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!
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. 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.