Malawi is a relatively small country, only 94,000 km², compared with its principal neighbours Zambia (752,000 km²) and Mozambique (784,000 km²). It is also comparatively densely populated, with over 9 million people, more than in Zambia. Nevertheless, Malawi is a most worthwhile birding destination, with a diversity of accessible habitats and an excellent variety of species, including several near-endemics and an array of both Palearctic and Intra-African migrants too.
Malawi is dominated by its lake (formerly Lake Nyasa); which flanks the upper two thirds of the country. The river Shire drains Lake Malawi southwards to enter the Zambesi in Mozambique. The western highlands, from the Nyika plateau in the North southwards comprise the western flank of the African Rift Valley. Southern Malawi has a number of important isolated massifs and outcrops, notable for their residual montane rain forests, which harbour some of the country's most notable species. These mountains include Mulanje, Cholo, Soche, Zomba and Chiradzulu.
The birding habitats of the country must all be visited in order to appreciate the species diversity of this peaceful, pleasant and scenic country. Lake Malawi itself attracts relatively few waterbirds but the often rocky shores have their hyrax colonies and attendant Black Eagles Aquila verreauxi and the lake itself is fished by the ubiquitous Fish Eagles Haliaetus vocifer. Lake Chilwa, near Zomba, is comparatively small and much shallower than Lake Malawi. It is a key locality for migrant and wintering Palearctic waders, including Great Snipes Gallinago media and a wide range of storks, herons, raptors and passerines. The Shire river valley is intensively cultivated but there are excellent wildlife areas (including Liwonde, Lengwe and Mwabvi national parks and the Elephant Marsh). Notable species here include Mottled Spinetail Telecanthura ussheri, Giant Kingfisher Megaceryle maxima, Boehm's Bee-eater Merops boehmi and Livingstone's Flycatcher Erythrocercus livingstonei.
Low-lying areas of the Shire valley have Mopane woodland, home to a wide range of widespread species such as Red-billed Hornbill Tockus erythrorhynchus. More rewarding ornithologically is the widespread Miombo Brachystegia woodland, characteristic of areas above 1000 metres, although much reduced in extent by deforestation. The Miombo endemics include Thick-billed Cuckoo Pachycoccyx audeberti, Racket-tailed Roller Coracias spatulata, Pale-billed Hornbill Tockus pallidirostris, Whyte's Barbet Buccanodon whytii, Bennett's Woodpecker Campethera bennettii and Souza's Shrike Lanius souzae.
It is perhaps the remaining areas of montane evergreen forest which provide the biggest attraction to visiting birders. This scarce habitat is declining in extent, so much so that some of its flagship species are now regarded as globally endangered. They are two small chats, the Cholo Alethe Alethe choloensis of Mts Mulanje and Thyolo, and the East Coast Akalat Sheppardia gunningi of the northern Lake Malawi shore and also the Spotted Ground-thrush Zoothera guttata of the Shire highlands. Related species of interest are the White-chested Alethe Alethe fulleborni of the Nyika forests, and the Olive-flanked Robin Alethe anomala of Mulanje and the northern mountains. Other noteworthy species of the mountain forests include the White-winged Apalis Apalis chariessa of Mulanje and the Shire highlands, the Green-headed Oriole Oriolus chorocephalus of Mts Cholo, Soche and perhaps Chiradzulu, Bertram's Weaver Ploceus bertrandi of the forest fringes throughout and the Red-faced Crimsonwing Cryptospiza reichenovii found in most evergreen forests.
This short resumé does not pretend to be exhaustive, not least because although I spent eight months in Malawi it was as long ago as 1975. Many others are far better qualified to write this Introduction and I will be happy if someone does so. All this notwithstanding, I heartily recommend Malawi as a varied and rewarding birding destination. It is certainly a place that I hope to revisit before too much longer.
Dr Ernest Garcia
Number of Species
National Bird: African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer
Number of bird species: 698
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Field Guide to Birds of East Africa
Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe Series: HELM FIELD GUIDES 604 pages, 287 col plates, distrib maps. Christopher Helm
ISBN: 0713673478Buy this book from NHBS.com
Newman's Birds of Southern Africa
Kenneth Newman 527 pages, col photos, col plates, maps. New Holland - 10th Edition
ISBN: 9783510550456Buy this book from NHBS.com
Photographic Guide to Birds of Prey of Southern, Central and East Africa
David Allan, Peter Hayman (Illustrator) Paperback - 144 pages ( 1 November, 1996) New Holland Publishers (UK)
ISBN: 1868725219Buy this book from NHBS.com
SASOL Birds of Southern Africa
Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey and Warwick Tarboton Series: THE ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF SOUTHERN AFRICA 447 pages, col plates, maps. New Holland Publishers 4th Edition
ISBN: 9781770079250Buy this book from NHBS.com
The Birds of Malawi
The Birds of Malawi An Atlas and Handbook Fran?oise Dowsett-Lemaire and Robert J Dowsett 556 pages, 16 colour plates, 625 species distribution maps. Tauraco Press Distributed by NHBS
ISBN: 2872250042Buy this book from NHBS.com
Guides & Tour Operators
Malawi offers an astounding variety of habitats and avifauna, with an incredible total of over 650 bird species in a comparatively small area, plus a fascinating selection of mammals. Lake Malawi, the third largest lake in Africa, attracts a high concentration of wetland birds; however, the rolling montane grasslands of the Nyika Plateau, the brachystegia (miombo) forests at Dzalanyama, the mopane woodland in Liwonde National Park and several evergreen forests are arguably a much greater attraction for the keen birder…
During this magnificent and diverse birding adventure, we expect to see a huge number of bird species, lots of mammals, and extremely diverse scenery. Search for some sought-after species such as Pel’s Fishing Owl and even African Pitta. We also run a shorter (2-week) version of this tour, and can custom-make other Malawi tours to suit your exact needs.
Local birders willing to show visiting birders around their area…
Eyes on Africa
…This 11-day safari is led by one of southern Africa's top birding experts, authors, painters and wildlife lecturers. Geoff has many Malawi birding safaris under his belt and will help to bring this safari alive. Malawi has many National Parks. Each harbours a number of different vegetation types and different birds…
Fish Eagle Safaris
Malawi is affectionately known as the Warm Heart of Africa, and its people and geographic location certainly bear this out. The enormous Lake Malawi, one of the largest of the Rift Valley lakes, dominates the eastern half of the country. The memorably beautiful lake provides sustenance for the many people living along its shores, and along with its drainage rivers, is a haven for a wide variety of birds and other wildlife.
This company has organised trips to Malawi for birders…
…A 10-day birding tour to Lake Malawi, the Zomba Plateau and Liwonde National Park….
CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.
2008 [11 November] - Richard Cruse
We met our guide and driver, Abasi Jana, in the terminal before finding our first bird of the tour, Little Swift. Common Bulbul, Pied Crow and European Bee-eaters were seen as we drove to the Lodge. We checked in and went to the garden before lunch. Here, Kurrichane Thrush, Southern Cordon Blue, African Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Eremomelas, Fork-tailed Drongo, Puffback and Chinspot Batis all showed…
2008 [12 December] - Benjamin Schwartz
While not often visited by birders, Malawi is a key country for anyone wishing to clean up on their African bird list. Add to this the extremely friendly people and the amazing accommodation, and it is rather surprising that there aren't more people flocking to the country. With much of Central Africa in turmoil, Malawi offers an excellent chance to pick up many of the Central African endemics as well as a large host of miombo specialties found more easily here than anywhere else on the continent…
2011 [01 January] - Erik Emanuelsson
Target White-winged Babbling Starling…
2011 [11 November] - Joakim Djerf
…Best birds were Lesser Jacana (4) in "Kasungu lake" (which also held a lot of other water birds) and Miombo Scrub-Robin and Lesser Blue-eared Glossy-Starling (Miombo Blue-eared) in the miombo forest…
2014 [09 September] - Errol de Beer
This trip was run as a customized tour for three clients, all with lists of well over 7000 species seen worldwide, and in fact Dollyann was hoping to reach 8000 species by the end of this trip. Travel to some really remote destinations, particularly in Malawi, was necessary to find some of the group’s target birds. Places like Misuku Hills and Uzumara Forest in Malawi are hardly ever visited by birders, primarily from a logistics point of view, and also because of lack of suitable accommodation. Both these destinations are, however, excellent birding spots, and Uzumara in particular could be included in most itineraries, using accommodation in the town of Rumphi as a base. On the Zambian side we included the Mwinilunga area, a must for any serious birder; this area hosts many Angolan/Congo specials, found nowhere else in Zambia...
Places to Stay
Mvuu Wilderness Lodge
The 580,000 hectare Liwonde National Park is situated in the south of Malawi and is Malawi's premier wildlife reserve. Liwonde incorporates the huge and scenic Shire River, as well as quiet backwaters and lagoons, marshes, open savanna country, woodland and hills. As a result of the wide variety of habitats, there is a great diversity of plants, mammals, reptiles and birds. The birdlife is particularly good, and Liwonde is possibly the best birding location in central and southern Africa…
African Bird Club
For a long time Malaŵi has been kept secret by those who live there and those who visit. However, this is changing as increasing numbers of birders and ecotourists are discovering this wonderful country. Malaŵi has a history of being trouble free and the people are very friendly. The infrastructure is excellent, it has a pleasant climate and adequate accommodation at a reasonable standard and cost. It still supports much wilderness and it holds around 650 species of bird, many of which are difficult to see anywhere else: it should be possible to see over 300 species in a two week visit…
Malawi Ornithological Society
The Malawi Ornithological Society (MOS) formed in 1996 with a principal aim of promoting ornithology and avian conservation in Malawi. The Society has a Board of Trustees (Directors) and an Executive Plenary Committee (EPC). The MOS operates a network of local birders and ornithologists called Mosnet, which contributes to MOS database bank from time to time. Malawi has vital collection for natural resources - most of which is preserved/protected. Information about National Parks and Game Reserves can be obtained from Tourism Information or Important Bird Areas (Sanctuaries).
WildLife & Environmental Society Of Malawi
The Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi is dedicated to conservation of natures resources, including land, forestry, animals, bird-life, flora and fauna, rivers and lakes. We create and assist with educational projects, especially with the young in order to bring about a greater and deeper understanding of the importance of the environment in which we live…
n Important Bird Areas in Africa and Associated Islands (BirdLife International 2001), 22 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are listed for Malaŵi…
Lake Chilwa Wetlands
Lake Chilwa, a tropical lake without an outlet, is the second largest lake in Malawi located in the southern region of the country with its catchment comprising Phalombe, Zomba and Machinga districts. It lies on the border with Mozambique. The lake and its beautiful wetland is roughly 40 km across and 60km from north to south, giving a total of 2400 km². In normal years, one third of the lake is open water, one third is swamp and marsh, and one third is floodplains…
Lake Malawi National Park
The marshes are a home for hippopotami, crocodiles, jacanas, ibises, egrets and many more. The underwater empires attract kingfishers, Cormorants, Fish Eagles, Herons and the Black Eagles are neither a rare attraction to see as they dive or swoop down for a catch.
Liwonde National Park
With the Shire River as it's border, Liwonde National Park could well be Malawi's best. Well managed, stocked with large numbers of interesting animals and with beautiful scenery, this park should not be missed.
Liwonde National Park
Liwonde lies at the southern end of Lake Malawi along the Upper Shire River (pronounced Shirree), and borders Lake Malombe…
e.g. CAPE MACLEAR NATIONAL PARK - Lake shore, lake and island habitats. Access by road from Lilongwe, Blantyre or Zomba or by boat from Lake Malawi. Open all year round. Comfortable accommodation available. Animals living in the park include antelope, elephant, hippopotamus, monkeys and otters. Many species of reptiles, birds and fish in the underwater park.
Forums & Mailing Lists
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Malawi Birding Group Page serves birders both within and outside of Malawi. The objectives of this group is to: 1. Share information on birding within Malawi 2. Organize amateur birding trips within Malawi and adjacent countries 3. Create a network of advocates for the protection of birds and their habitats 4. Circulate scientific journal articles or other research pertaining to birds of Malawi
Photographers & Artists
Gallery - Birds of Lake Malawi