When it comes to birding there is no destination as unparalleled in its diversity of not only bird species but also terrain. From the wetlands of St Lucia to the forested sand dunes further north, Zululand birding offers a breathtaking landscape in which to glimpse some of the 820 or more species found in Southern Africa.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

iSimangaliso Wetland Park supports the highest concentrations of breeding water birds in South Africa. This is an important conservation area for the province, and visitors are attracted from around the world.

zululand birding
Image Source: James Wakelin

Nestled between the world’s highest forested sand dunes, populations of Buff-spotted Flufftail, Southern Banded Snake-Eagle and African Crowned Eagle abound.

Here you can catch sight of Livingstone’s Turaco, the Green Malkoha as well as the Spotted Ground-Thrush (winter only). There are also Brown Scrub-Robin, Rudd’s Apalis, Woodwards’ Batis and Green Twinspot.

With the seasonal flooding of the wetlands, there can be up to 30 000 Greater Flamingo at a time. A spectacular experience, the flooding brings with it a myriad of other water loving birds.

On the Western Shores of the lake, you will find the African Fish Eagle in high densities. Their distinctive cry as they circle the forests echoing across the water.

Notable sightings of African Broadbill, the Neergaard’s Sunbird and the Pink-throated Twinspot are regularly recorded.

over 820 bird species in South Africa

  • you will find 650 species in KZN
  • 121 species are vagrants or accidentals
  • 40 species are endemic to SA, Lesotho and Swaziland
  • 110 species endemic to SA and Southern Africa

Lake Sibaya

This is the largest freshwater lake in South Africa, and is separated from the Indian Ocean by a narrow strip of high forested sand dunes.

There are not many places more enchanting for Zululand birding than along the pristine shores of Lake Sibaya. Birds of note include the African Yellow White-eye, Pink-throated Twinspot and Woodward`s Batis.

Kosi Bay Nature Reserve

Made up of an estuarine lake system with four inter-linked lakes of varying levels of fresh and brack water creates a richly diverse aquatic environment surrounded by tropical vegetation, mature coastal forest and  grassland.

Swamp makes up large areas surrounding the lakes, and in this vegetation are a number of endemic species, as well as migratory birds at the southern end of their afro-tropical range.

Mkhuze Falls Game Reserve

zululand birding
Trumpeter Hornbill – image source unknown

Mkhuze Falls Game Reserve is the top Zululand birding site for spotting much sought after specials to be found anywhere in Zululand with just over 450 species. Especially in the subtropical Nsumo pan, the Fig Forest on the Mkuze river and the unique Tongaland Sand Forest.

Along the Fever Tree-lined Nsumo Pan waterbirds of note include African Fish-Eagle, Great White and Pink-backed pelicans and Yellow-billed, Open-billed and Woolly-necked storks

In the open Acacia savanna bushveld region of the reserve a wide variety of woodland birds, most notably the Bearded Woodpecker and the White-headed and Lappet-faced vultures, are found. This is also a good place to see the localised Bushveld Pipit.

The tiny Ndumu Game Reserve, a gem of a park 100km to the north on KZN’s border with Mozambique, shares Mkhuze’s forest specials, whilst a similar suite of bushveld birds may be found in the well-known Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park, Ithala Game Reserve and Weenen Game Reserve to the west. The latter two reserves, located at medium altitudes, also offer the opportunity of finding the endemic Barrow’s Korhaan.

Ndumo Game Reserve

With its sub-tropical forests, floodplains, sand forest and open grasslands, this small game reserve shares much of Mkuze’s forest specials, while it boasts the highest checklist in South Africa with over 400 species being recorded.

South Africa’s 7 major natural birding regions:

  • Grassveld – almost treeless grassland
  • Fynbos – natural shrubland, fine bush
  • Karoo – arid to very arid semi desert
  • Afromontane Forest – mostly evergreen with closed canopy
  • Bushveld – sub-tropical woodland or savannah
  • East Coast Littoral – moist sub-tropical including dune forest, sand forest, coastal thicket
  • Pelagic – open sea up to 200km off-shore

Tembe Elephant Park

Possibly the only area in South Africa for Zululand birding where there is a reasonable possibility of seeing the Plain-backed Blue-throated Sunbird, a small bird found in sand forest patches. This rarerly sighted bird is found in the Gowanini section of the park, where they feed on flowering mistletoes

Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve

Stop off at any one of the view points, and slowly take in the sights and sounds of the birdlife, of note being the Bearded Woodpecker, Bateleur, Ground Hornbill  and White-browed Robin-chat.

I’m sure something has been left out here, how do you possibly cover 650 different bird species in one post? What are your favorite birds or birding spots, why not share some of your experiences? We would love to hear from you.

Material Sources: Zululand Birding Route and Fat Birder

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