Discover the Exotic Avian Wonders of Africa With These Top 40 Must-See African Birds
Africa, a land of unparalleled beauty and biodiversity, is home to over 2,300 bird species. Among them are some of the most stunning and unique birds on the planet.
In this blog post, we will explore the top 40 African birds that you don’t want to miss during your travels and reveal where you can find these feathered wonders in their natural habitats.
Whether you’re an avid birder or simply appreciate nature’s incredible diversity, join us as we embark on this fascinating journey through Africa’s avian world.
- Africa is home to over 2,300 bird species, and among them are some of the most unique and stunning birds on the planet.
- The top 40 African birds to spot include iconic species such as the African Fish Eagle, Southern Ground Hornbill, Lilac-Breasted Roller, Secretary Bird, and many more.
- These birds can be found in various habitats across sub – Saharan Africa, from wetlands and savannas to dense forests. Observing their behaviors during breeding season or while they hunt for prey is a memorable experience for both avid birders and nature enthusiasts.
Top 40 African Birds And Where To Spot Them
The top 40 African birds to spot include the majestic African Fish Eagle, striking Southern Ground Hornbill, colorful Lilac-Breasted Roller, and unique Secretary Bird among others.
1. African Fish Eagle
The African Fish Eagle is an iconic bird of prey admired for its striking appearance and powerful presence throughout sub-Saharan Africa. With its distinctive white head, brown body, and ominous black wings extending up to eight feet, this species is not only visually stunning but also highly skilled at hunting fish in freshwater habitats.
Renowned for their majestic call that echoes through the African skies, the African Fish Eagles are a top attraction on any bird-watching safari or nature-based excursion.
Sightings often occur when these impressive birds perch atop trees overlooking water bodies or dive swiftly into the water with remarkable precision to snatch a meal.
2. Southern Ground Hornbill
The Southern Ground Hornbill, native to Africa, is a magnificent bird that keen birdwatchers should add to their must-see list. With its striking appearance and unique behavior, this species is easily recognizable due to its vivid red facial skin and huge bill perfect for foraging in the savannas of sub-Saharan Africa.
These terrestrial birds play an essential role in maintaining ecological balance by consuming a wide variety of prey including insects, snakes, rodents, and even small mammals.
They can be spotted primarily across eastern and southern parts of Africa – from Sudan to South Africa – where conditions are ideal for them to thrive within open grasslands or savanna habitats.
3. Lilac-Breasted Roller
The Lilac-Breasted Roller is a vibrant and striking bird that has become an iconic symbol of Africa’s colorful wildlife. Found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in open grasslands and savannas, this small yet stunning creature boasts a breathtaking palette of colors on its feathers – lilac-blue chest, sky blue head and neck, emerald green back, black wings with white spots, and caramel-colored tail streamers.
In addition to their remarkable beauty, Lilac-Breasted Rollers are known for their acrobatic flight displays during the breeding season. They glide gracefully through the air before suddenly diving into a series of rapid rolls as part of their impressive courtship rituals.
These agile aviators also use their hooked bills to catch insects or small prey mid-flight or snatch them from the ground while perched on low branches.
4. Secretary Bird
The Secretary Bird is a magnificent bird of prey found in the open grasslands and savannas of sub-Saharan Africa. This terrestrial bird has brown and black plumage, with a short crest of black feathers on its head.
Its most distinctive feature is the long bare legs that are featherless up to the knee joint, resembling pants like those worn by secretaries hence their name.
These birds are known for their unique hunting style, using their powerful legs to stomp on small prey or kick larger animals like snakes or hedgehogs until they are stunned before devouring them whole.
Moreover, they also have strong talons and a sharp beak that can break bones if necessary to get to their food. They tend to form monogamous pairs during the breeding season but are seen as solitary birds outside this time frame often resting their heads on their bodies while perched on trees surveying for potential meals below.
5. African Grey Parrot
The African Grey Parrot is a highly intelligent bird native to the dense forests of West and Central Africa. Known for their exceptional abilities to mimic human speech, these parrots have become popular pets around the world.
Spotting an African Grey Parrot in the wild requires venturing deep into the rainforest, where they can be difficult to find due to their small size and camouflage plumage.
These social birds often gather in large flocks and communicate with each other using a variety of calls and whistles. Despite being popular as pets, it’s important to remember that these birds are meant to live freely in their natural habitats.
6. African Pied Wagtail
The African Pied Wagtail is a small bird that can be found all over sub-Saharan Africa. With its striking black and white plumage, it’s easy to spot in open grasslands and savannas.
Unlike other wagtail species, the African Pied Wagtail tends to stay close to water sources like rivers and streams, where it feeds on insects and small fish.
These social birds are known for their distinctive tail-wagging behavior, which they use as part of their courtship displays. They also have a unique habit of perching on the backs of large mammals like buffalo or cattle, where they use their sharp eyesight to locate prey.
7. African Pygmy Kingfisher
The African Pygmy Kingfisher is one of the smallest and most colorful bird species found in Africa, measuring only 12cm in length.
Their vibrant plumage comprises a bright blue back that transitions to a deep rufous-orange chest, with white underparts and a black bill.
These striking birds are endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in woodland areas south of the Sahara desert.
8. Marabou Stork
The Marabou stork is one of the largest and most recognizable birds in Africa. These scavengers can grow up to 5 feet tall with a wingspan of up to 10 feet! They are often seen in large groups around garbage dumps, carrion, or fish markets where they use their keen eyesight and sense of smell to locate food.
While these birds may not be as photogenic as some other species on this list, they are still fascinating creatures worth seeing on safari.
9. Martial Eagle
The Martial Eagle is a large bird of prey that can be found in sub-Saharan Africa, with its range extending from Senegal to Ethiopia and down to South Africa. This majestic eagle is known for its size, strength, and incredible hunting abilities.
Adult Martial Eagles have a wingspan of up to 2.6 meters and can weigh as much as 6 kilograms.
Martial Eagles are often seen perched on high vantage points such as tall trees or cliffs where they have an unobstructed view of their surroundings. Their keen eyesight allows them to spot potential prey from great distances while in flight or perched on their lookout posts.
Unfortunately, the Martial Eagle populations have suffered due to habitat loss and persecution by humans who see them as a threat to livestock.
10. African Hoopoe
The African Hoopoe is a striking bird with unique physical features and behaviors. Its scientific name Upupa africana reflects its characteristic call of “hoop hoop hoop.” This terrestrial bird is commonly found in savannas, woodlands, and urban areas across sub-Saharan Africa.
These birds are known for their distinctive flight pattern where they alternately flap and glide, making them easy to spot against the sky. Their diet consists mainly of insects like beetles and ants, which they catch using their long bills while probing through the soil or leaf litter.
During the breeding season, males perform elaborate courtship displays such as fan-spreading their wings and raising the crest on their heads.
11. African Jacana
The African Jacana, also known as the Lily Trotter or Jesus Bird, is a striking wading bird found throughout sub-Saharan Africa. It has long toes and claws that help it walk on floating vegetation without sinking.
With its vibrant chestnut body and wings with bold black and white markings, this small bird definitely stands out in wetland habitats. The African Jacana is a polyandrous species where females mate with multiple males who are then responsible for incubating the eggs and raising the chicks.
If you’re looking to spot an African Jacana in the wild, they are commonly found near shallow wetlands, especially those that have plenty of lily pads or other floating vegetation on which to walk.
During breeding season from November through February, watching these skilled parents caring for their young can be particularly fascinating.
12. African Spoonbill
The African Spoonbill is a large wading bird that can be found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa. This unique-looking bird gets its name from the shape of its bill, which resembles a spoon.
During the breeding season, their white plumage turns bright pink on their face and chest, making them stand out even more. Interestingly enough, these birds feed by sweeping their bill through shallow water in search of small prey such as fish or insects.
If you’re hoping to spot an African Spoonbill during your safari trip in sub-Saharan Africa, head to open grasslands and savanna where water sources are nearby. These social birds tend to gather with other species of similar size such as egrets and ibises.
13. Yellow-Billed Oxpecker
The Yellow-Billed Oxpecker is a small bird native to Africa that mostly feeds on parasites living on the backs of large mammals like buffaloes, giraffes, and zebras.
These birds have short, curved bills specially adapted for removing parasites from the thick hides of their mammalian hosts. They also play an important role in alerting these animals to potential dangers by making loud hissing sounds when they sense predators nearby.
14. Greater Flamingo
The Greater Flamingo is an iconic African bird species that boasts beautiful pink plumage. These birds are generally found in large flocks around shallow lakes and lagoons across sub-Saharan Africa, especially in regions of east and southern Africa.
Greater Flamingos usually have white underparts and black wings with visible pink on their feathers. They are mainly filter feeders, sifting through water using their uniquely adapted bills designed to trap small prey such as planktonic crustaceans.
15. African Penguin
African Penguins are a unique and fascinating bird species found along the southwestern coast of South Africa. These penguins, also known as Jackass Penguins due to their distinctive braying call, have adapted to life in the ocean with their waterproof feathers and streamlined bodies.
Sadly, African Penguin populations have declined drastically over the past century due to habitat loss, egg collection, oil spills, and predation by introduced species like cats and dogs.
However, conservation efforts like the establishment of protected areas and breeding programs have helped stabilize some populations.
16. Superb Starling
The Superb Starling is one of the most striking birds found in Africa, known for its iridescent plumage that shimmers with vibrant blues, purples, and greens.
These small birds are native to eastern Africa but can be spotted throughout sub-Saharan Africa’s savannahs and open woodlands.
What makes these birds even more fascinating is their behavior. Superb Starlings are social creatures that gather in flocks of up to 50 individuals during breeding season.
They use this time to show off their bright colors to attract mates, engaging in elaborate dance displays while chirping loudly. When not breeding, they often forage for insects on the ground together with other bird species such as guinea fowl and hornbills.
17. Tawny Eagle
The Tawny Eagle is a large bird of prey found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, from Sudan in the north to South Africa in the south. They can be spotted in open grasslands and savanna areas, often perched on top of trees or poles scanning for prey.
These iconic birds have short feathers that vary from light to dark brown with black speckles covering their wings and back. The young birds are lighter in color than adults but share the same distinctive yellow eyes and hooked beak.
Tawny Eagles are known for their ability to take down small prey like rodents, reptiles, and even small mammals like hares or mongooses.
18. African Scops Owl
The African Scops Owl is a small species of owl found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the savanna and woodland habitats. This nocturnal bird has large eyes and excellent hearing to aid it in finding prey such as insects, rodents, and small birds at night.
The African Scops Owl typically nests in tree cavities or abandoned bird nests during the breeding season. It’s known for its distinctive call that sounds like a repeated “boop” or “whoo”.
19. Cape Vulture
The Cape Vulture is a large raptor that can be found in Southern Africa. This bird of prey has dark feathers and red-colored skin on its head and neck, making it striking to behold.
Sadly, the Cape Vulture population has been declining due to habitat loss and poisoning by farmers who see them as a threat to their livestock.
However, efforts are being made to protect these amazing birds by removing poisoned carcasses from the environment and establishing vulture restaurants where they can feed safely.
20. Red-Billed Hornbill
The Red-Billed Hornbill is a striking bird species found throughout sub-Saharan Africa from Sudan to South Africa. Known for their distinctive red and black beaks, these birds are easily recognizable and often seen perched on tree branches or flying through the savanna.
The hornbills are omnivorous and feed on insects, small animals, fruits, and seeds. During the breeding season, they build nests in hollow trees where mating pairs raise their young together.
Interestingly, once inside the nest cavity, female hornbills seal themselves inside with mud until their chicks are ready to hatch – only leaving a small hole through which male hornbills can provide them with food.
21. Egyptian Goose
The Egyptian Goose is a species of water bird that can be found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, from Sudan to South Africa. They are commonly seen in open grasslands and savannas, often gathering in large colonies near rivers, lakes, or dams.
Egyptian Geese are social birds known for their brown and white plumage with distinctive black wings and white patches on the throat. Their large bill is crimson with a black band and they often rest their head on their body while standing.
During the breeding season, they nest with soft grass near water sources and tend to have short crests of black and blue feathers on their heads.
22. African Paradise Flycatcher
The African Paradise Flycatcher is a beautifully colored bird found in sub-Saharan Africa during the breeding season. The male has long trailing tail feathers with bright golden and chestnut colors, while the female has shorter tail feathers and a more subdued brown coloration.
These birds are often seen close to water sources like rivers or streams, where they catch small insects for their diet. Interestingly, during courtship displays, males perform aerial acrobatics to show off their long tails as a way of attracting females.
23. Black-Headed Heron
The Black-Headed Heron is a wading bird that can be found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, from Sudan to South Africa. It stands at around 60cm tall and has brown and black plumage with white underparts.
This species of heron often rests its head on its body while standing still, giving it the appearance of being sleepy or disinterested.
The Black-Headed Heron typically nests in trees near water sources and constructs a nest made of soft grass. This social bird tends to gather in large colonies during breeding season where they display various behaviors such as bill-clapping or bowing to attract potential mates.
24. Blue Crane
The Blue Crane is a magnificent bird species that call Southern Africa home. It is the national bird of South Africa and can be seen in various parts of the country, including grasslands, wetlands, and agricultural areas.
These birds stand tall with their blue-grey feathers and have striking red skin around their eyes.
Sadly, the Blue Crane population has been declining due to habitat loss and hunting. Conservation organizations are working tirelessly to protect these birds by creating protected areas and educating communities about the importance of preserving this unique species.
25. African Openbill
The African Openbill is a large wading bird found throughout sub-Saharan Africa. These birds are often seen in open grasslands and savannas, where they use their unique beaks to catch small fish.
Unlike other African birds, the African Openbill has a distinctive bill that appears to be split into two halves – this adaptation helps them feed on snails and mussels with ease.
If you’re looking for the best place to spot an African Openbill, head towards waterbodies such as lakes or rivers where food sources are readily available.
26. African Harrier-Hawk
The African Harrier-Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey with distinctive long legs and talons designed for grasping and climbing. Found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, this agile hunter feeds on small birds and their eggs, often raiding nests in search of food.
In addition to its sharp hunting skills, the African Harrier-Hawk has unique feather patterns that help it blend into its wooded habitat. Its grey-brown plumage is streaked with white underneath, while black feathers encircle its eyes like a mask.
27. African Pied Hornbill
The African Pied Hornbill is a common bird found throughout sub-Saharan Africa. This medium-sized bird has black and white feathers with a large bill that is crimson with a black band.
They are often seen perched on tree branches or flying in pairs, as they mate for life.
African Pied Hornbills typically nest in tree cavities made by other birds or animals, and during the breeding season, the female will seal herself inside the nest using her own droppings and mud.
The male will then feed her through a small hole until the chicks hatch and can join them outside the nest.
28. Black-Shouldered Kite
The Black-Shouldered Kite is a small bird of prey found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, from Sudan to South Africa. These stunning birds have short wings and tail, an owl-like face with a white patch around the eye, and black shoulders that stand out against their otherwise white feathers.
Black-shouldered kites are social birds that gather in large numbers when they roost at night. They nest with soft grasses woven together into a shallow cup, which they build on top of trees or power poles.
These beautiful birds often rest their head on their body while perching on branches or wires.
29. African Wood Owl
The African Wood Owl is a medium-sized owl that can be found throughout sub-Saharan Africa from Sudan to South Africa. It is known for its distinctive plumage – brown and white with bold black stripes on the breast and underparts.
Unlike many other owls, they are active during the day as well as at night, making them easier to spot. They typically nest in tree cavities or abandoned nests of other birds, using soft grasses to line their nesting areas.
In terms of diet, they primarily feed on small prey such as rodents and birds.
30. African Green Pigeon
The African Green Pigeon, also known as the Papuan Pigeon, is a small bird found mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. This bird has a unique appearance with its bright green feathers and yellow beak, making it easily recognizable among other birds.
The African Green Pigeons breed during the rainy season when food is abundant for their young ones. The breeding pairs nest on high branches of tall trees that are difficult to reach by predators.
These pigeons have been known to stay faithful to their mate for many years and would often return to the same nesting site year after year.
31. Cape Gannet
The Cape Gannet is a large sea bird that is endemic to southern Africa, living along the coastlines of Namibia and South Africa. These birds are known for their striking appearance, with bright white plumage on their bodies and black-tipped wings.
Cape Gannets are impressive divers, capable of diving up to 20 meters in search of small fish such as anchovies and sardines. They can be spotted nesting in large colonies at coastal locations including Bird Island near Port Elizabeth in South Africa and Luderitz Bay in Namibia.
32. Grey-Headed Kingfisher
The Grey-Headed Kingfisher is a beautiful African bird that can be found in various regions of Africa, including South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. It has a distinctive grey head with bright blue feathers on its back and wings.
These birds are often seen perched on low branches or riverbanks near still water bodies like pools or streams where they hunt for their prey by diving from an exposed perch.
They have a unique vocalization consisting of repeated whistled notes that last for several seconds which helps them to communicate with other members of their species.
The Grey-Headed Kingfishers are active during the day and prefer open woodlands or savanna habitats.
33. Verreaux’s Eagle
Verreaux’s Eagle is a large bird of prey found throughout sub-Saharan Africa. These impressive creatures have a wingspan of up to 7 feet and can weigh up to 13 pounds, making them one of the heaviest flying birds on the continent.
Verreaux’s Eagles are known for their striking appearance, with black and blue feathers and white patches on the throat.
You can spot Verreaux’s Eagles in regions all over Africa, including eastern and southern savannas. Unlike other African birds that typically live in colonies or gather socially, these eagles tend to be solitary creatures that prefer nesting away from others.
They mostly feed on small prey like guinea fowl but have been known to take larger mammals such as buffalo if they need to.
34. Blue-Breasted Bee-Eater
The Blue-Breasted Bee-Eater is a striking bird found in Eastern and Southern Africa. As the name implies, these birds primarily feed on bees, wasps, and other flying insects.
With their bright green and blue feathers, they are a sight to behold as they dart through the air catching their prey with precision.
These social birds often nest in large colonies on vertical riverbanks or cliffsides, using their long bills to burrow into the earth. During mating season, male Blue-Breasted Bee-Eaters perform acrobatic displays of swooping and diving to attract females.
Their distinctive calls can be heard at dawn and dusk when they gather together for roosting.
35. Red-Headed Weaver
The Red-Headed Weaver is a stunning bird species found throughout sub-Saharan Africa. With its bright red head and neck, brown and white plumage, and short crest of black feathers, it’s easily recognizable amongst other weaver birds.
These small birds prefer to build their nests in trees or shrubs using soft grasses woven together with remarkable precision. Interestingly, they often rest their head on their body while sleeping or waiting for prey to come by.
The Red-Headed Weavers are social birds that gather in large colonies during non-breeding seasons where they feed off small insects and seeds.
36. Yellow-Billed Kite
The Yellow-Billed Kite is a graceful bird of prey found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, from Sudan in the north to South Africa in the south. These small birds are known for their distinctive yellow beaks and striking plumage, which ranges from brown and black to bright white with black wings.
Yellow-Billed Kites are social birds that often gather together in groups of dozens or even hundreds. They build their nests out of soft grasses and lay up to three eggs per breeding season.
Young kites fledge after just a few weeks and begin hunting alongside their parents soon after.
37. Grey Crowned Crane
The Grey Crowned Crane is one of the most well-known and iconic birds in Africa. With its striking grey plumage, red crown of feathers on its head, and long white streamers that trail from behind, this bird turns heads wherever it goes.
Grey Crowned Cranes are known for their elaborate dance displays during the breeding season where they skip and strut with outstretched wings while calling to each other.
They also have unique courtship behaviors like bowing to each other before mating. Unfortunately, these stunning birds are under threat due to habitat loss and illegal wildlife trade.
38. African Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus)
The African Sacred Ibis is a wading bird of the Ibis family, Threskiornithidae, and can be found all across sub-Saharan Africa as well as in Iraq and formerly in Egypt. This bird has a long, curved, slender black bill and a black head and neck.
The body plumage is predominantly white, with glossy black feathers adorning its wings. The bird is commonly found in marshes, riverbanks, and other wetland environments where it feeds on various fish, frogs, small mammals, and insects.
In ancient Egyptian society, the Sacred Ibis was considered a symbol of the god Thoth, often depicted in ancient Egyptian art and mythology.
39. Bateleur Eagle (Terathopius ecaudatus)
The Bateleur Eagle is a highly distinctive and colorful bird of prey found primarily in the open savanna country across sub-Saharan Africa, with the largest populations in Kenya, Botswana, and South Africa.
The name ‘Bateleur’ is French for ‘tight-rope walker’, inspired by the bird’s distinctive flight, which includes unique rocking or balancing motions. It’s a medium-sized eagle with a very short tail, which gives it a unique silhouette in flight.
The adults are strikingly colored with black plumage, a chestnut back, grey shoulders, and bright red face and legs. Bateleur Eagles are known for their loud, barking calls, and are apex predators, feeding on a variety of mammals and birds.
40. Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)
The Hamerkop is a medium-sized waterbird found across sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, and coastal regions of the Arabian Peninsula. The Hamerkop’s name, which means ‘hammerhead’ in Afrikaans, comes from the shape of its head with a long bill and crest at the back, which gives it a hammer-like appearance.
Its plumage is a uniform dusky brown throughout. The bird is renowned for constructing enormous, robust nests on the ground, in trees, or on cliff faces. These nests are large enough to accommodate a human and are often reused and added to over successive years.
They are known to feed on a wide variety of aquatic animals, including fish, amphibians, and small crustaceans. The Hamerkop is often seen around water bodies in countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Africa.
Best Places To Spot African Birds
Some of the best places to spot African birds include Kruger National Park and Okavango Delta in southern Africa, Serengeti National Park, and Masai Mara in eastern Africa, and Chobe National Park and Victoria Falls in western Africa.
Top Locations In Africa
Africa is home to an incredible array of birdlife, and there are many amazing places to watch these feathered wonders. Here are some of the top locations in Africa to spot birds:
- Kruger National Park, South Africa
- Lake Nakuru, Kenya
- Chobe National Park, Botswana
- Okavango Delta, Botswana
- Etosha National Park, Namibia
- Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
- Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
- Hluhluwe – Imfolozi Park, South Africa
- Tarangire National Park, Tanzania
- Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda
Each of these locations offers a unique birdwatching experience with a diverse range of species to be seen throughout the year. From raptors and waterbirds to brightly colored songbirds and stately cranes, Africa is a birder’s paradise waiting to be explored.
Conclusion And Final Thoughts
In conclusion, Africa is home to some of the most amazing birds on the planet. From large birds of prey like the African Fish Eagle and Martial Eagle to smaller birds like the African Pygmy Kingfisher and Yellow-Billed Wagtail, there’s no shortage of incredible bird species to admire from the continent. Let’s not forget the beautifully-named Secretary bird.
Whether you’re a seasoned birder or just starting out, there are plenty of top locations in Africa where you can spot these iconic creatures, mostly in their natural habitats.
These birds can often be found in many other countries across Africa and sometimes beyond, depending on migration patterns and species ranges. The countries listed represent only a part of their total range.
Please remember that the distribution of these bird species can change due to various factors such as climate change, human activities, and migratory behaviors. Always refer to the latest field guides and birdwatching resources for the most accurate and up-to-date information.
Are there any other African birds that I missed from this list? You’re invited to name them in the comments section below.