Africa’s Superb Birdlife

On a latest safari journey in Malawi’s Liwonde Nationwide Park, the “Large 5” animals related to Africa’s nationwide parks have been nowhere in sight. That’s once I started noticing the birdlife. In only one hour our group noticed a myriad of avians, together with a bit of bee-eater seated on an acacia department, a colony of hadeda ibis perched atop a tree cover, and a flock of trumpeter hornbills flying overhead. 

Recreation drives, it seems, don’t should be all about lions and elephants. A number of the world’s smallest (and infrequently, not so small) winged wonders are sometimes fluttering about proper earlier than our eyes. 

Listed here are eight extraordinary avians to maintain a watch out for in your subsequent African recreation drive, or African safari with Nat Hab. 

Lilac-Breasted Curler 

Africa’s aerial acrobat 

Photographers love these little beauties for his or her wildly colourful plumage, a exceptional array of shades that usually features a lilac throat, rusty cheeks, and an olive or greenish-blue crown. The fowl’s brief neck and huge head add to its eye-catching look. Nonetheless, what’s actually wonderful about lilac-breasted rollers are the aerial stunts which have earned them their identify. They typically interact in some acrobatic side-to-side rolling whereas flying at excessive speeds, and carry out a sequence of fast, shallow swoops, sometimes whereas courting or defending their territory. 

Search for these inquisitive avians wherever you discover timber or different tall vantage factors that make it simpler for them to hunt for prey. The upper the perch, the higher. Typically they’ll even arrange on the backs of huge herbivores, together with elephants, whereas attempting to find bugs, spiders, and scorpions. 

Though they’re Kenya’s nationwide fowl, lilac-breasted rollers are additionally prevalent in locations like South Africa’s Kruger Nationwide Park, Zimbabwe’s Hwange Nationwide Park, and  Etosha Nationwide Park in Namibia. 

African Fish Eagle

The voice of Africa

Often known as the African sea eagle, these giant bald-eagle kinfolk are a daily sight across the continent’s inland open waters, together with East Africa’s Lake Victoria and southern Africa’s Orange River. Their most well-liked fishing technique includes utilizing the highly effective talons of their toes to catch fish proper off the water’s floor, after which bringing it as much as a perch to feed. 

Because the nationwide fowl of many southern and japanese African nations, together with Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, they’re pretty excessive in quantity (about 300,000 in whole) and simple to identify and determine, because of their darkish and chestnut physique plumage and feathery white heads. However what makes them stand out is their loud, high-pitched name: a reverberating “wheeee-ah-kleeuw-kleeuw-kluuu” that’s so distinct it’s turn out to be recognized throughout the continent because the “Voice of Africa.” 

African Fish Eagle and Marabou stork

African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer), combating with Marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus) over useless Flamingo. Lake Nakuru Nationwide Park, Kenya. © Martin Harvey / WWF

Marabou Stork 

The good rubbish collector 

Though it’s not going to be profitable any magnificence contests, the world’s largest flying stork remains to be a sight to behold. At roughly 59 inches tall the marabou stork is the typical top of a 10-year-old human, however seems to be quite a bit older. There’s even an African legend that claims God ran out of elements when he was creating the continent’s animals, so he used no matter was leftover and turned it into the marabou stork. Nicknames of this bald-headed avian embody each the “undertaker fowl” and the “nightmare fowl” for the way in which it seems from behind, with its cloak-like wings, skinny white legs, and hunched posture. 

Because of its huge beak and a penchant for consuming something and all the things, it’s often known as the “nice rubbish collector.” You’ll typically see marabou storks hanging round landfills or wherever there’s a lion’s kill, and in locations like Kampala, Uganda’s capital metropolis, and South Africa’s Lake Mavuya.

Regardless of their ugly look, Marabou storks assist maintain their native ecosystems wholesome by feeding on useless and decaying matter that might in any other case unfold illnesses. 

Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill

Africa’s flying banana 

Africa’s hornbill birds gained notoriety when Zazu, a red-billed hornbill, served as Mufasa’s uptight royal advisor in Disney’s “The Lion King.’ Nevertheless it’s arduous to image a southern yellow-billed hornbill (the red-billed’s cousin) as having any sort of chip on its shoulder, particularly with a nickname just like the “flying banana.”

It’s a moniker referring to the fowl’s downwardly curved yellow-beak, a characteristic that’s offset by its largely black-and-white plumage. Southern yellow-billed hornbills additionally make an uncommon “cluck-clucking” name that usually turns right into a cacophony as different hornbills take part. 

A mid-size fowl, they nest within the cavities of timber after they’re not foraging for floor seeds, bugs, and spiders. Southern yellow-billed hornbills reside in dry thorn fields and broad-leafed woodlands all through locations like South Africa’s Mala Mala Recreation Reserve and Botswana’s Chobe Nationwide Park. 

WWF is working with South Africa’s Mabula Floor Hornbill Venture to present synthetic nests for southern floor hornbills (one other Southern yellow-billed hornbill cousin), whose numbers are in decline. 

Southern yellow-billed hornbill in tree

Southern yellow-billed hornbill (Tockus leucomelas), Kruger Nationwide Park, South Africa. © Christiaan van der Hoeven / WWF-Netherlands

Pel’s Fishing Owl 

The phantom avian

It’s one of many world’s largest owls, in addition to the second largest in Africa. However regardless of its measurement, the Pel’s fishing owl—which will get a part of its identify from its virtually unique food plan of aquatic vertebrae—is notoriously troublesome to identify. Not solely is the fowl notably shy, however it’s additionally largely nocturnal, each qualities which have some wildlife lovers referring to this avian because the “phantom owl.” Hear for its haunting, deep horn-like name on moonlight nights round slow-moving rivers, the place it roosts within the close by timber. 

Grownup owls are sometimes a wealthy ginger-rufous colour, with free and lengthy feathers round its head and huge, darkish eyes. Its ear tufts are hardly seen, making it look like they’re non-existent. 

Though recognizing a Pel’s fishing owl is uncommon, your possibilities enhance close to the Mara River in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, and alongside northeastern Namibia’s Caprivi Strip. 

Pel's fishing owl in tree

Pel’s fishing owl (Scotopelia peli) within the Xigera concession, Okavango Delta, Botswana. © WWF-US / Jeff Muller

Sociable Weaver

Africa’s avian “condominium” dwellers 

Weaver birds are the planet’s solely avians that may tie knots, utilizing each their beak and toes to lace collectively intricate nests which might be sturdy and safe. The Sociable Weaver, nevertheless, takes nest constructing to an entire different stage. Utilizing a wide range of supplies like twigs for the roof, dry grasses lined with fur and different fluff to kind particular person chambers, and sharp bits of straw to guard its entryways, the sociable weaver is liable for one of many largest bird-built constructions on earth.

Their communal nests can weigh as much as a ton, be as much as 20 toes huge and 10 toes tall, and are just like human condominium buildings, with 100 or extra pairs of breeding sociable weavers dwelling side-by-side of their private chambers. Every huge dwelling quarter can also be specifically created collectively to guard in opposition to rain and sunshine. 

Preserve a watch out for these artistic endeavors—and their residents—throughout southern Africa, particularly throughout the Namib and Kalahari deserts. 

Gray Topped Crane 

Africa’s dancing beaut

They’re regal and majestic, to not point out pure dancers. Africa’s gray topped cranes stand about three toes tall and are simply identifiable by their lengthy legs, a gray, black, white, and pink colour scheme, and a crown of gold plumage. You’ll typically see them flying overhead by the dozen, their necks and lengthy wings prolonged and their toes stretched out behind them, within the skies of South Africa’s Midlands and the wetlands of Uganda’s Rukiga District. Actually, they’re Uganda’s nationwide fowl, showing entrance and heart on the nation’s flag. 

Though extraordinary to have a look at on their very own, gray topped cranes have a tendency to attract much more crowds after they begin dancing, a mixture of head-bobbing, bowing, leaping, and wing fluttering that’s an essential a part of their courtship rituals. In contrast to different crane species, topped cranes additionally perch in timber round wetlands and savannahs—a trait that makes these distinctive avians by some means even extra spectacular. 


King of the Marshlands 

With their wide-set payments that resemble a Dutch clog (therefore, “shoebill”), statue-like demeanor, and putting, pale-blue eyes, shoebills are in a league all their very own. Not fairly a stork, extra just like a heron, they’re the one extant species of Balaenicipitidae in existence. 

Shoebills stand as much as 5 toes tall and are a stealth “stand-and-wait” sort of hunter, sussing out simply the precise second to grab snakes, catfish, and even younger turtles up inside their giant, cavernous invoice. 

You’ll typically see these gray birds feeding alone in shallow waters and marshlands, standing on their lengthy legs completely nonetheless for hours at a time. Many individuals discover the Shoebill’s unmoving stance and prehistoric look admittedly disconcerting, however they’re mentioned to be fairly docile with people. 

Search for them in Uganda’s freshwater lakes and Bigodi Swamp close to Kibale Nationwide Park, and Rwanda’s Akagera Nationwide Park.

A head portrait of a Shoebill / Whale-headed stork

A head portrait of a Shoebill / Whale-headed stork. ©  / Edwin Giesbers / WWF

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