Bush Blackcap Sylvia nigricapillus ©Dylan Vasapolli Website

Mpumalanga is a province of South Africa covering an area of c.76,000 km² (30,000 square miles) and has a [population of over five million people. The name means ‘The Place Where the Sun Rises’ in the Nguni languages. Mpumalanga borders Eswatini and Mozambique and the South African provinces of Limpopo to the north, Gauteng to the west, the Free State to the southwest, and KwaZulu-Natal to the south. The capital and largest city is is Mbombela.

The Drakensberg escarpment divides Mpumalanga into a westerly half consisting mainly of high-altitude grassland called the Highveld and an eastern half situated in low-altitude subtropical Lowveld/Bushveld, mostly savanna habitat. The southern half of the Kruger National Park is in the latter region. The Drakensberg exceeds heights of 2000 m in most places, with this central region of Mpumalanga being very mountainous. These regions have alpine grasslands and small pockets of Afromontane forest. The Lowveld is relatively flat with interspersed rocky outcrops. The Lebombo Mountains form a low range in the far east, on the border with Mozambique. The Lowveld is subtropical, due to its latitude and proximity to the warm Indian Ocean. The Highveld is comparatively much cooler and drier, due to its elevation. The Drakensberg escarpment receives the most precipitation, with all other areas being moderately well-watered by mostly-summer thunderstorms. The Highveld often experiences considerable freezing, while the Lowveld is mostly frost-free. Winter rainfall is rare, except for some drizzle on the escarpment.

The province has extensive mining for minerals including gold, platinum, silica, chromite, zinc, antimony, cobalt, copper, iron, manganese, tin asbestos, etc. and especially coal. Mpumalanga accounts for 83% of South Africa’s coal production and 90% of South Africa’s coal consumption is used for electricity generation and the synthetic fuel industry. Coal power stations are in proximity to the coal deposits. A coal liquefaction plant in Secunda (Secunda CTL) is one of the country’s two petroleum-from-coal extraction plants. The high density of coal power stations on the Mpumalanga highveld means that the region has the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution in the world

Birding Mpumalanga

The province has great historic, scenic and wildlife diversity. A considerable variation in altitude and ecological zones has produced a rich and varied bird population occurring over a mosaic of grassland, forest, wetland, savanna and mountain habitats. The northern Drakensberg range separates the relatively cool, temperate Highveld from the sweltering, sub-tropical Lowveld. Rivers are mainly east-flowing, the most important being the Crocodile, Sabie and Olifants. The entire province is a summer rainfall region, with rainfall ranging from 350mm in the north-east Lowveld to 1,600mm per annum at the higher altitudes. On the Escarpment heavy mists afford extra moisture which can be up to 50% of the annual precipitation. Cold winters are experienced over the Highveld, with occasional snow on the Escarpment, but in the Lowveld the winters are short and mild. Summers are mild to warm on the Highveld, but can be exceptionally hot in the low-lying parts of the Lowveld.

Birding habitats in Mpumalanga comprise:

Afro-montane Forest, which is confined to the mistbelt of the Escarpment, usually in fire-protected gorges or moist south-facing slopes. Endemics favouring this habitat include Chorister Robin-Chat, Knysna Turaco, Bush Blackcap, Barratt’s Warbler and Forest Canary, with other specials being Orange Ground Thrush, White-Starred Robin, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler, Olive Bush Shrike, Swee Waxbill and Narina Trogon.

Acacia/Broad-leaved Savannah occurs in low-lying areas below the Escarpment and on the foothills. Vegetation structure varies from dense thorny thickets to tall, park-like woodland. Large tracts of savannah are conserved in the Kruger National Park. This habitat holds the greatest number of bird species, including numerous raptors, shrikes, hornbills, barbets, rollers, woodpeckers, bee-eaters, bustards and many, many more. It has the distinction of hosting both the largest and smallest of South Africa’s birds, namely Ostrich and Grey Penduline Tit. Savannah dominated by thorn trees (Acacia species) usually has a more diverse bird community than broad-leaved woodlands, but the woodlands in the south-western Lowveld have a number of special birds such as Yellow-bellied and Green-capped Eremomelas, Pale Flycatcher, Bushveld Pipit, Croaking and Lazy Cisticolas, Striped Pipit, Yellow-throated Petronia and African Firefinch.

Dry Bushveld is found in the low-rainfall region of north-western Mpumalanga and is dominated by thorn trees (Acacia species). While a number of species are shared with the moister eastern savannahs, there are several unique species such as Crimson-breasted Shrike, Black-faced and Violet-eared Waxbills, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Great Sparrow and Pied Babbler.

Montane Grassland covers most high-altitude mountains. This is the most important habitat in Mpumalanga for finding some of South Africa’s endemic birds, a number of which are rare and localised. The list includes mouth-watering specials such as Rudd’s and Botha’s Larks, Yellow-breasted and African Rock Pipits, Southern Bald Ibis, Blue and Barrow’s Korhaans, Ground Woodpecker, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat and Blue Crane. Mist-belt grassland, a form of montane grassland confined to mist-shrouded parts of the Escarpment, is one of South Africa’s most threatened habitats, with much being covered by plantations of exotic trees. These sterile, man-made forests have replaced most of the rich grasslands to the detriment of many species, the most renowned example being the now scarce Blue Swallow.

Highveld Grassland once occurred over much of western Mpumalanga, but has now largely been transformed into fields of maize. Where pockets of grassland remain, the birding can be surprisingly good, common species including Long-tailed Widowbird, Yellow-Crowned Bishop, Cape Longclaw and Marsh Owl. A number of specials can still be found including Botha’s Lark, Pink-billed Lark, Grass Owl, Black-winged Pratincole and Montagu’s Harrier.

Wetlands are most prominent on the Escarpment (marshes) and Highveld (shallow, open pans). The dominant waterbodies in the Lowveld are rivers and man-made dams. High-altitude marshes on the Escarpment form vital breeding habitat for two endangered species, Wattled Crane and the enigmatic White-winged Flufftail. The shallow Highveld pans are often home to large numbers of waterfowl, including Cape Shoveller, Hottentot Teal, Southern Pochard, South African Shelduck and Maccoa Duck, and others like Greater Flamingo, African Spoonbill and Chestnut-banded Plover. Special birds along Lowveld rivers include African Black Duck, African Finfoot, Goliath Heron, African Pied Wagtail and Half-collared Kingfisher.

Cliffs and mountain peaks are mostly confined to the Escarpment. Birds favouring this habitat include Verreaux’s Eagle, Jackal Buzzard, African Black Swift, Black Stork and the extremely rare Taita Falcon.

This page is sponsored by Birding Ecotours

Top Sites
  • Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve

    InformationSatellite View
    This is the third-largest canyon in the world and one of Africa's scenic wonders. The Blyde River flows through this 700-metre deep chasm into the Swadini Dam at the mouth of the canyon. The 27 000-hectare Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve supports a diverse range of habitats, including mistbelt grassland, sheer cliffs, riverine forest and dense savanna. Two Aventura Resorts operate in the reserve, one above the canyon and the other below, offering excellent accommodation and ideal opportunities to explore a network of walking trails. Well-wooded resort grounds offer some of the best birding in the nature reserve, including Mocking Cliff-Chat, Cape Rock Thrush, Striped Pipit, Knysna and Purple-crested Turacos, Drakensberg Prinia, Lazy Cisticola, African Pied and Long-tailed Wagtails, Greater and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, Orange-breasted and Olive Bush Shrike, Brimstone Canary and Golden-breasted Bunting. View points into the canyon are ideal for raptor watching and this must rate as one of South Africa's raptor hot-spots. Regular sightings include Verreaux's Eagle, Cape Vulture, Jackal Buzzard, Lanner Falcon, African Goshawk and White-necked Raven. The ultimate prize is Taita Falcon - an incredibly rare little falcon that nests nearby and occasionally flies over.
  • Kaapsehoop

    InformationSatellite View
    The small hamlet of Kaapsehoop is situated 30 kilometres south-west of Nelspruit. The area consists of gradually undulating mistbelt grassland, with some rocky outcrops and forested pockets restricted to moist valleys. The rare and endangered Blue Swallow breeds in the grasslands and the Blue Swallow Natural Heritage Site has been formed to afford protection for this globally threatened species. Access to the reserve can be gained by engaging a local resident guide trained by BirdLife South Africa. There is bed and breakfast and private guesthouse accommodation in the village and a good variety of accommodation in nearby Nelspruit. Blue Swallow is the major attraction between September and April but other rare species include Striped Flufftail and Black-rumped Buttonquail. Other good birds to find include Black-winged Lapwing, Cape Grassbird, Cape Longclaw, Drakensberg Prinia, Buff-streaked chat, Gurney's Sugarbird and Long-billed Pipit. Forest pockets below the plateau are good for Grey Cuckooshrike, Olive Bush Shrike, Bush Blackcap, Chorister Robin-Chat and Knysna Touraco. Barratt's Warbler is in low vegetation on the forest fringe.
  • Kruger National Park

    WebsiteSatellite View
    This fabulous national park needs little introduction and is already well known and as a priority birding destination in South Africa. A diversity of savannahs, tropical grasslands and riverine forests covering an area the size of Wales makes for an overwhelming array of birds. Both birds and wildlife are more confiding than those in denser habitats, making for easy birding and great photographic opportunities. Some of the readily found specials include Martial Eagle, Bateleur, Kori Bustard, Southern Ground Hornbill, Lappet-faced Vulture, Lilac-breasted Roller, Southern White-crowned Shrike and African White-throated Robin-Chat. Add to this a range of mammals like Lion, African Elephant, both Black and White Rhinos, African Buffalo, Leopard, Cheetah and Wild Dog, and you get an unbeatable combination. Accommodation is of a good standard and affordable, ranging from basic campsites to luxurious bungalows.
  • Kruger National Park - Central

    WebsiteSatellite View
    The habitat, south of Letaba is undulating with mixed combretum and the eastern part dominated by acacia thornveld and marula on grassveld. Little Swifts, Bat Hawk, Horus Swift, White-crowned Lapwing and Black Stork.
  • Kruger National Park - North

    WebsiteSatellite View
    The western half is Mopane Woodland which is not as good for birds. Mopane shrubland in the eastern grasslands has a special appeal with loads of game. Pafuri would be the preferred birding area with several birds which reach their most southern limit and can be seen nowhere else in South Africa, south of the Limpopo River. Grey-headed Parrot, Bohm's- and Mottled Spinetails, Meve's Starling, Dickinson's Kestrel and Racket-tailed Roller.
  • Kruger National Park - South

    WebsiteSatellite View
    Gomondwane Bush, mixed combretum and well wooded kloofs dominates the southern part of the Park. African Finfoot, African Green-pigeon, Harlequin Quail, Stierling's Wren Warbler, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Gorgeous Bush-shrike and Mocking Chat are birds all likely to be seen.
  • Lake Chrissie

    InformationSatellite View
    Lake Chrissie is the largest of a complex of shallow Highveld pans in South Africa's unofficial Lake District. Most of the 320 pans are on private land, but many can be viewed from public roads. The area supports large numbers of both Lesser and Greater Flamingos, and is an important refuge for the remaining population of Wattled Crane in Mpumalanga. Other specials include Grey Crowned Crane, African Marsh Harrier, Chestnut-banded Plover, Grass Owl, Barrow's Korhaan, Amur (Eastern Red-footed) Falcon, Black-winged Pratincole and Cape Eagle Owl.
  • Mbombela

    InformationSatellite View
    Nelspruit is the largest town in Mpumalanga and the capital of the province. Lush, wooded gardens, granite outcrops and riverine forest along the Crocodile River flowing through the town makes for good birding opportunities. The total list for the municipal area is in the region of 275 species and the Lowveld National Botanical Gardens and Nelspruit Nature Reserve make birding easy for visitors to the town. Accommodation is varied and a recent publication titled Birds of Nelspruit provides a comprehensive list and suggestions for birding walks within the town. The booklet is available from BirdLife Lowveld. Special birds include Gorgeous Bush Shrike, Purple-crested Touraco, Heuglin's and African White-throated Robin-Chats, Half-collared Kingfisher, African Finfoot, Golden Weaver, Red-faced Cisticola, Green Twinspot and Red-backed Mannikin.
  • Mount Sheba Nature Reserve

    WebpageSatellite View
    This small reserve has some of the best accessible Afromontane forest left in Mpumalanga. Mount Sheba Hotel is situated in the Escarpment hills above the historic gold-mining village of Pilgrim's Rest, on a grassy knoll surrounded by forest. A well-laid network of trails cover much of the forest and grassland on the upper hill slopes. Some Southern African endemics to be found in the forest include Knysna Touraco, Chorister Robin-Chat, Cape Batis, Olive Bush Shrike, Southern Double-collared Sunbird and Forest Canary. Grasslands and rocky outcrops have endemics like Grassbird, Drakensberg Prinia, Gurney's Sugarbird (around flowering protea bushes); Cape Rock Thrush and Buff-streaked Chat.
  • Saddleback Pass

    Montane grassland with Protea stands dominate the open patches of this montane forest almost taken over in total by exotic pine plantations. Gurney's Sugarbird, Swee Waxbill, Orange Ground-Thrush, Roufus-Chested Sparrow-hawk, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, White-Starred Robin, Olive Sunbird and Forest Canary occurs on this Pass.
  • Songimvelo Game Reserve

    WebpageSatellite View
    This 56,000 ha reserve is controlled by Mpumalanga Parks Board. It is situated along the eastern Drakensberg escarpment, between the towns of Barberton and Badplaas. There is considerable variation in altitude, ranging between 696 to 1851 metres above sea level. The Komati and Lomati Rivers are the two major rivers bisecting the reserve and there is considerable habitat variation. Komati River Lodge in picturesque mountainous terrain is the only accommodation within the reserve. It is a tented lodge situated on the south-western side of the reserve alongside the fast-flowing Komati River. Birding from the network of rough gravel roads has the added attraction of the presence of big game animals such as White Rhinoceros and Buffalo and many species of antelope. Birds include specials such as African Finfoot, Broad-tailed Warbler, Barrow's Korhaan, Red-billed Oxpecker, African Black Duck, Martial Eagle, Red-throated Wryneck, Brown-Backed Honeybird, Croaking Cisticola, and Half-collared Kingfisher in the area where the lodge is situated. At higher altitude there are forest birds such as Knysna Touraco, Chorister Robin-Chat, White-Starred Robin, and Orange Ground Thrush.
  • Wakkerstroom

    InformationSatellite View
    This district of montane grasslands, high-altitude marshes and moist forests is one of South Africa's major birding hotspots. A good network of quiet farm roads traverses the entire area and the village of Wakkerstroom has a variety of affordable accommodation. Major target birds in this area are range-restricted grassland endemics, many of which are highly threatened. These include Rudd's and Botha's Larks, Southern Bald Ibis, Grey-winged Francolin, Blue Crane, Blue and Barrow's Korhaans, Ground Woodpecker, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Yellow-breasted and African Rock Pipits, Buff-streaked Chat and many more out of a total of 360 species recorded in the district. Narrow forested gorges and sheltered slopes harbour a few endemic forest birds, most notably Bush Blackcap, Barratt's Warbler and Chorister Robin-Chat. High-altitude marshes support a representation of Highveld waterbirds, but also have small populations of two endangered species, Wattled Crane and White-winged Flufftail.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 652

  • Avibase - Bird Checklists of the World

    PDF Checklist
    This checklist includes all bird species found in Mpumalanga , 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.
  • eBird

    This checklist is generated with data from eBird (, a global database of bird sightings from birders like you. If you enjoy this checklist, please consider contributing your sightings to eBird. It is 100% free to take part, and your observations will help support birders, researchers, and conservationists worldwide.
  • Barberton Bird Club

  • BirdLife Lowveld

  • Escarpment Bird Club

  • Wakkerstroom Bird Club

    First Saturday of the month - Vlei Walk Second Tuesday of the month - Outings to recognised birding sites in the area

Abbreviations Key

  • *Mpumalanga Provincial Parks

    InformationSatellite View
    Kinks to information on 14 provincial parks
  • GR Djuma

    InformationSatellite View
    Djuma Game Reserve, is a 9,000 ha private game reserve which is part of the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve. The wildlife includes the Big Five, as well as Impala, Kudu, Hippopotamus, and a great number of birds.
  • GR Lion Sands Reserve

    InformationSatellite View
    The wildlife in the park includes the Big Five. The preserved plains of the Sabi Sands and the Kruger National Park hold one of highest concentrations of game per hectare on the planet.
  • GR Mala Mala

    WebsiteSatellite View
    MalaMala Game Reserve is the Safari Industrys blueprint to the luxury photographic safari. In existence since 1927, this massive thriving tract of land produces the most exciting wildlife experience this side of the equator…
  • GR Sabi Sand

    InformationSatellite View
    Officially named Sabi Sand Wildtuin, the Sabi Sand Game Reserve consists of a group of private game reserves. It is home to 45 fish species, 500 bird species, 145 animal species, and 110 reptile species.
  • GR Songimvelo

    InformationSatellite View
    This park forms part of the Songimvelo-Malolotja Transfrontier Conservation Area, a peace park on the border between South Africa and Swaziland.
  • GR Timbavati

    InformationSatellite View
    The Timbavati Game Reserve is located at the border line between Hoedspruit in (Limpopo) and Acornhoek in (Mpumalanga), north of the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve on the western edge of Kruger National Park.
  • GR Ulusaba

    InformationSatellite View
    Wildlife species include lion, African bush elephant, African buffalo, leopard and southern white rhinoceros.
  • NP Kruger

    InformationSatellite View
    Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa. It covers an area of 19,485 square kilometres (7,523 sq mi) in the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga in northeastern South Africa, and extends 360 kilometres (220 mi) from north to south and 65 kilometres (40 mi) from east to west. Out of the 517 species of birds found at Kruger, 253 are residents, 117 non-breeding migrants, and 147 nomads. Some of the larger birds require large territories or are sensitive to habitat degradation. Six of these species, which are by and large restricted to Kruger and other extensive conservation areas, have been assigned to a fanciful grouping called the "Big Six Birds". They are the lappet-faced vulture, martial eagle, saddle-billed stork, kori bustard, ground hornbill and the reclusive Pel's fishing owl, which is localized and seldom seen. There are between 25 and 30 breeding pairs of saddle-billed storks in the park, besides a handful of non-breeding individuals. In 2012 178 family groups of ground hornbills roamed the park and 78 nests were known, of which 50% were active.
  • NR Blyde River Canyon

    InformationSatellite View
    Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve is situated in the Drakensberg escarpment region of eastern Mpumalanga. African fish eagle and African finfoot are found along the Blyde River. The lowveld woodlands harbour purple-crested lourie, emerald cuckoo, red-backed mannikin, golden-tailed woodpecker, gorgeous bushshrike, white-faced owl and a number of raptors like white-backed vulture, gymnogene, black-chested snake eagle, Wahlberg's eagle and long-crested eagle. A number of raptors frequent the mountains and cliffs, including cape vulture, black eagle, jackal buzzard, peregrine falcon, lanner falcon and rock kestrel. Birds associated with flowering plants of the higher slopes include Gurney's sugarbird and malachite sunbird. A breeding colony of bald ibis occurs in the grassy uplands, besides small numbers of cape eagle-owl and red-breasted sparrowhawk. Forest birds include crowned eagle, Knysna lourie, cinnamon dove, olive bushshrike, green twinspot and wood owl.
  • NR IBA Wakkerstroom Wetland Reserve

    WebpageSatellite View
    Wakkerstroom wetland reserve. This reserve of about 700 hectares, together with the nearby Paardeplaats Reserve are located in the threatened high altitude grasslands on the eastern borders of the province.
  • NR Verloren Valei

    InformationSatellite View
    One of the few places in the country to breed the three species cranes present in South Africa, the Verloren Vallei Nature Reserve lies roughly 13 km (8.1 mi) outside Dullstroom, a beautiful, peaceful part of the Steenkampsberg plateau that includes rolling grasslands and sensitive wetlands. An interlinked series of over 30 wetlands are home to significant birds, including red data species, so it is understandable that Verloren Vallei Nature Reserve is serious about providing safe refuge to its countless birds. An ongoing project to save the wattle crane from extinction collects the second eggs produced by these birds for incubation.
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.
  • Birding Ecotours

    Tour Operator
    South Africa is one of the best value destinations on the entire continent. The outstanding infrastructure, great accommodation, excellent food, wonderful South African hospitality, spectacular and varied scenery, and the presence of Africa’s big and small mammals makes it one of the most pleasant countries in the world to bird in...
  • Naturalist Journeys

    Tour Operator
    South Africa: Ranked sixth out of the world’s seventeen mega-diverse nations. An incredible country that supports over 13,000 endemic plants, 69 endemic birds, and 300 species of mammals … and is a country we think should definitely be on every nature enthusiast’s bucket list!..
  • Rockjumper

    Tour Operator
    There are 39 tours available in South Africa... Our Kruger Extension to our South Africa Mega Birding tour takes us to one of Africa’s most famous and fabulous reserves – The Kruger National Park!
Trip Reports
  • 2017 [09 September] - Wakkerstroom

    PDF Report
    Today commenced with a mid afternoon pickup in Johannesburg, from which we immediately headed north to target some of the desired specials.
  • 2022 [10 October] Bob Meinke - Birding & Wildlife Safari |

    PDF Report
    ...We were soon generating an amazing list of birds as we traveled along towards Satura Camp, including multiple, rainbow-hued Lilac-breasted Rollers, the related Rufous-crowned Roller, Crested Francolin, Swainson’s Spurfowl, Green Woodhoopoe, Bateleur, Magpie Shrike, White-browed Coucal, Arrow-marked Babbler, Rattling Cisticola, Red-billed Oxpecker, Burchell’s and Cape Starlings, a displaying Red-crested Bustard (chasing his mate with hopeful intentions), and the remarkable Gray Go-away Bird, to name just a few. It was all overwhelming at first, but we soon got used to it...
  • 2023 [12 December] - Leon Marais

    With the assistance of local bird guide David Nkosi we did pretty well in this endemics hot-spot. Notable birds seen included Blue Korhaan, Eastern Long-billed Lark, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Red-winged and Grey-winged Francolins, Cape Longclaw, Horus Swift, Ant-eating and Buff-streaked Chats, Mountain Wheatear, Grey Crowned and Blue Cranes, Black-winged Lapwing, Southern Bald Ibis, Secretarybird, Lanner Falcon, Pink-billed Lark, Eastern Clapper Lark, Spike-heeled Lark, South African Cliff Swallow, Pale-crowned, Cloud, Zitting and Wing-snapping Cisticolas, Yellow-crowned Bishop, Long-tailed Widowbird and many others.
Places to Stay
  • Kosi Forest Camp

    Kosi Forest Lodge a private lodge situated in the unspoilt wilderness that is part of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park, now internationally recognised as a World Heritage Site. The 16-bed lodge offers comfortable accommodation, fine cuisine and caters for a host of estuarine, beach and wilderness activities. Explore this unique ecosystem by guided canoe, boat trip on the lakes, raffia forest walks or day excursion to nearby coastal beaches. Discover one of South Africa’s best ecotourist destinations.
  • Notten's Bush Camp

    A typical day begins at about 5h00 with a wake up call and guests gather either on the wooden deck of the Notten's Bush Camp to watch the sun rise or in the boma, under the Marula trees, where tea and coffee are served. Monkeys peer from the branches and watch one's every move with intent curiosity. The boma consists of a tall 2 metre high wall made of tied bamboo and reeds.

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