Republic of Malawi

Yellow-throated Apalis Apalis flavigularis ©Francesco Veronesi Website
Birding Malawi

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

    Gibraltar |

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 650

    (As of September 2018)
  • Number of bird species:

    National Bird: African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer
  • Number of endemics: 1

    Yellow-throated Apalis Apalis flavigularis

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Useful Reading

  • A Contribution to the Ornithology of Malawi

    | By F Dowsett-Lemaire | Tauraco Press | 2006 | Paperback | 121 pages, no illustrations | ISBN: 9782872250035 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 | 2019 | Hardback | 570 pages, plates with colour illustrations; colour photos, colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9781920602024 Buy this book from
  • SASOL Birds of Southern Africa

    | (4th Edition) | By Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey, Warwick Tarboton, Peter G Ryan, Norman Arlott & Peter Hayman | Random House Struik | 2014 | Paperback | 464 pages, plates with colour illustrations; colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9781775840992 Buy this book from
  • The Birds of Malawi

    | (An Atlas and Handbook) | By Françoise Dowsett-Lemaire & Robert J Dowsett | Tauraco Press | 2006 | Paperback | 556 pages, 16 colour plates, 625 species distribution maps | ISBN: 9782872250042 Buy this book from
  • African Bird Club

    For a long time Mala?i 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. Mala?i 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 and Environmental Society of Malawi

    WESM has been dedicated to protecting Malawi’s remarkable biodiversity and ecosystems for over 70 years. WESM consists of nine Branches, throughout Malawi, and a national Secretariat. Each Branch has a governing structure, holds various events and implements projects relevant to its geographic coverage.

Abbreviations Key

  • IBA WII Lake Chilwa Wetlands

    InformationSatellite View
    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. The lake supports a waterbird population of around 1.5 million with about 160 different species. Some of these migrate along the Asian - East African Flyway from Siberia each year. With twelve bird species, the number is over 1% of their total flyway population.
  • IBAs

    WebpageSatellite View
    n Important Bird Areas in Africa and Associated Islands (BirdLife International 2001), 22 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are listed for Mala?i
  • NP Kasunga

    InformationSatellite View
    Kasungu National Park is located west of Kasungu, about 175 km north of Lilongwe, extending along the Zambian border. The vegetation consists mainly of Miombo woodland with grassy river channels, known locally as Dambos. A number of rivers flow through the park, notably the Dwanga and the Lingadzi and its tributary, the Lifupa, which creates an important spot for hippo surveyal in the park at the Lifupa Lodge. Kasungu is known for its population of elephants although is threatened by poaching.
  • NP Lake Malawi

    InformationSatellite View
    The park is also home to mammals including chacma baboons, vervet monkeys, hippopotamuses, leopards, common duikers, bushbucks, greater kudus, and klipspringers. Also to be seen are crocodiles, African fish eagles, and white-breasted cormorants as well as wading birds, kingfishers, hornbills, nightjars, kestrels, swallow-tailed bee-eaters, and many other species of birds.
  • NP Lengwe

    InformationSatellite View
    Lengwe's topography is unusual for Malawi and consists of open deciduous forests and dense thickets. It is the home of the reclusive Nyala antelope.
  • NP Liwonde

    InformationSatellite View
    Also known as Liwonde Wildlife Reserve, 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. Biome-restricted bird species in the park include: white-starred robin, brown-headed parrot, brown-breasted barbet, pale batis, Dickinson's kestrel, Lilian's lovebird, Böhm's bee-eater, racket-tailed roller, pale-billed hornbill, Kurrichane thrush, Arnot's chat, white-bellied sunbird, black-eared seedeater, broad-tailed paradise whydah, Meves's starling. The park is the only location in Malawi where Lilian's lovebird and the brown-breasted barbet are found. Four species of vulture were present in the park in the 1980s, but due to secondary poisoning of the birds, only the palm-nut vulture remains.
  • NP Nyika

    InformationSatellite View
    Nyika National Park is Malawi’s largest national park, with an area of 3200 km2 (1250 mile2). The name Nyika means "where the water comes from" as the plateau's elevation makes it wetter than surrounding areas. Over 400 species of bird have been recorded in the park. The rare Denham’s bustard and the wattled crane are among those to be seen, as is the red-winged francolin - endemic to Nyika.
  • NR Mulanje Mountain Forest Reserve

    InformationSatellite View
    Mulanje Mountain Forest Reserve is a nature reserve founded in 1927 in Malawi. It is operated by the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust. The native Mulanje Cypress (Widdringtonia whytei) has been so heavily logged that it is considered endangered and the park contains the last remaining stands of this tree, as well as a number of other plant and animal species—many of them endemic to the area. Examples include forest butterflies, birds such as the cholo alethe and White-winged Apalis, Dwarf Chameleon, geckos, skinks, the Squeaker Frog, and a rare limbless burrowing skink species.
  • WR GR Vwaza

    InformationSatellite View
    In contrast to the Nyika National Park on the Nyika Plateau, much of Vwaza is located on low-lying flat ground although the eastern side of the park is hilly. It is located to the southeast of the plateau and to the north of the floodplains of South Rukuru River and covers an area of 1,000 km2. Notable birdlife include Goliath herons, openbill storks and the rare white-winged starling. Lake Kazuni is located in the reserve and supports a notable hippo population.
  • WR Majete

    InformationSatellite View
    Majete has been managed by African Parks since 2003, when the nonprofit conservation organisation entered into a public–private partnership with the Malawi Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW). Since then, wildlife has been restored, the park has achieved big five game status, and tourism has increased. Birds include the African Finfoot, Böhm's Bee-eater, Egyptian Goose, and Racket-tailed Roller, as well as others in the Anseriformes order.
  • WR Mwabvi

    InformationSatellite View
    With an area of 135km² Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve is Malawi’s smallest national park, and its least accessible. Nevertheless, it has a wide variety of habitats, including Mopane, Combretum and brachystegia woodland, as well as open savanna, dambo, and riverine areas. Mwabvi was the last natural home to Malawi's Black Rhino population, but both wildlife and woodland have been poached over recent years.
  • WR Nkhotakota

    InformationSatellite View
    Nkhotakota Wildlife Preserve is the largest and oldest wildlife reserve in Malawi. Some 280 species of bird have been recorded in the reserve and there are likely to be considerably more than this figure. They vary in size from tiny iridescent kingfishers to large martial eagles. The Taita falcon has been recorded twice near the escarpment and may breed there. Other bird species include the olive-headed weaver, the Böhm's bee-eater, the Arnot's chat, the Anchieta's sunbird, the Böhm's flycatcher, the miombo wren-warbler, the Souza's shrike, the Chapin's apalis, the miombo rock thrush, the miombo scrub robin and the miombo double-collared sunbird.
Forums & Mailing Lists
  • Malawi Birding

    Mailing List Forum
    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 Malawi2. Organize amateur birding trips within Malawi and adjacent countries3. Create a network of advocates for the protection of birds and their habitats4. Circulate scientific journal articles or other research pertaining to birds of Malawi
Guides & Tour Operators
  • Birding Ecotours

    Tour Operator
    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.
  • Central African Wilderness Safaris

    Tour Operator
    Looking for the holiday of a lifetime? Here at Central African Wilderness Safaris we offer unforgettable travel experiences in Malawi, the warm heart of Africa.
  • Eyes on Africa

    Tour Operator
  • Fish Eagle Safaris

    Tour Operator
    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.
  • Rockjumper

    Tour Operator
    The attractive, land-locked country of Malawi with its plateaus, rolling plains, lakes, mountains, forests and vast Miombo woodlands offers incredible birding and the opportunity to see many of Africa’s most localised species...
  • Sunrise Ground Tours

    Tour Operator
    Malawi is a beautiful country offering a diverse range of tourist attractions ranging from mountains and wildlife to fresh water lake in addition to its friendly people. It is relatively cheaper destination in the region. There has been no war nor civil strife in Malawi and it is a very peaceful country. If you want to get away from your busy life schedule, then come to Malawi.
Trip Reports

Click on WAND to see Fatbirder’s Trip Report Repository…

  • 2014 [09 September] - Errol de Beer

    PDF Report
    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...
  • 2016 [09 September] - Heinz Ortmann

    PDF Report
    This Malawi – Miombo & Montane Birding Tour was Rockjumper’s second fully comprehensive tour of Malawi, and was overall an incredible experience in all respects. This tour also featured, for the first time, an extension to the world-famous wilderness and wildlife haven of South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.
  • 2016 [12 December] - Nik Borrow

    PDF Report
    During this tour we visited extensive miombo woodlands, mopane forests, montane copses, rolling open moorlands, dense thickets and riverine marshes and we stayed in some extremely comfortable and wellappointed locations enjoying some superb food and excellent birding.
  • 2018 [09 September] - Nik Borrow

    PDF Report
    During this tour we visited extensive miombo woodlands, mopane forests, montane copses, rolling open moorlands, dense thickets and riverine marshes and stayed in some extremely comfortable and wellappointed locations, enjoying some superb food and excellent birding.
  • 2018 [10 October] - Michael Mills

    PDF Report
    Malawi is among Africa's best kept secrets; despite being safe and possessing a good tourism infrastructure and impressive diversity of birds, including numerous specials, it receives few visiting birders. Spectacular mountain scenery and healthy large mammal populations at Nyika and Liwonde add to the appeal. Our two week trip covered the key sites from Nyika in the north to Mt Mulanje in the south, with a focus on montane forest and miombo birding. Top birds as voted for were White-winged Apalis, Whitewinged Babbling Starling, Thyolo Alethe, Shelley's Sunbird, Souza's Shrike, Pel's Fishing Owl and Pennant-winged Nightjar.
  • 2019 [08 August] - Dion Hobcroft - Miombo Magic

    PDF Report
    Our first-ever tour to Malawi was a great success. First, a few fast facts about Malawi. A land-locked country bordered by Tanzania, Zambia, and Mozambique, Malawi lies in south-central Africa. Originally titled as Nyasaland, a British colony, Malawi gained independence in 1965...
  • 2019 [11 November] - Mark Van Beirs

    PDF Report
    “The warm heart of Africa” as Malawi is often called is a friendly, little-known, small, land-locked country in southern central Africa. It offers an amazing variety of habitats on its surface area of only four times Belgium. The dominant vegetation used to be open miombo (Brachystegia) woodland, but there are also small patches of montane evergreen forest, mopane forest, open montane grasslands, verdant floodplains and marshy dambos. We managed to gather an excellent list of birds...
Places to Stay

Click on WAND to see Fatbirder’s Trip Report Repository…

  • Mvuu Lodge

    Friendly staff, great food, bar area, swimming pool all in a magnificent setting overlooking the Zambezi river

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