South Africa Birding Tours
South Africa (officially the Republic of South Africa or RSA) is arguably the best value destination on the entire continent. The outstanding infrastructure, great accommodation, excellent food, wonderful South African hospitality, spectacular and varied scenery, and the presence of Africa’s big and small mammals makes it one of the most pleasant countries in the world for a birding safari.
As of April 2020, South Africa recognizes 870 bird species (this bird count includes eight species occurring only on the Prince Edward Islands, which are two remote sub-Antarctic Islands belonging to South Africa comprised of Prince Edward Island and the larger Marion Island). The list grows most years as new species get reported. More details of the official South African bird list can be found in our blog on this topic.
While a list of 870 species is moderate compared to, say, Uganda or South American and south-east Asian countries, it’s partly the ease with which these species are seen and the fact that so many of them are dazzlingly plumaged and spectacular that make South Africa so productive as a birding destination. We often used to see well over 500 bird species in three weeks when combining our 1-week Western Cape (think African Penguin, Blue Crane and Cape Sugarbird!) birding tour with our classic 2-week subtropical South Africa birding tour (although we’ve extended this to make it 18 days long now, so as to see even more species and to enjoy the big and small African mammals more). Additionally we also include a boat trip off Cape Town for some pelagic birding, where you can expect high densities of amazing seabirds!
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And, very importantly, South Africa boasts more endemic and near-endemic bird species than any other mainland African country, even more so if the two tiny countries practically contained within its borders (Swaziland – now called Eswatini – and Lesotho) are included. Certain species, such as Drakensberg Rockjumper, are actually found largely in Lesotho and adjacent parts of South Africa (basically the greater Drakensberg area). A lot more about these South African endemic birds is detailed in our South African endemics blog. Our birding tours are of course designed so that you can see the endemics, but we don’t ignore all the other more widespread species. Many of the localized birds and endemics lurk in the Western Cape, the Karoo, Bushmanland, the Drakensberg and Lesotho, and the Zululand coastal belt (these latter species, including Pink-throated Twinspot, also occur in southern Mozambique).
South Africa is a magnificently scenic country. The Great Escarpment, formed mainly by the Drakensberg in the east and the Karoo escarpment in the west, can be immensely spectacular in places. Much of the central parts of the country, including the largest city (Johannesburg), occupy the high-altitude plateau. The coastal plain is generally narrow. Many of the country’s evergreen forests are along this coastal plain or on the eastern escarpment, and there are also some very interesting (from an avian point of view) forest patches in the rolling hills of the Natal Midlands.
South Africa’s climate is mild overall, partly because it’s mainly a temperate country (only the extreme north makes it into the tropics) and partly because the bulk of the country is widespread. The “lowveld” and Zululand do get hot and humid, though, but these are some of the most bird-rich and mammal-rich areas.
South Africa has an incredible diversity of wildlife apart from birds, making it a perfect destination for your African safari. Due to the large numbers of game reserves it is one of the best countries for African megafauna (including the “Big 5”), but it also hosts a bunch of brilliant smaller mammals. Aardvark is relatively easily seen on our tough-mammals trip to the Kalahari, along with some smaller cats, including Black-footed Cat if you’re lucky. Zululand has Nyala, Suni, and other less-widespread and common mammals.
Are you ready to choose your next South Africa birding tour? Please browse the many birding holidays that we have available for small groups. Or contact our team for more information on our custom tours – which can be created to cater for your tastes and requirements!
Looking for day tours in South Africa? Visit our South Africa Day Tours page. We can run the day tours as birding photo tours as well.
Download South Africa Itineraries
Premium Kruger & Escarpment Birding & Wildlife Safari September 2023
South Africa Birding and Photo Tour – Western Cape to Kruger National Park October 2023
South Africa: Best of Cape Town & Beyond October 2023 / 2024
South Africa: Mammal & Birding – The Kalahari September 2023
Subtropical South Africa Birding Tour: Comprehensive Eastern South Africa October 2023 / 2024
Western South Africa: Cape Endemics, Namaqualand Wildflowers & the Kalahari August 2023
South Africa Gallery
Testimonials from our South Africa birding tours
Our guide, Dominic Rollinson, was exceptional in every way. Of course, he had an unbelievable knowledge of where and how to find the birds. Additionally, he was a real pleasure to be with. He was happy to answer any question and his knowledge of South Africa really enhanced our experience. The itinerary was thoughtfully planned and we were able to see a huge variety of birds. The accommodations he choose were comfortable and interesting and the food was consistently delicious. We can't say enough good things about Dom and the trip!Wendy and Karen
In the fall of 2011 my wife and I did a 28 day bird watching tour of South Africa with Birding Ecotours. Birding Ecotours was recommended by our Canadian agent, Tours of Exploration. Both of our driver/guides were excellent and our group of 5 saw well over 500 species of birds and over 60 species of animals as well as a large number of amazing endemic plants. The tours were well planned and run and came off without a hitch. The guides were very patient and accommodating and allowed us to change the schedule when we were in areas of great interest. Along with showing us the amazing natural history of South Africa our guides also explained the cultural history which made the trip special. We hope that we will have the opportunity to will travel with Birding Ecotours again in the near future.Otto - On South Africa
Birding Ecotours company and SA office staff I can highly recommend booking a trip through Birding Ecotours South Africa. The Birding Ecotours staff is professional, the e-mail responses fast and all questions receive detail replies. Chris Lotz of Birding Ecotours forwarded excellent advice to me on how to start world birding, which countries to visit in order to find a high number of birds over a short period and which bird book(s) to use for a country. Birding Ecotours’ newsletters provide further information on upcoming trips, details on areas (e.g. East African birding), on target birds per trip, as well as regarding birding books available for countries or areas. Trip reports (forwarded upon request) allow one to mentally prepare regarding number of possible birds, endemics per country and difficulty or travel time of a trip. The Birding Ecotours’ Facebook postings include snippets from current trips with photos as well as spaces available on future trips. The single supplement for Birding Ecotours’ trips is in most cases lower than other tour companies, which makes for safe as well as affordable travelling.Lisl - On Birding Ecotours
We chose the 2-day Tankwa Karoo birding trip and had an incredible time. I think we saw just short of 90 different species over the 2 days, including many new species for our bird book, which would have taken us years to find without Dom. It was an incredible experience and Dom’s ability to find birds just by their call is something to marvel at.Ashleigh - On Dom and Tankwa Karoo
I have birded with Birding Ecotours since 2004. As I stated in my first web trip report of Southern South Africa that I thought you were one of the most competent guides I had ever birded with and that Birding Ecotours was an extremely professional organization in every way. In 2013, after birding with you a dozen times in 8 countries (and more this April and June) my opinions are now cast in concrete. Your ear and ability to co-ordinate the sounds with species is unsurpassed. You are decisive and a lot of fun to travel with which, in my opinion, are qualities essential in a top guide. You and Nadia organize trips meticulously and show truly sound judgment in your choices of routes, lodging and transportation arrangements. As you know, I ask a lot of questions and have always received thoughtful and timely answers. I have never been left feeling neglected in any way. I’ve been asked many time by birding friends all over the world for recommendations, and Birding Ecotours is always my first choice in Africa. I don’t doubt that our coming trips to Asia and the Caribbean will be equally productive and fun.Jay - On Birding Ecotours
Dylan Vasapolli is extremely knowledgeable about birding and photography, but it’s his enthusiasm for the subject that is wonderful to experience. He has been birding for many years, and still, he has such a love for birding and the environment, which is very infectious. I was extremely lucky to have him as my guide.Alma - On Dylan and South Africa
My sister and I used one of our 2 and a half days in Cape Town to do a birding tour of the Peninsula including the Cape of Good Hope. I had great communication with our guide, Dom, before the tour and he picked us up right on time at our hotel. It was an excellent day. Dom is very knowledgeable and good company. It turned out he was at Magee Marsh in Ohio the same time I was this year! The weather was glorious and we got to see lots of SA endemics plus a Humpback Whale and a lifer sewage pond! I would recommend Birding Ecotours and Dom Rollinson to anyone birding in South Africa.Jean - On Dom and South Africa
I just wanted to email and say how much I enjoyed the day yesterday in and around Suikerbosrand – Dylan was a fantastic guide, unbelievably knowledgeable, very helpful (and patient!) and good company. We saw much more than I expected, and the flufftail was the icing on the cake! I would go out of my way to recommend you guys and Dylan in particular – thanks again for a thoroughly enjoyable day. I will be in touch when I return to South Africa – even if just to set eyes on that pesky grass owl. . .!Liam - On Dylan and South Africa
The most memorable moment was sunset at Nasemani dam; the red African sun was setting in the wide open horizon, and many of the animals and birds came to the water for a quiet final drink of the day. It was magical. Other memorable moments were the resounding dawn choruses, looking for the fluff tail, sitting by the pond at Zenzele Lodge and watching the birds construct nests. I think it's interesting as an enthusiastic lister that my most memorable moments were not ticking a particular bird, but the opportunity to quietly appreciate being a part of their lives. That incomparable experience took a lot of effort, organizing and experience to share with us, and I am very appreciative to Dylan and Birding Ecotours for it.Judith - On South Africa
I have been fortunate to have been on many birding tours, and this was undoubtedly the best. The depth of experience, knowledge and birding skill of our guide Dylan Vasapolli was absolutely outstanding; and combined with his enthusiasm and kindness to every group member it made for a wonderful tour. The group size was small, which had many benefits. The depth of Birding Ecotour's experience in Africa shown thru in the choice of birding locations, meals and lodgings. These were usually quiet and less travelled, but excellent and filled with character, with a full compliment of birds and other animals nearby. We often felt as if we had these magical places to ourselves. The birds were overwhelming at times, and the bird list organization by family was helpful as we got great looks at all the target endemics – take a look at the bird list!Judith - On South Africa and Dylan
This tour is obviously geared towards a fairly knowledgeable birder. I admit that I did not adequately prepare for this trip. But Dylan and his assistant, Luke Safford, worked tremendously hard to help us identify and see as many of the South African birds and wildlife as possible on the trip. Both these guys were extremely knowledgeable and, more importantly, un-endingly patient with those of us that had not taken the "birding" aspect of the trip that seriously and came on the trip with the idea of just having a good time and seeing whatever wildlife was offered. Dylan's professionalism, knowledge, patience, work ethic, and just plain old sense of humor made the whole trip a wonderful time. He did a GREAT job.James - On Dylan and South Africa
There were so many highlights, but having Dylan as our guide and the caring and patient way he led the tour with such expertise on the bird life was really a pleasure to experience. It's funny to write, but drinking coffee and enjoying "eet-sum-mor" shortbread biscuits in Dullstroom with Yellow-breasted Pipits and African Snipe flying by was a standout experience. Of course, Kruger was amazing. Ending at Zenzele is a tremendous way to close out the tour. The pelagic boat was a little small for my liking…but I'm not that great out in the ocean so that's really on me!
Dylan's knowledge and expertise on the birds and wildlife of South Africa was amazing, but even more importantly he connected well with the tour group and exuded patience and graciousness throughout. Tucson Audubon is fortunate to have partnered with Birding Ecotours on this experience to South Africa.Luke - On South Africa and Dylan