Our favourite birds from Kruger
All the bird pictures you will find in this article have been taken in Kruger national park, South Africa. Our aim was not to provide an extensive list of all the birds we have ever observed there but rather to give you an insight of the amazing diversity encountered in the park. We hope you will enjoy those feathers as much as we do!
During our first safari, I must admit that we were really excited to try and find the Big 5, cats or cute zebras and giraffes. It left close to no room for birds on our memory cards. And that’s a shame. During our second trip, we listened to the advice given by some friends with much more experience in safari than we had : “Look at birds”. An entire new world opened in front of us! We realized how diverse can birds be. Some are very small. Some are too big to fly. Some are very colourful. Some are nocturnal raptors. Some look like meaningless sparrows. Some have a yellow bill. Some have red legs. And so on… All of a sudden, the possibilities offered by a safari became almost infinite and we started to collect birds pictures just like we were kids.
Looking for birds during a safari?!?
One of birds biggest advantage is that they are always here around us. Even during the hottest hours of the day when it’s really hard to observe mammals resting in the little shade they find. And I’m not even talking about lions sleeping all day long. Most of the people like to take a break at this time of the day to rest before going on a late afternoon drive. But we are real safariholic : the adventure is too exciting and we just can’t stop! So when we’re longing for mammals, there are always birds to make sure we never get bored!
Observing birds is not so hard. You just need to open your eyes and might find a pair of binoculars useful. Taking pictures of birds requires to be quick and to have a good telephoto lens. But birds biggest challenge is identification! In one of the park shops, we found an amazing guide of birds commonly found in Kruger. This was the best money ever spent! Extremely light and easy to use, it helped us identify most of the birds we encountered.
Each bird has pertinent features pointed at, which comes very helpful to differenciate similar species. You have no idea how some of them can look alike. When you think you found the perfect candidate, you discover there is another bird that exists, but with red eyes, yellow bill or one turquoise feather… But once you’re sure you have identified the correct one, you can check the box next to its name and happily continue your safari.
However, our little booklet started to prove a little too light after a few safaris. We wanted more! Being able to differenciate juveniles from matures, females from males. Identifying (or at least trying to) rare species. We decided it was time to buy the bible of south-african birds…
When we’re in the field, our process is simple : as soon as we catch a glimpse of a bird, we try to take a picture as fast as we can in order to keep track of what we saw. And then, we try to take a beautiful picture if it doesn’t fly away before we manage to do so. Afterwars, we try to identify it by looking for it in the book. Having a picture to be able to examine every little detail is of real help!
Colors in the air
This one is the biggest of the african rollers!
This is is a migratory bird. Every September, it flies away from cold Europe and Asia to spend winter in regions South of the Sahara desert.
One of our favorites! It is a very territorial bird that will not tolerate any intruder.
African grey hornbill
If this one doesn’t really have a grey bill, it’s because this specimen is a female! This is where lies all of our problems in trying to identify birds: juveniles and females often look different from adult males.
Southern yellow-billed hornbill
Not to be mistaken with its cousin ‘Eastern yellow-billed hornbill’ which has a black eyering!
No need to go to South Africa to observe this little guy which can be found in France, Spain or Italy!
Southern carmine bee-eater
This bee-eater is incredible. It likes to feed on wasps and bees. But before eating them, it removes their stingers!
Those bee-eaters live in colonies of up to 450 indivuals!
And all the others…
The fork-tailed drongo is not your usual bird. It is capable of mimicking distress calls of some other animals. And it is the meerkats friend! So they think at least… Most of the time, the drongo watches the sky for them and alerts them if a bird of prey approaches. But sometimes, it takes advantage of its situation. When our dear meerkats have dug a hole full of insects, the drongo can’t resist and uses the alarm call. The meerkats gone, it can enjoy the feast!
A little crest, a broad bill and hell of a mix of colors. It’s difficult to go past this bird without noticing it. Especially since it doesn’t hesitate to get close to human buildings in search for food.
Its name comes from its powerful distress call which alerts all the other birds of the presence of a predator in the vicinity!
The red-billed oxpecker is mammals best friend. You can find it on the back of antilopes, giraffes, buffaloes… It feed on little insect that bother them! Sometimes big mammals are covered with those birds. That’s when we start to wonder if the oxpeckers are not the actual pests!
Cape glossy starling
Its colors vary from light blue to black depending on the sun and how light hits its feathers!
This kingfisher doesn’t really like the sun and generally stays in the shade of trees during the day. It feeds most of the time on insects caught in flight while passing in front of it.
This is a very fast flying little bird which likes acrobatics: nose-dive, barrels, low flying… Taking a picture of it while in flight is a real challenge!
Once again, this is a migratory bird coming from the Northern hemisphere and from Western Europe particularly.
This little greedy girl (yes this one is a female!) had just caught a fish and was hitting it on the branch to kill it before swallowing it!
More at ease on water than in flight, this birds always lives close to waterpoints and walks on water lilies while foraging.
We call it ‘zombie duck’ and it spends most of its time grooming its feathers!
Much smaller than the other herons we usually see, this heron lives on all continents but Europe!
It like to feed on little insects found in the mud.
The african darter is often mistaken for a cormoran. This is because it likes to bask in the sun with open wings when out of the water. When it has caught a prey under water, it goes back to the surface, throws it in the air and swallows it head first! But what makes it really different is that it likes to swim with only its head and neck out of the water which makes it look like a snake moving on the surface. That’s why it is nicknamed snake bird!
Encountered in both Africa and South-East Asia, this stork is easily recognized with it white neck resembling wool. It is a vulnerable species due to habitat destruction and hunting.
This is the symbol of Alsace, a region of France, even though you may observe it elsewhere in Europe. They like to build their nest very high up and they re-use the same one every year!
even though it belongs to the stork family, it behaves more like a vulture, soaring at high altitude and feeding mainly on carcass.
Hiding in tall grass
This bird likes to live in dry areas where it perfectly blends into vegetation. It prefers to stay on the ground and will only take off in case of emergency!
This oversized bird can’t fly. But don’t get it wrong, it can run up to 70 kph, which is faster than most of the big mammals!
If you want to identify this birds from the other members of its family, look for a very long neck and tall thin legs.
This is the heaviest bird capable of flying! Weighing almost 20kg, the kori bustard will only fly when it’s really needed. It prefers to forage on the ground. During courtship ritual, male ruffle the long white feather of their necks, which give them quite a unique look!
About 1m tall and with distinctive bare red skin, you will never mistake this bird for another one! It lives in small groups which are lead by an alpha couple (just like wolves). Other members help with hunting and defending the group from predators. This birds is mainly carnivore (snakes beware !) and will rather walk than fly.
These birds seldom fly but they like to roost at night up in trees where they are safe from predators. They are generally observed in colonies of up to 25 individuals.
Orange bill and orange legs make this spurfowl rather easy to identify. It generally lives in dense thickets.
This powerful raptor only wears its distinctive black and red colors when adult (the one on top is a juvenile). Extremely skillfull while flying, it can fly up to 400km a day, reach a speed of 80kph and perform incredible maneuvers during courtship. It feeds on a wide range of preys : snakes, antelopes, carcasses… Its amazing eyesight helps spotting them from a long distance. It sometimes even steal food from vultures!
Snake-eagles are easily recognized with their large heads and broad necks. They mainly feed on reptiles, hence their name.
Those are monogamous raptors : they mate for life. A couple generally stays in the same territory for several years.
Tall and powerful, this is one of the most impressive eagle. It doesn’t hesitate to hunt antelopes, monitors, storks, baboons or even jackals… Nothing can scare it. There has been a big decline in numbers over the past years due to persecution from cattle raisers.
This eagle always live close to waterpoints. It mainly feeds on fish caught directly in water and shared with its partner. It can sometimes steal preys from other birds (like herons) but most of the time it fishes monitoring water from up in a tree.
High concentrations of vultures are always a good way to find a carcass and, most of the time, cats! They are generally sitting in a tree close to the kill or are soaring in cicles above it. And once you’ve found the dead animal, you won’t have to wait a long time to see vultures, jackals or hyenas feeding one after the other… unless there is a lion close by and keeping an eye on its dinner!
This huge vulture spends most of its time looking for carcasses. It is therefore one of the first to arrive on the crime scene! And since it is one of the few able to tear skin apart, it is the one starting the feast. As it is a solitary birds, it is rather rare to observe several individuals in the same place. As numbers of other vultures arrive, it prefers to stay away from the hustle and bustle and ends up feeding on the worst parts, left by other species.
Sometimes solitary, this birds generally lives in colonies of a dozen individuals. Exclusively a scavenger, it uses thermals to go up in the sky in the morning and look for carcasses.
Even though they are not the first ones to reach a carcass, white-backed vultures gather by dozens and sometimes hundreds. They therefore easily outnumber other species. It is easy for them to feed with their long necks and small heads. They can clean an antelope carcass in less than 10 minutes!
This is the smallest scavenger of Africa! This one has to feed on parts that no-one else wants. Since it is the last one to feed on a kill, it doesn’t need to dive head first into the carcass and will not soil its feathers. It generally spends most of its time scavenging on small mammals, dead fish or even slaughterhouse leftovers…
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