope that a female will approve it. Only the best nest-builders win the ladies.
There are around 60 species of weaver birds, most of which live in sub-Saharan Africa, with a few species in tropical Asia and Australia. They vary in colour from speckled brown and black to bright yellow and red, but they all have short, conical beaks perfect for weaving nest and eating their favourite food: seeds.
Where to see weaver birds in Africa
Weaver birds tend to build their nests near to water where they will be harder for predators to reach, so look out for them along riverbanks and on the shores of lakes.
The oxpecker is another characterful African bird that you are almost guaranteed to see if you do a game drive or safari in Africa. There are two types of oxpecker: red-billed (Buphagus erythrorhynchus) and yellow-billed (Buphagus africanus), and both live happily alongside large mammals like buffalo, giraffes and zebras, eating the flies and ticks that feast on the blood of these animals.
However, while this might seem like a perfect relationship – the oxpecker gets a good meal while the animal gets relief from parasites – the story has a darker side. Oxpeckers’ favourite food is actually blood, and while they do eat ticks, they also open up wounds and eat the flesh and blood of their hosts.
Where to see oxpeckers in Africa
Oxpeckers are common to the savannas of sub-Saharan Africa, and you will easily spot them in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and more. Look out for them anywhere you see large mammals; there’s bound to be an oxpecker perched on someone’s head or back.
23/ Pied kingfisher
There are over 100 species of kingfisher living on every continent except Antarctica, but in Africa the most common is the pied kingfisher (Ceryle rudis).
These striking black and white birds live near lakes and rivers, where they can be seen hanging out in pairs on the riverbank, or hovering over the water before diving down to catch small fish or large aquatic insects. Pied kingfishers can swallow their food in flight, meaning they can fly further out over a body of water than other kingfishers.
Where to see pied kingfishers in Africa
The best way to see pied kingfishers is to take a boat ride along a river and look out for them at the water’s edge. They make their nests in holes in the riverbank, so if you see a section of mud wall full of holes, this may well be a kingfisher colony. The one above was photographed in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda.
24/ Lilac-breasted roller
The lilac-breasted roller is arguably one of the prettiest and most colourful of all African birds. It’s part of the roller family, which get their name from the amazing aerial acrobatics they perform.
Lilac-breasted rollers (Coracias caudatus) are highly territorial and will violently defend their nests, even taking on much bigger birds. During breeding season the males fly high before diving and swooping down while making loud calls to attract females.
Where to see lilac-breasted rollers in Africa
These birds are found throughout eastern and southern Africa. They live in open woodland and bushy savannah where they can often be seen perched alone or in pairs on a tree, looking out for insects and beetles, their unmistakeable bright plumage glowing in the sunlight.
25/ Swamp flycatcher
The swamp flycatcher is a small sparrow-like bird that, as its name suggests, eats mainly flies and other flying insects, which it catches in mid-air. It prefers to live in moist shrubland and swampy areas, and is harder to spot than some of the larger or more colourful birds on this list.
Where to see swamp flycatchers in Africa
Swamp flycatchers (Muscicapa aquatica) can be found throughout tropical sub-Saharan Africa, including in Benin, Ghana, Chad, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
Sunbirds are Africa’s answer to hummingbirds: small, vibrantly-coloured birds that feed mostly on nectar. However unlike hummingbirds, most sunbirds cannot hover, so they have to perch on the flower in order to drink. Only the males are so beautifully colourful; female sunbirds are usually much more drab.
Hummingbirds live only in the Americas, while sunbirds are exclusively Asian and African birds. This is a fascinating example of something called ‘convergent evolution’ – where two separate species have independently evolved to be similar due to their similar habitats and lifestyles.
Sunbirds (Nectariniidae) have a long, curved bill that they use to probe the nectar from the flower. However if they can’t reach, they’ll use its sharp tip to cut the flower open at the base to reach the sugary treat.
Where to see Sunbirds in Africa
There are over 80 species of sunbird in Africa: two of the most commonly-spotted are the Southern double-collared sunbird and the collared sunbird (which has a green head and yellow stomach). Sunbirds are found mostly in tropical regions of sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar, where they are most easily spotted in gardens and plantations where flowers can be found.
27/ Red-throated bee-eater
There are 27 different types of bee-eater, and the red-throated bee-eater (Merops bulocki) is one of the most common in Africa. Like the sunbirds, they are easily spotted thanks to their vibrant plumage and long, pointed beak.
As their name suggests, they mostly eat bees and wasps, which they catch on the wing. To avoid being stung, the bee-eater repeatedly bashes or rubs the insect on a hard surface, which forces it to release most of the venom contained in its stinger.
Where to see bee-eaters in Africa
Bee-eaters are listed by IUCN as being of ‘least concern’ and have a large population, so shouldn’t be too hard to spot. You can find red-throated bee-eaters right across the tropical regions of Africa, including in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, and Uganda.
28/ African wattled lapwing
The African wattled lapwing (Vanellus senegallus), also known as the wattled plover, is a medium-sized brown wading bird with long, bright yellow legs, a white forehead and bright red and yellow wattles on its face. It’s quite a noisy bird and makes a loud peep-peep-peep call, which you may well hear before you see it. Wattled lapwings mostly feed on insects including locusts, beetles and termites.
Where to see wattled lapwings in Africa
These African birds are non-threatened and are common across sub-Saharan Africa, and can usually be spotted in wet lowland areas, like damp grasslands and marshlands. I photographed this one in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda.
29/ African wood owl
Like most owls, the African wood owl (Strix woodfordii) is nocturnal. It’s a medium-sized owl (about 30 cm tall) that lives in forest or woodland areas. It eats mostly insects such as grasshoppers, moths and beetles, as well as occasional small reptiles, mammals or birds.
Africa is home to more than 30 species of owl. In some African cultures, owls are seen as bringers of bad luck or ill health, which poses a challenge to their conservation.
Where to see African wood owls in Africa
Countries you may see an African wood owl include DR Congo, Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia, Gambia, Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya. I spotted this one perched in the rafters of our safari lodge in Kibale, Uganda.
Read more: 28 Top Things To Do and See in Uganda
30/ Superb starling
Starlings can be found right across Europe, Asia and Africa, but the African ones are particularly attractive thanks to their spectacular iridescent plumage, which is why they are also sometimes known as ‘glossy starlings’. The species you are most likely to see on your African safari is the superb starling, which has a metallic blue and green back and a copper-coloured stomach with a narrow white stripe.
Superb starlings (Lamprotornis superbus) generally live in savanna, open woodland, gardens and fields. You will regularly see flocks of them hopping along the ground, looking for beetles, termites and worms. They are generally quite tame and unafraid of humans.
Where to see superb starlings in Africa
Superb starlings are common in East Africa, especially Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan and Tanzania, but they can also be found throughout sub-Saharan Africa. I met this pretty chap in Tanzania, but I also have other photos of similar starlings from South Africa.
Lovebirds (Agapornis) are small, brightly coloured parrots, most no more than 15 cm long. There are nine species, of which eight are native to the African continent and one to Madagascar. Fossils of ancestors to today’s modern lovebird species have been found in South Africa, dating back 1.9 million years.
Lovebirds get their name from the fact that they are social and affectionate. Pairs of these cute African birds mate for life, spend long periods sitting together, and even feed each other. If one partner dies, the other will often pine and show erratic behaviour that has been likened to depression. Because of their small size, attractive colouring, and generally sociable disposition, lovebirds are often kept as pets.
Where to see lovebirds in Africa
Most lovebirds are found in equatorial and southern Africa. Look out for them especially in Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Ethiopia.
32/ African barbet
There are 43 species of African barbet, which are small, chunky and brightly-coloured African birds. They’re related to toucans but they are much smaller, only about 20-25 cm long, with large heads and a short, thick bill. Barbets are mainly solitary birds and feed on insects and fruit, which they swallow whole and then later regurgitate the indigestible parts like the seeds.
The bird in the photo is a crested barbet (Trachyphonus vaillantii), sometimes nicknamed ‘fruit salad’ because of its mixed red and yellow plumage. They’re one of the more easily spotted barbets, thanks to their distinctive colours and the fact that they are common.
Many barbets have bristles around their bills, which is how they get their name: from the French word ‘barbe’, meaning ‘beard’.
Where to see African barbets in Africa
Barbets prefer open woodland areas or scrub savanna with scattered trees and bushes. They’re mostly found in southern Africa, in countries like Zambia, Angola, Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa.
33/ African sacred ibis
With its bright white body, black head and tail, and long, elegantly curved bill, the sacred ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) is one of the most distinctive African birds. It’s native to Africa and the Middle East, and features heavily in Egyptian mythology, associated with Thoth, the god of wisdom and writing, who is depicted with the head of an ibis.
Sacred ibis are medium-sized wading birds. They stand about 60 cm tall and have a wingspan of about 120 cm. They hang out in flocks and mainly eat insects, worms, fish, frogs and crustaceans.
Where to see African sacred ibis in Africa
In Roman times these birds were common throughout North Africa, where they were even bred in farms to provide stock for religious sacrifices. Today they have spread south and can now be found across sub-Saharan Africa. I spotted these five in Tanzania, where they are particularly common.
34/ African penguin
While not a bird you’re likely to see on a typical safari, no article about African birds would be complete without mentioning African penguins. Because yes, although penguins are more typically associated with Antarctica, you can see penguins in Africa if you know where to look.
African penguins are quite small – about 60-70 cm tall, and like all penguins they cannot fly. They’re very charismatic birds and have a loud, donkey-like bray, which has given them the nickname ‘jackass penguins’. African penguins mate for life and spend about 10 months of the year hunting for fish out at sea, returning to the same colonies every year to breed. Unfortunately their numbers have dramatically declined in recent years, and they are now listed as endangered by IUCN.
Where to see penguins in Africa
African penguins can only be found in the very south of the continent, mainly in South Africa and Namibia. There’s a particularly popular penguin colony at Boulders Beach and Foxy Beach near Cape Town. The best time to see them here is during nesting season, from March to May.
I hope you enjoyed this post! Which is your favourite African bird? Do you think I missed any? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
If you enjoyed this post, why not try some of my other African wildlife posts?