Kingdom of Lesotho

Drakensberg Rockjumper Chaetops aurantius ©Adam Riley Website

Lesotho, also known by the nickname The Mountain Kingdom, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. As an enclave of South Africa, with which it shares a border over 1,100 kms long, it is the only sovereign enclave in the world outside of the Italian Peninsula. It is situated in the Maloti Mountains and contains the highest peak in Southern Africa. It is the only independent state in the world that lies entirely above 1,000 metres (3,281 ft) in elevation. Its lowest point of 1,400 metres (4,593 ft) is thus the highest lowest point of any country in the world. Over 80% of the country lies above 1,800 metres (5,906 ft). It has an area of over 30,000 km2 (11,700 square miles) and has a population of about 2 million. Its capital and largest city is Maseru.

Because of its elevation, Lesotho remains cooler throughout the year than other regions at the same latitude. Most of the rain falls as summer thunderstorms. Maseru and surrounding lowlands may reach 30 °C in summer. The temperature in the lowlands can get down to −7 °C and the highlands to −18 °C at times. Snow is more common in the highlands between May and September; the higher peaks may experience snowfalls year-round. Rainfall in Lesotho is variable regarding both when and where precipitation occurs. Annual precipitation can vary from 500mm annually in one area to 1200mm in another because of elevation. The summer season that stretches from October to April sees the most rainfall, and from December to February, the majority of the country receives over 100mm of rain a month. The least monthly rainfall in Lesotho occurs in June when most regions receive less than 15mm a month. Periodic droughts have an effect on Lesotho’s majority rural population as some people living outside of urban areas rely on subsistence farming or small scale agriculture as their primary source of income.

There are 361 bird species in Lesotho, including 10 globally threatened species, 17 reptile species, including geckos, snakes and lizards, and 60 mammal species endemic to Lesotho, including the endangered white-tailed rat. Lesotho’s flora is alpine, due to mountainous terrain. Three terrestrial ecoregions lie within Lesotho’s boundaries: Drakensberg alti-montane grasslands and woodlands, Drakensberg montane grasslands, and Highveld grasslands.

Birding Lesotho

The Mountain Kingdom is rugged and grand, it is high lying Big Sky country with very clear air and lots of silent space. Picturesque tranquil villages lie in the cultivated valleys, rude shepherd’s huts cling to the lofty mountain slopes. The Caledon river forms Lesotho’s boundary with South Africa’s Free State Province, the mighty Drakensberg the border with KwaZulu Natal. The entire drainage is to the Atlantic, via the Orange river. The landscape of the Maluti; the mountains, is of basalt lava overlying creamy sandstone and red shale, relicts of primaeval Gondwanaland. Overhanging cliffs and walls of sandstone provided living shelters and art galleries.

The deepest valleys are, or were, partly wooded; the lower mountain slopes shrubby and denuded by overgrazing. The highlands are grassy, with high altitude representatives of South Africa’s Karoo semi-desert heath plants.

In most years the bird species count is around 200, and the best months to see them are October to March. The special birds of the region are to be found in their greatest concentrations and diversity along the road which spans an altitudinal range from 1700m to 3250m between the threshold to Sani Pass near Underberg (in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa) and a point about half-way towards the Lesotho town of Mokhotlong.

In the course of a one-day expedition, and more or less in order of wished for appearance, the following special birds occur: Wattled Crane, Drakensberg Siskin, Half-collared Kingfisher, Drakensberg Rock-jumper, Yellow Warbler, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Pale-crowned Cisticola, Sickle-wing Chat, Bush Blackcap, Mountain Pipit, Sharp-billed Honeyguide, Grey-wing Francolin, Barratt’s Warbler, Southern Grey Tit, Broad-tailed Warbler, Lammergeier, Buff-streaked Chat, Rock Pipit, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Black-headed Canary, Ground Woodpecker, Cape Eagle Owl, Drakensberg Prinia, Cape Vulture, Cape Rock Thrush, Layard’s Tit-babbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Horus Swift and Bald Ibis.

In central Lesotho birds are rather sparse, though a drive anywhere into the high mountain country would yield some of the specials. Lesotho’s Sehlabathebe Park, accessed with some difficulty from Matatiele in South Africa, is a stronghold of Yellow-breasted Pipit.

  • Rob Guy

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 361

    (As at March 2024)
  • Avibase - Bird Checklists of the World

    This checklist includes all bird species found in Lesotho , based on the best information available at this time. It is based on a wide variety of sources that I collated over many years.
  • Wikipedia

    This is a list of the bird species recorded in Lesotho. The avifauna of Lesotho included a total of 361 species, as of October 2022, according to Avibase. Four species have been introduced by humans, and the statuses of six are under review.
Useful Reading

  • Birds of Lesotho

    | By Kurt Bonde | University of KwaZulu-Natal Press | 1996 | Paperback | 120 pages, 5 colour photos, b/w illustrations, maps | ISBN: 9780869808818 Buy this book from
  • Newman's Birds of Southern Africa

    | By Kenneth B Newman, Faansie Peacock & vanessa Newman | Random House Struik | 2010 | Paperback | 536 pages, plates with colour illustrations; colour photos, colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9781770078765 Buy this book from
  • Roberts Bird Guide

    | By Hugh Chittenden, Greg Davies & Ingrid Weiersbye | Jacana Publishers | Edition 2 | 2018 | Flexibound | 570 pages, plates with colour illustrations; colour photos, colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9781920602017 Buy this book from
  • Sasol Birds of Southern Africa

    | (5th Edition) | Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey, Warwick Tarboton, Peter G Ryan, Norman Arlott & Peter Hayman | Random House Struik | 2020 | Paperback | 482 pages, plates with colour illustrations; colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9781775846680 Buy this book from
  • Southern African Birdfinder

    | (Where to find 1400 bird species in southern Africa and Madagascar) | By Callan Cohen, Claire Spottiswoode & Jonathan Rossouw | New Holland Publishers | 2006 | Paperback | 456 pages, 80 colour photos, 100 maps, pull-out route map | ISBN: 9781868727254 Buy this book from
  • The ESKOM Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland

    | Edited by Keith N Barnes | BirdLife South Africa | 2000 | Paperback | 169 pages, maps | ISBN: 9780620254991 Buy this book from
  • African Bird Club

    The mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, one of Africa

Abbreviations Key

  • IBAs

    WebpageSatellite View
    There are 6 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) designated by BirdLife International in Lesotho (BARNES, K. 2001). They cover 2,168 km2 or some 7% of the land area of the country. The IBAs were selected on the basis of breeding colonies of Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres. Lesotho holds about 600 pairs of this species or 12% of the world population and the IBAs hold 64% of this number
  • NP Sehlabathebe

    InformationSatellite View
    The Sehlabathebe National Park is located in the Maloti Mountains in Qacha's Nek District, Lesotho, and is part of the larger Maloti-Drakensberg World Heritage Site. It offers a significant habitat to a range of unique Afro-Alpine and Sub-Alpine plants, mammals, avifauna, reptiles, amphibians and fish. It has spectacular scenery with unique rock formations. Most of the Park is taken up by a designated wilderness area and although small by international standards, it retains its natural character and is uninhabited.
  • NP Ts'ehlanyane

    InformationSatellite View
    Ts'ehlanyane National Park is Lesotho's largest National Park and is located in the Maloti Mountains in Butha-Buthe District, Lesotho, and is part of the larger Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area. This Lesotho northern park protects a high-altitude, 5,600-metre (18,400 ft) patch of rugged wilderness, including one of Lesotho’s only stands of indigenous forest with a number of rare undergrowth plants that are unique to this woodland habitat.
  • NR Bokong

    InformationSatellite View
    It contains Afro-alpine wetlands at the sources of the Bokong and Lepaqoa rivers, plus montane grassland and patches of heathland boulder beds, both of which are regular haunts for Vaal rhebuck. The reserve's highlight, however, is the Lepaqoa Waterfall, which freezes in winter to form a column of ice.
  • RAMSAR Lake Letsie

    InformationSatellite View
    The reservoir was formed when a smaller, natural lake was enlarged by damming the source of the Mohlakeng River in 1968. The lake and the wetlands surrounding the shore have been designated as a national protected area since 2001 and a Ramsar site since 2004. Species such as the wattled crane, blue crane, lesser kestrel, southern bald ibis, cape vulture, and yellow-breasted pipit.
  • TCDA Maloti-Drakensberg Park

    InformationSatellite View
    The park is situated in the Drakensberg Mountains which form the highest areas in the sub-region, and supports unique montane and sub-alpine ecosystems. These ecosystems hold a globally significant plant and animal biodiversity, with unique habitats and high levels of endemism.
Guides & Tour Operators
  • Birding Ecotours

    Tour Company
    The ascent up Sani Pass, one of the most famed birding routes in South Africa, provides easy access to most of the birds endemic to the Drakensberg Escarpment and highlands, plus spectacular mountain scenery.
  • Etienne Marais Birding

    Facebook Page
    All about birding in Southern Africa with Etienne Marais - and further afield!! Tours, trips, birding courses and events!
Trip Reports
  • 2013 [04 April] - Joe Grosel & Lyn Hunt

    …This morning we headed up Sani Pass. The weather was overcast and cold but fortunately ‘dry’. Several birding stops were made on the way up and at least two walks were conducted within Lesotho. We paid the customary visit to the Sani Top Hotel before the descent. Most of the Sani Pass specialties were seen including Bearded Vulture, Bush Blackcap, Ground Woodpecker, Wailing Cisticola, Buff-streaked Chat, Drakensberg Siskin, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Cape and Sentinel Rock Thrushes and excellent views of Drakensberg Rockjumper. In Lesotho: Mountain Pipit, Lanner Falcon, Sickle-winged Chat, Layard’s Tit-Babbler, Fairy Flycatcher, African Black Duck, Large-billed Lark and Southern Grey Tit. Other interesting bird sightings for the day were – a Cuckoo finch chick being fed by its Levaillant’s Cisticola host, several Brown-backed Honeybirds along the lower part of the pass and large mixed feeding flocks of swifts. Sloggert’s Ice Rat, Chacma Baboon and Mountain Reedbuck were three of several mammals seen while Crag Lizard and Southern Rock Agama were two of the reptiles recorded on the day.
  • 2015 [01 January] - Joe Grosel - Kruger, Lesotho & Zululand

    PDF Report
    We looked forward to a day trip up Sani Pass and into Lesotho. On the way to the South African border post at the foot of the pass some good birds were seen including Bokmakierie, Cape Grassbird, Horus Swift, Rufous - necked Wryneck, Cape Canary, Bush Blackcap, Cape Rock Thrush and Drakensberg Prinia. At the border control post we were informed that the pass had been closed due to rock slides as a result of local flooding during the night. After some persuasion we were allowed to travel up the pass for about 4km but couldn’t go all the way through into Lesotho. Travelling up through the lower slopes there were nice views of Cape Vulture, Broad -tailed Warbler (Fan - tailed Grassbird), Dark -capped Yellow Warbler, Wailing Cisticola, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Bu ff-streaked Bush -Chat, Ground Woodpecker, Malachite Sunbird and Barratt’s Warbler.
  • 2016 [06 June] - Jim Rose

    Very Brief
  • 2016 [12 December] - Gergo Nagy - South Africa (plus Lesotho &Swaziland )

    PDF Report
    This journey was a three weeks independent birds and mammals tour in Southern Africa, including three countries: Republic of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Actually,we were for a short time in the latter ones, however we tasted these two small countries.

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