Eastern Cape

Orange-breasted Sunbird Anthobaphes violacea ©Stephen Hammer Website

The Eastern Cape (Xhosa: iMpuma-Kapa; Afrikaans: Oos-Kaap [ˈuəs.kɑːp]) is one of the nine provinces of South Africa. Its capital is Bhisho, but its two largest cities are East London with a population of 1.5 million people and Gqeberha c. 1 million people with Poert Elizabeth not far behind. (The roads between these and other larger towns are tarred. Most of the minor roads are gravel surfaced.) It is the second largest province in the country covering just under 170,000 km2 with a population of around 7.5 million people. It has a coast on its east which lines southward, creating shores leading to the south Indian Ocean. In the northeast, it borders Lesotho. To the west is Western Cape, to the northwest Northern Cape, to the north Free State and to the far northwest KwaZulu natal.

The Eastern Cape gets progressively wetter from west to east. The west is mostly semiarid Karoo, except in the far south, which is temperate rainforest in the Tsitsikamma region. The coast is generally rugged with interspersed beaches. Most of the province is hilly to very mountainous between Graaff-Reinet and Rhodes including the Sneeuberge, Stormberge, Winterberge and Drakensberg. The highest point in the province is Ben Macdhui at 3001 m. The east from East London and Queenstown towards the KwaZulu-Natal border – a region known previously as Transkei – is lush grassland on rolling hills, punctuated by deep gorges with intermittent forest. The western interior is largely arid Karoo, while the east is well-watered and green. The Eastern Cape offers a wide array of attractions, including 800 kilometres (500 mi) of untouched and pristine coastline along with beaches, and big-five game viewing.

The west is dry with sparse rain during winter or summer, with frosty winters and hot summers. The area Tsitsikamma to Grahamstown receives more precipitation, which is also relatively evenly distributed and temperatures are mild. Further east, rainfall becomes more plentiful and humidity increases, becoming more subtropical along the coast with summer rainfall. The interior can become very cold in winter, with heavy snowfalls occasionally occurring in the mountainous regions between Molteno and Rhodes. Subsistence agriculture predominates along with commercial fruit farming, sheep and more recently game farming. East London and Port Elizabeth are industrialised and each has car assembly plants.

The Addo Elephant National Park is situated 73 kilometres (45 mi) from Port Elizabeth and its 743 square kilometres (287 square miles) offers sanctuary to 170 elephants, 400 Cape buffalo and 21 black rhino of the very scarce Kenyan sub-species.

Birding Eastern Cape

The Eastern Cape is one of the most exciting of South Africa’s nine provinces to go birding in, partly because it is so under-birded. For what reason? The answer must lie largely in the fact that it doesn’t have unique species that can’t be found in adjacent provinces. Separating the Western Cape (which includes such famous sites as Cape Town, the Garden Route and the endemic-rich Karoo) and mega-diverse Kwazulu/Natal (which is one of South Africa’s most bio-diverse provinces), many birders ignore simply the Eastern Cape because they can find the birds they’re looking in those provinces, not too far from the major cities of Cape Town and Durban. But such birders are missing out on some extremely rewarding birding as well as spectacular scenery.

The Eastern Cape is certainly one of the best provinces in which to find some of South Africa’s top specials, including the elusive Knysna Woodpecker, the stunning Knysna Turaco and numerous others. It hosts all the fynbos endemics (although most birders find these in the Western Cape) and it also hosts a lot of species birders go to Kwazulu/Natal for such as Red-fronted Tinkerbird and Cape Parrot. The Drakensberg Escarpment specials such as Gurney’s Sugarbird, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Bearded Vulture and all the others can also be found in this province. The coastline gives the Eastern Cape a wide mosaic of habitats. That includes the beautifully remote and picturesque Wild Coast, which is rocky in parts with many sandy beaches, arid semi-desert scrub, grasslands, forests, large tracts of cultivated lands and the Cape Fold Mountains as well as a southern extension of the Drakensberg Escarpment. In consequence, the general bird list for the province is well in excess of 500.

The provinces’ climate is mild, with temperatures seldom below freezing and, except for the interior, seldom rising above 35 degrees Celsius. The southern coast and its immediate interior forms part of the winter rainfall region of South Africa; the rest of the region receiving its rain mainly in summer. Again, this reflects the transition nature of the Eastern Cape between the two other more visited provinces.

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Top Sites
  • Cape Recife Nature Reserve, Port Elizabeth

    InformationSatellite View
    This reserve is situated on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth and is one of the best seabird sites in the province. There is a large tern roost which, in summer, can boast Common, Swift (Great Crested); Caspian, Sandwich and Roseate Terns and Kelp Gulls. The rare Damara Tern, endemic to southern Africa, is often present and Antarctic Tern visit in good numbers June to August. Excitingly, many southern African birders have managed to get Bridled Tern onto their list here, as one has been reliably visiting each winter for several years now - strange because this is usually a more tropical species and is actually considered a vagrant to South Africa. White-fronted Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones and Whimbrels all feed along the water's edge. African (Jackass) Penguin can sometimes be seen just off-shore and, when a strong south-easterly wind is blowing, albatrosses and petrels can be seen from the shore. The rocks just metres off-shore often hold large numbers of Cape Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant. Included in the reserve is one of the city's sewerage disposal works and a hide has been built at one of the settling ponds. Kelp and Grey-headed Gulls can be well seen from the hide, along with Pied and Malachite Kingfishers, Cape Wagtails, Purple Gallinules, Yellow-billed Ducks and an occasional African Marsh Harrier.
  • Mondplaas Ponds - Gamtoos River Mouth

    InformationSatellite View
    Situated some 60 kilometres west of Port Elizabeth, the ponds are a short distance inland from the Gamtoos River mouth. A good place for waterfowl with four or five species of duck usually present. Other water birds include Darter, two cormorant species, Purple and Grey Herons, Purple Gallinule (Swamphen); Black Crake, African Rail and the occasional African Jacana.The river mouth, approximately 10 kilometres away by road, has a large mudbank which holds many migrant waders in summer. Red Knot, Terek Sandpiper, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew and African Black Oystercatcher are among the species to be seen. The adjacent dunes are a good site for Eurasian Hobby in the summer.These two sites have, from time to time, produced some most unexpected birds such as the Citrine Wagtail (the third record for Africa as a whole) and Garganey.The farm lands and bush along the road between these spots is good birding country and species such as Bokmakierie, Southern Boubou (Shrike), Southern Tchagra, Bar-throated Apalis, Stanley's Bustard, Glossy Starling and Pied Starling might be seen.
  • Mountain Zebra National Park

    InformationSatellite View
    This National Park was proclaimed primarily to protect the few remaining Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra). It is situated about 15 kilometres south-west of Cradock in what is known locally as the Karoo, a semi-arid area of grass and scrub with cold winters and hot summers. This is a good place to get to grips with the larks and chats of the dry areas. Long-billed, Large-billed, Spike-heeled, Red-capped and Eastern Clapper Larks are particularly obvious in the spring (August to November) when breeding is in full swing. Familiar and Sickle-winged Chats are plentiful. Other dry country birds include Cape Penduline Tit, Acacia Pied Barbet, Cardinal Woodpecker, Fairy Flycatcher, Red-winged Starling and a host of others can be seen. The list for the park is over 200 species, a good proportion of them being resident. Other interesting birds include Layard's Tit-babbler, Dusky Sunbird, Pale-winged Starling, Namaqua and Rufous-eared Warblers and Cape Rock Thrush.
  • Naude's Nek Pass

    InformationSatellite View
    Naudesnek Pass, peaking at 2 740 metres, is the highest mountain pass in South Africa (if correct, this is quite something! Technically perhaps it is if the Lesotho border at Sani Pass is slightly below the upper point of that pass but I think folks are going to try and refute this statement so I'd also be careful of my suggested text below. I'd at least put an exclamation point at the end I'd probably change to: Naudesnek Pass, peaking at 2 740 metres (making it technically the highest mountain pass in South Africa!), hosts similar birds to the much more famous Sani Pass . This area, together with the adjacent areas of Lesotho, gives some of the best opportunities to see Orange-breasted Rockjumper, Drakensberg Siskin, Lammergeier and Mountain Pipit; three species with highly restricted ranges. Other species of interest are Barratt's Warbler, Black (Verreaux's) Eagle, Cape Vulture, Greywing Francolin and Rock Pipit. Ground Woodpeckers are common. Yellow-breasted Pipits occur on the eastern side of the pass but are not at all common.The villages of Rhodes on the west and Maclear on the east provide both accommodation and easy access to the pass itself.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 691

    (As at March 2024)
  • Avibase - The World Bird Database

    PDF Checklist
    This checklist includes all bird species found in Eastern Cape , based on the best information available at this time. It is based on a wide variety of sources that I collated over many years. I am pleased to offer these checklists as a service to birdwatchers.
  • BirdLife Border - East London

    Facebook Page
    BirdLife Border is a club that serves the interests of Birders in the border area. We organise regular outings, monthly talks and participate in local conservation and environmental education initiatives. All those interested in our fantastic wild birds and their conservation is welcome.
  • BirdLife EBirdLife Eastern Cape (BLEC)

    Facebook Page
    The purpose of the Facebook Group is to celebrate the bird diversity in the Eastern Cape, provide an opportunity for people to report interesting & everyday sightings and bird behaviour, and to discuss issues relating to the conservation of birds in our beautiful Eastern Cape.
  • BirdLife Eastern Cape

    We promote the enjoyment, understanding, study and conservation of birds and their habitats within the Eastern Cape. BirdLife Eastern Cape is a voluntary organisation that exists to stimulate interest in birds; in the knowledge of birds and their place in nature; and to assist in the protection of birds.
  • BirdLife Queenstown

  • Cape Bird Club

    The Cape Bird Club is one of 32 national affiliates of BirdLife South Africa and is for all people, who want to learn more about wild birds in their natural environment and who are interested in their conservation and protection.

Abbreviations Key

  • GR Shamwari

    WebsiteSatellite View
    Shamwari is the Southernmost, Big Game, private reserve in Africa - MALARIA FREE. This ultimate African adventure stretches along the Bushman`s river, halfway between Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown, and forms a natural extension to the famous Garden Route and Cape Town. The 14000 hectare game reserve is steeped in Settler history, and dates back to the time when game roamed freely in the Eastern Cape. Shamwari is about conserving a vanishing way of life, and has been awarded a number of International awards for it`s efforts in conservation coupled with tourism. Shamwari is an African dream. A game reserve in which a multitude of plant, animal and birdlife unfold the very soul of an untamed continent, along with the most luxurious means of experiencing your safari holiday. Shamwari`s highly trained game rangers, with skilled service staff will ensure a memorable adventure, personalised to your needs. In keeping with it`s conservation policy, Shamwari has a complete wildlife research team as well as it`s own anti poaching unit, ensuring an ecological balance prevails on this reclaimed piece of wilderness.
  • GR Sibuya

    Facebook PageSatellite View
    Sibuya Game Reserve covers more than 2000 hectares and incorporates the unique East Cape Valley Bushveld, Grasslands and Coastal Forests. Antelope abound, including the rare Bontebok and Oribi. Giraffe and Zebra silhouetted against an Indian Ocean backdrop complete a truly memorable picture…
  • IBA Bird Islands

    InformationSatellite View
    The BirdLife fact sheet adds that 14 species of seabirds, several species of shorebirds and 33 species of terrestrial birds have been recorded on the islands. Eight seabird species were known to breed on the islands in 2007. “These are the only islands off southern mainland Africa where Sterna dougallii (Roseate Tern) breeds regularly...
  • NP Addo Elephant

    InformationSatellite View
    Deep within the shadows of the dense valley bushveld of the Sundays River region of the Eastern Cape lies the Addo Elephant National Park. Here, the evenings are punctuated by the strident howl of the black-backed jackal, and the francolin's call heralds each new dawn…
  • NP Camdeboo

    InformationSatellite View
    The Camdeboo National Park is located in the Karoo and almost completely surrounds the Eastern Cape town of Graaff-Reinet.
  • NP Garden Route

    InformationSatellite View
    It is a coastal reserve well known for its indigenous forests, dramatic coastline, and the Otter Trail.
  • NP Mountain Zebra

    InformationSatellite View
    Verreaux's (Black) and Martial Eagle and Jackal Buzzard soar impressively over this mountain habitat. Pale-winged Starling is very conspicuous on the mountain plateau, where Ostrich, Secretarybird, Blue Crane and Ludwig's Bustard are the larger more visible species. Grey-winged Francolin, Ground Woodpecker, Large-billed (Thick-billed) and Eastern Long-billed Lark, Cape and Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Mountain Wheatear (Chat) and Orange-breasted Rockjumper should also be searched for, while Pink-billed Lark and African Rock Pipit are less common…
  • NP Tsitsikamma

    InformationSatellite View
    Birding in Tsitsikamma offers a variety in choice of habitat. There is the open shoreline as typified by the environment at Storms River Rest Camp. There is the more sheltered water ways of the Nature's Valley Lagoon and the Groot River. There is the forest experience of the Tsitsikamma Forest. Then there is the mountain fynbos one can explore in the Tsitsikamma Mountains in the Soetkraal section…
  • NP Wilderness

    InformationSatellite View
    This natural area stretches from the Touw River mouth to the Eilandvlei estuary and linking into the Swartvlei lake, where it neighbours with the Goukamma Nature Reserve.[2] The wildlife in this natural area is varied...
  • NR Buffelspruit

    InformationSatellite View
    It is owned and managed by the Walter Sisulu Local Municipality and is open throughout the year. Mammals frequently spotted are blesbuck, black wildebeest, zebra, gemsbok (Oryx gazella) and springbok, as well as some ostriches.
  • NR Dwesa

    InformationSatellite View
    About 290 species of birds have been recorded in the park.
  • NR Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve

    InformationSatellite View
    The Baviaanskloof area includes a cluster of formal protected areas managed by the Eastern Cape Parks Board totalling around 500,000 hectares (1,200,000 acres), of which the most well-known is the 184 385 ha Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve - the third largest protected area in South Africa.
  • NR Cape Recife

    WebpageSatellite View
    Conveniently situated within Port Elizabeth, the Cape Recife Nature Reserve has much to offer visitors and locals alike. The tern roost at Cape Recife is the best place in the country to see Roseate Tern. Seven species of tern are found here including Roseate tern, Antarctic tern and occasionally Damara tern. Waterbirds that are often seen include Little Bittern, South African Shellduck, African Black Oystercatcher and Southern Tchagra. African penguin and ocean birds can also be spotted offshore.
  • NR Commando Drift

    InformationSatellite View
    Endangered mountain zebras, black wildebeest, some species of antelope as well as over 200 species of birds can be found in the park.
  • NR Lammergeier Private Reserve

    Facebook PageSatellite View
    Lammergeier Private Nature Reserve invites you to pamper your soul in 8000 hectares of the most beautiful scenery in Africa. A proud heritage of being awarded several conservation awards through the reserves history, ensures the survival of endemic bird and game and the future of a unique African heritage…
  • NR Mkhambathi

    InformationSatellite View
    It is 7,720 hectares (19,100 acres), with the Pondoland Marine Protected Area off its coastal edge. The reserve is located in the Pondoland Centre of Plant Endemism and the greater Maputaland–Pondoland–Albany Hotspot, and is covered in open grassland, dotted with patches of indigenous forest, swamp forests and flanked by the forested ravines of the Msikaba and Mtentu rivers
  • NR Mpofu

    InformationSatellite View
    There is a large variety of mammals found in the reserve including the endangered White Rhino. Other species include Burchell's zebra, Giraffe, Bushbuck, African Buffalo, Eland, and Black-backed jackal. The bird life is also diverse, and there are many insect and reptile species found in the reserve.
  • NR Oviston

    InformationSatellite View
    The Orange River offers the ideal setting for sunset cruises. The area surrounding the lake gives mountain bike enthusiasts open stretches with rides into the Oviston Nature Reserve. This is a bird lovers' paradise, with a wide variety found on the farm. Rarities include African fish eagle, black eagle, blue crane, secretary bird, steppe buzzard, kingfishers and many more.
  • NRT Tsolwana

    InformationSatellite View
    Tsolwana Game Reserve is home to South Africa's national bird, the Blue Crane, as well as the Cape Vulture and Ostrich.
Guides & Tour Operators
  • Birding Africa

    Tour Operator
    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.
  • Rockjumper

    Tour Operator
    Our home country of South Africa is quite simply one of the most pleasurable destinations in which to bird and travel, offering exceptional value for money along with world-class infrastructure. In addition, South Africa boasts the most endemic bird species of any African country, while a rich seabird assemblage and vast numbers of more widespread, yet no less spectacular, African birds and large mammals occur. Add to this the rich botanical heritage, fine food and wines, friendly people and the scenic splendor of Africa
Trip Reports
  • 2009 [11 November] - Honeyguide - South Africa’s Garden Route and Addo Elephant National Park

    PDF Report
    ...we were soon where the river had cut through the sandstone, with forested hillsides above. Birds were an intriguing mix of the familiar – whimbrel, greenshank, Egyptian geese and dabchick – and the unfamiliar, including jackal buzzard, white-necked ravens and spectacular flashes of the red wings of Knysna turaco (or lourie). There were several good views of reed cormorants..

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