Well over 650 species have been recorded in the small province of KwaZulu-Natal, a product of its habitat diversity and its coastal position on the beautiful eastern seaboard of South Africa. From mangrove-fringed estuaries to the peaks of the Drakensberg Mountains, from the cool mistbelt forests to the bird-rich savanna of Zululand, KZN offers some of the best birding on the African continent. Of particular interest to the international birder are the more than 50 species endemic to the Southern African Subregion, a handful of which are only found here and in adjacent Mozambique.
KZN's broad vegetation types of forest, savanna and grassland may be further subdivided into:
Subtropical, broad-leaved forest that runs the length of the coast, extending up to an altitude of 450m above sea level. It is home to numerous coastal specials, notably Spotted Ground-Thrush and Woodward's Batis, and is well protected in the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park and Ngoye Forest.
Patches of temperate, Afro-montane forest (mistbelt forest) which occur in a narrow altitudinal belt between 900m and 1200m above sea level, and host a handful of Southern African endemics, notably Cape Parrot, Knysna Turaco, Chorister Robin-Chat, Bush Blackcap and Cape Batis. Highly threatened by felling for timber and conversion to commercial agro-forestry, accessible patches are protected in Weza-Ngele Forest and the Creighton Valley.
Savanna woodland, or bushveld, which covers much of the northern and inland areas, and supports a very rich avifauna. This habitat is widespread in eastern Africa and endemics are few, notable exceptions in KZN being Sabota Lark, Fiscal Flycatcher and White-throated Robin-Chat. Large areas of bushveld are protected in Mkhuze Game Reserve, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park, and a host of smaller reserves.
Grasslands that blanket KZN's inland western regions, from sour grassland at medium altitudes to the Afro-Alpine grasslands in the Drakensberg massif. A number of regional endemics occur here, notably Drakenberg Rock-jumper and Drakenberg Siskin, both of which are easily seen on Sani Pass, the most accessible high-altitude site in Southern Africa.
Coastal grassland that occurs as part of the mosaic of habitats known as the East Coast Littoral, and is of interest to the birder for such tropical species as Swamp Nightjar and Rosy-throated Longclaw. The best example of this habitat is found in the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park.
Wetlands that range from estuaries to tropical pans and flooded grassland, from fast-flowing mountain streams to man-made impoundments. Warm oceanic waters off the coast support a variety of tropical seabirds, especially after cyclonic conditions in the Mozambique Channel.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park (Greater St Lucia Wetland Park)
The Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, a proclaimed World Heritage Site, is the most important conservation area in the province and supports the highest concentrations of breeding water birds in South Africa. The Eastern Shores section is the most accessible site in the country for coastal forest specials. Here, the world's tallest forested sand dunes support populations of Buff-spotted Flufftail, Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, as well as African Crowned Eagle, Livingstone's Turaco, Green Malkoha, Spotted Ground-Thrush (winter only); Brown Scrub-Robin, Rudd's Apalis, Woodwards' Batis and Green Twinspot. The seasonally flooded wetlands are home to African Pygmy-Goose, White-backed Duck, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Red-chested Flufftail, Lesser Jacana, Swamp Nightjar, Pale-crowned Cisticola, Short-tailed Pipit (winter only) and Rosy-throated Longclaw. Forests on the western shores of the lake hold additional specials, notably African Broadbill, Neergaard's Sunbird and Pink-throated Twinspot. Waterbirds can be seasonally abundant, and Pink-backed Pelican, Greater Flamingo (up to 30 000); African Spoonbill, African Fish Eagle (at very high densities) and a variety of herons, egrets, storks, ducks and terns can be found whilst exploring the lake, preferably by boat. African Finfoot, Pel's Fishing Owl, Mangrove Kingfisher (winter only) and Black-throated Wattle-eye can be found in the mangroves and forests fringing the lake. Other sites with productive coastal forest and mangroves are Kosi Bay, Sodwana Bay and Umlalazi Nature Reserve.
Ongoye Forest Reserve
Ongoye Forest Reserve protects prime coastal scarp forest and grassland. This reserve is famous for its isolated population of Woodwards' (Green) Barbet, the only other population being in SW Tanzania. This vocal species is easily located, whilst other forest species which are present include Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Narina Trogon, Olive Woodpecker, African Broadbill, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Spotted and Orange ground-thrushes, Red-capped and Chorister robin-chats, Brown Scrub-Robin, Olive Bush-Shrike, Southern Tchagra and Grey Waxbill. The surrounding grasslands support Black-rumped Buttonquail, African Grass-Owl and Plain-backed Pipit. Other coastal scarp forests are Dhlinza Forest in Eshowe (an excellent site for Green Twinspot); Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve (which holds one of the northern-most populations of Knysna Woodpecker) and Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve (the extensive grasslands at this reserve support additional species including Striped Flufftail, Broad-tailed Warbler and Short-tailed Pipit.)
The Creighton Valley in southern KZN provides superb access to the endemic-rich mistbelt forests and grasslands. The pristine forest supports endemics such as the endangered Cape Parrot (the brown-headed nominate race, now considered a separate species, which numbers fewer than 400 individuals); Knysna Turaco, Chorister Robin-Chat, Bush Blackcap, Barratt's Warbler, Cape Batis, Lesser Double-collared Sunbird, Swee Waxbill and Forest Canary. Other notable species are Forest Buzzard, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Orange Ground-Thrush and White-starred Robin. The rolling grasslands, which are interspersed with wetlands, rocky outcrops and stands of Protea support all 3 species of Southern African cranes (Blue, Grey Crowned and Wattled); as well as Denham's and Black-bellied bustards, Cape Grassbird, 9 species of cisticolas, Broad-tailed Warbler, Drakensberg Prinia, Gurney's Sugarbird, Red-headed Quelea, Cuckoo Finch and the globally threatened Blue Swallow. Similar birds may be found in the Karkloof area, Impendle Nature Reserve and Weza-Ngele Forest.
UMkhuze Falls Game Reserve
The Holy Grail of Southern African birders, Mkhuze Game Reserve boasts a birdlist of over 450 species and is the top site for a host of highly sought-after Zululand specials. The best birding areas in the park are the subtropical Nsumo Pan, the Fig Forest along the Mkhuze River and the sand forest. The unique Tongaland Sand Forest around the hides of Kubube and Kumasinga, close to the park's main camp, is excellent for Crested Guineafowl, African Broadbill, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, (Eastern) Bearded Scrub-Robin and three of the reserve's near-endemics: Rudd’s Apalis, Neergaard's Sunbird, and the beautiful Pink-throated Twinspot, all of which are common here. The Fever Tree-lined Nsumo Pan attracts a wide variety of waterbirds, notably African Fish-Eagle, Great White and Pink-backed pelicans, Yellow-billed, Open-billed and Woolly-necked storks, and Goliath Heron, whilst the surrounding thorn thickets are home to the near-endemic White-throated Robin-Chat and Pink-throated Twinspot.
Mkhuze Game Reserve A guided walk through the Fig Forest along the Mkhuze River should reward the birder with White-eared Barbet, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Trumpeter Hornbill, Narina Trogon, Purple-crested Turaco, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, and Grey Tit-Flycatcher. With effort and a bit of luck, Green Malkoha, Pel's Fishing Owl, Buff-spotted Flufftail, the scarce Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, Black-throated Wattle-eye and Green Twinspot may be added. More open Acacia savanna bushveld in the reserve supports many widespread woodland birds typical of much of Eastern Africa, notably Bearded Woodpecker, Black-bellied Bustard, White-headed and Lappet-faced vultures, Bateleur, Lizard Buzzard, Martial Eagle, Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, Flappet and Sabota larks, as well as 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.
The 243,000ha Drakensberg Park is a perennial favourite of hikers and incorporates the world famous Royal Natal National Park, Giant's Castle Nature Reserve and a host of lesser known reserves. The rest camps at the foot of the mountains are productive, though birders with little time are advised to head straight for Sani Pass, which traverses the park and offers easier access to the full complement of Drakensberg specials. The public road winds up the Great Escarpment from Himeville to the Lesotho border at the crest of the pass, with Ground Woodpecker, Cape Rock Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat, Barratt's Warbler, Bush Blackcap, and Gurney’s Sugarbird commonly seen on the ascent, and Southern Bald Ibis, Drakensberg Rock-jumper, Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Mountain Pipit and Drakensberg Siskin plentiful in the area around the Sani Top Chalet. The chalet boasts the highest pub in Africa (2874m); selling the local Maluti Lager - no better place to toast those highland lifers!
With an altitude ranging from 1,600m above sea level to 3,480m above sea level, it is a excellent locality for altitudinal migrants. Birds occurring on this pass include Bush Blackcap, Black Harrier, Southern Bald Ibis, Yellow-throated Woodland-warbler, Mountain Pipit, Lammergeier and Cape Grassbird.
The Umlalazi Nature reserve offers mangrove forests, swamps, dune forests and the well known Raffia Palm (Raphia australis) stands. This area is home to the vegetarian Palm-nut Vulture with bonus birds of the area which include Mangrove Kingfisher, Pel's Fishing-owl, Spotted Ground-thrush, African Finfoot and Grey Waxbill.
Hluhluwe/Umfolozi Game Reserve
The oldest proclaimed reserve in Africa which became famous for successfully saved the White Rhino from extinction. The reserve hosts the Big Five and several othe interesting antelope species. Birds are plentiful and not difficult to see. Birds of note include Bearded Woodpecker, Redbilled Oxpecker, Redthroated Wryneck, Bateleur, Ground Hornbill, Rudd`s Apalis and White-browed Robin-chat. White-browed Robin-chat and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill.
The largest freshwater lake in South Africa, situated on the eastern side of the forest covered dunes which separates the lake from the Indian Ocean. Birds of interest include African Yellow White-eye, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Pink-throated Twinspot, Red-capped Robin-chat, Brown Scrub-robin, Terrestrial Brownbul, Narina Trogon, Goliath Heron and Woodward`s Batis.
Ndumo Game Reserve
A game reserve with sub-tropical forests, floodplains, sand forest open grasslands with one of the highest checklists in South Africa. African Wood-owl, Eastern Nicator, Pink-throated Twinspot, Neergaard's Sunbird, African Broadbill, Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Retz's Helmet-Shrike and Brubru are only a few of the special birds to be seen in this reserve.
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Guides & Tour Operators
Rockjumper Birding Tours
At Rockjumper Birding Tours, we believe that the recipe for a successful birding tour is simple: a well-planned itinerary with smooth running ground operations, comfortable accommodations and good food, a small group with low participant to leader ratio, and most importantly, personable, friendly guides with the experience and expertise to maximise the time spent in the field. As professional bird guides, we pride ourselves in our knowledge, based on many months or even years of experience in the areas we visit, and in our ability to handle the numerous logistic details of a bird tour…
SafariWise (South Africa)
Birding Safaris are offered in the KwaZulu Natal to organised groups, family groups and specialist groups with an emphasis on the endemic birds of the region. Birding and general safaris are also offered for the rest of Southern Africa which include Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique.
Malcolm and Gail Gemmell are your hosts. Malcolm is an accredited tourist guide who has 22 years of birding experience in the area and has developed an intimate knowledge of the local bird population, as well as roosts, feeding areas and activities. (And sometimes nest sites.) He has located a Blue Swallow breeding site in the district, and the mysterious Blackrumped Button Quail are resident on the farm…
Local birders willing to show visiting birders around their area…
Birding Africa is run by three Capetonian birders and naturalists, Callan Cohen, Claire Spottiswoode and Peter Ryan, all based at the University of Cape Town`s Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. Callan and Claire are postgraduate research students, and have recently published an new birding site guide to Cape Town and beyond: Essential Birding - Western South Africa. Peter is a lecturer and researcher, and the author of numerous publications, most recently a new field guide to the birds of Afrotropics.
Southern KwaZulu-Natal Birding Route
BirdLife South Africa aim to conserve birds and their habitats through birding tourism - see website for route details…
Mhlosinga Bush Lodge
Nestled in the heart of the Kwa-Zulu Natal bush along the Elephant coast, South Africa is Mhlosinga Bush Lodge. Central to Hluhluwe, Mfolozi & Mkuzi game reserves, Sodwana Bay and the World Heritage Site of St. Lucia. This South African bush lodge is a rare gem…
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.
Glen Holland - Zululand
…A group of red-billed woodhoopoe gave their cackling calls, which the Zulu people so aptly name Uhlekabafazi – The laughing women! Heading out of the forest we had forty-eight species, which we felt, was good going…
2006 [10 October] - Bo Beolens
…We then drove to Franklin Marsh an area of reed-beds and open water with a wide variety of waterfowl, waders, herons and other water loving birds. Our main target here was African Rail and Malcolm heard one call so we tape lured for a while whilst having our picnic lunch and were treated to a glimpse of red bill sticking out from reeds near a small pool at the roadside. Further tape playing got the bird to show head and breast as well and, eventually everyone managed to see this skulker. During the course of watching this pool, luring the rail, a Baillon’s Crake flew across the same pool… tape luring produced return calls but not another visit…
2007 [01January] - Rob Grimmond
…There are some splendid plants and trees here. Carolyn provided much useful information on them. The gardens are also good for birds. Highlights were Pink-backed Pelican, Black-collared Barbet and Crested Barbet, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Southern Black flycatcher, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Collared Sunbird and Eastern Olive Sunbird and Thick-billed Weaver….
2008 [02 February] - Rob Grimmond
Pondoland to Pongola Trip - This list summarizes a visit to parts of Kwa-Zulu Natal ('KZN'), arranged by 'Meet Us in Africa', a business run by Carolyn and Derek McDonald…
2012 [02 February] - Lawson's Birding
…We opted to make our way to the canopy tower in Dlinza Forest fairly early, so armed with our binoculars and a picnic basket filled with tea, coffee and biscuits, we headed into the forest. It was still fairly gloomy under the canopy, but after reaching the tower, we were greeted by a perfect morning. Initially birding was fairly quiet with just Black-bellied Starling and Red-eyed Dove, however, fairly soon there was great excitement when we had smashing views of an Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon that landed on some dead snags very close to us. This was cause for celebration as it turned out to be the 700th species seen in Southern Africa by one of our participants, June Houghton, a marvellous feat indeed…
2015 [01 January] - Joe Grosel - Kruger, Lesotho & Zululand
2016 [11 November] - Matt Prophet
...The following day we birded the vicinity of the main rest camp and found Southern Boubou, Olive Woodpecker, Dark-capped Bulbul, Common Waxbill, Cape Weaver, Cape Canary, and Greater Double-collared Sunbird. Further sightings of Bearded and Cape Vultures were had as we scanned the skies above us...
2017 [01 January] – Chris Durdin – Drakensbergs & Zululand
The ‘usual suspects’ at Bonamanzi’s lake were, as ever, excellent: giant, pied and brownhooded kingfishers, water thick-knees, wire-tailed and lesser striped swallows, noisy thick-billed weavers, a close yellow-billed kite at the top of a fever tree, impala and nyala coming to drink, and much more.
Places to Stay
Accommodation is in a comfortable home from home guesthouse on a dairy farm. The Homestead is a modified 1908 farm-house set in a beautiful garden in the scenic Creighton Valley. The Valley is 1000m above sea level, so frost and cold in winter are a reality, a fact that makes you very grateful for the cosy bedrooms and fire-warmed home. There are four double rooms, including two en-suite bedrooms, with shared living and dining rooms. All meals are prepared and designed to suit your specific needs by your Hostess, Gail, whose culinary skills will delight you and ensure you leave heavier than when you arrived…
Phinda is the ideal resort for a week-long stay where the discerning traveller can savoir seven different ecosystems in two distinctive lodges, whose architecture is designed to echo this stunning diversity.
Excellent birding opportunities on farms and in rural areas in South Africa - Click around and discover the wide variety of farmstays and activities on farms and in rural areas offering quality facilities in attractive yet unconventional surroundings and at tariffs you can afford - bed and breakfast, self-catering, game viewing, bird watching, hiking, biking, 4x4 routes, fly-fishing, horse riding, and many more…
Protea Hotel - Richards Bay
Combine the beauty of this warm, lush subtropical region with the savannah of the many game reserves. Zulu traditionalism with tranquil walks on miles of pristine beaches along the Tuzi Gazi Coast. Combine the best of nature with the very best of accommodation… Fatbirder Receommended
Zinkwazi Lagoon Lodge
On the NORTH COAST of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa - only 80 km from Durban - is the beautiful DOLPHIN COAST, Jewel of the Zulu Kingdom and heart of the historical King Shaka Route. In this sub-tropical paradise, Gateway to Zululand, lies the magnificent Nature Conservancy of ZINKWAZI - a unique coastal eco-experience of endless golden beaches and tropical palms, lush indigenous forests with spectacular bird life, and 7 kilometers of untouched lagoon. The Zulus called it ZINKWAZI, the home of Fish Eagles, and their haunting cry is still part of the magic…
Hluhluwe River Lodge
Situated on the western shore of Lake St Lucia and adjoining False Bay Game Reserve and the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park lies Hluhluwe River Lodge…
B&B St Lucia South Africa KZN accommodation in St Lucia South Africa B&B or self catering…
Ghost Mountain Inn
At the foot of the legendary Ghost Mountain lies the privately owned 4 Star Ghost Mountain Inn, a perfect setting for taking time out to relax and experience the charms of Africa in comfort and style…
Riverbend Chalets comprises a property of 5.6 Ha situated on the banks of the Umtentweni River, South Coast, KwaZulu- Natal, South Africa. We cater for holidaymakers and travellers who require central, tranquil surroundings with indigenous bush and abundant birdlife…
Less than 1 hour’s drive from Durban, situated in the heart of one of the KwaZulu-Natal’s most pristine coastal forest, perfectly nestled within the Umdoni Park, lies the luxury coastal getaway of Botha House…
KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Services
They are not part of the SA National Parks Board and really offer far better birding opportunities. The KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service is the official nature conservation authority for the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Our protected areas extend from the magnificence of the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park, the highest mountain range south of Kilimanjaro, to the pristine splendour of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park a World Heritage Site. From the renowned Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park which incorporates the two oldest protected areas in Africa, to a wealth of smaller parks which conserve the rich biodiversity and splendid landscapes of this beautiful province. Our proud track record in wildlife conservation extends back more than half a century and includes bench mark achievements in rhino conservation, sea turtle research, and the most extensive community conservation programme in Africa…
Endangered Cape Parrots & Raptors
Important conservation projects in KwaZulu Natal. South Africa - spectacular birding vacation opportunities and hands-on preservation.
KwaZulu Natal Parks
Info on Hluhluwe-Umfolozi, Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park, Ithala, Mkuze, Ndumo, & Greater St Lucia Wetland Park.
Tembe Elephant Park
The largest elephant in South Africa, along with rhino, buffalo, leopard, hippo and antelope species in a 190 sqare mile park on the Mozambique border. Excellent birding opportunities and nearby access to the Tongoland reefs and scuba diving areas.
Southern KwaZulu-Natal Birding Route
The Southern KwaZulu-Natal Birding Route takes you from the golden beaches and lush forests of South Africa’s North and South Coastlines through the beautiful Lowveld and up to the spectacular heights of the Drakensberg Mountains. The variety of habitat and a bird list in excess of 550 species including many rare and endemic species such as Blue Swallow, Cape Parrot, Drakensberg Rock-jumper, Eurasian Bittern, all three Southern African Crane Species, Bearded Vulture and more make this Birding Route an unforgettable South African journey for any birding enthusiast
Dlinza Forest Aerial Boardwalk
Built of natural timber, the Aerial Boardwalk takes you 125m through the indigenous coastal scarp forest at a height of 10m above the forest floor, just below the canopy. The Boardwalk itself is wheelchair friendly up to the 20m high steel observation tower. There are numerous benches on the walkway for resting, viewing interesting trees or a special bird sighting…
A unique self-guided birding route in Southern Zululand. The Zululand Birding Route offers a range of great birding localities, with expert local guides and diverse accommodation.
Photographers & Artists
Gallery - Birds of Kwa Zulu Natal
Photographs of birds taken in Kwa Zulu Natal in 2000.