Birds in Kruger National Park – Winged Wonders

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Using the words of Brian Jackson, an award-winning freelance journalist with a passion for African travel and wildlife,

“Everything in Africa bites… but the safari bug is worst of all”.

No truer words have been spoken. Waking up each day in Kruger on a self-drive safari is a happy day.

There is much to see in Kruger National Park, located in the northeastern part of South Africa, with its 20,000 km2 offering a sanctuary to 148 recorded species of mammals, 114 reptile species, 50 fish species and over 500 different species of bird.

Having spent three months in Kruger, we were fortunate to experience some amazing opportunities to watch, learn about and photograph the birds in Kruger National Park.

Some of the birds we spotted here are found in other places in South Africa, so we’ve also created a guide to the more common birds you might spot on a road trip throughout South Africa.

READ MORE: Along with the birds, we’ve also written about our experiences amongst the Animals in Kruger National Park.

Two different types of vulture picking at remains on the ground
A White-headed and white-backed vulture share rites at a buffalo carcass

Planning a Trip to South Africa?


Birds of Kruger National Park, South Africa


SANParks, the official site for South African National Parks, lists the holy grail of the six rare birds to be seen in Kruger.

We were pleased to capture five of the Kruger rare birds out of a possible total of six.

The six rare birds are the:

  • ✅ Kori bustard
  • ✅ Martial eagle
  • ✅ Lappet-faced vulture
  • Pel’s fishing owl (still on our to-see list)
  • ✅ Saddle-billed stork
  • ✅ Southern ground hornbill
Birds in Kruger National Park - Kori Bustard amongst tall grasses
Kori bustard
martial eagle looking like he means business
Martial Eagle – looks like he means business
martial eagle in flight
Martial eagle in flight
Lappet Faced Vulture -birds of kruger
Lappet-faced vulture
Birds in Kruger National Park - Pels fishing owl
Pel’s Fishing Owl ©Canva
Black and white Saddle- billed stork with red black and yellow bill
Saddle-billed stork
Southern ground hornbill close up
Southern ground hornbill

SANParks offers a map of Kruger National Park locations or ‘bird hotspots‘ where there is a higher likelihood of sighting these rarer bird varieties.

As you probably already know, there’s no guarantee of a sighting and it’s often down to being in the right place, at the right time. But a good dose of lady luck can swing things in your favour.

African-Spoonbill-with-a-fish-in-beak_Birds in Kruger National Park

An African spoonbill strikes it lucky


Being full-time travellers, it’s not feasible for us to carry around armfuls of wildlife and travel books.

It’s not an issue nowadays, though, as pretty much everything is downloadable. Whether it relates to a country travel guide, bird/animal identifier, digital maps or just a good bit of nighttime reading.

Little Bee Eater with beak wide open - Birds in Kruger National Park
This ‘little bee eater’ may be small, but he has plenty to say

When on safari, you’ll want to know not only where you are but also what bird species you are looking at. As mentioned before, there are over 500 different species of birds in Kruger National Park.

Remembering the name of each bird may be tough; however, having great reference material at your fingertips makes the job much easier.

The KrugerExplorer app fits the bill by providing comprehensive information on flora/fauna identification, Kruger National Park driving routes, campsites, and sightings. It certainly is worth consideration and is money well spent.

Getting around is made a whole lot easier with the Tracks4Africa Guide app. This app superimposes real-time position on a map showing your location and includes points of interest along the way.

It’s designed to function offline. To be honest, Tracks4Africa have great reference material covering all of Southern Africa.

Tracks4Africa Shop

If you’re in the mood for an African inspirational story, get yourself a copy of ‘Cry of the Kalahari’; it’s a brilliant read.

Cry of the Kalaharian autobiography of two young Americans who, in the mid-1970s, caught a plane to Africa, bought an old Land Rover and drove deep into the Kalahari Desert, where they lived for seven years amongst the wildness of nature.


We travelled through Kruger National Park during the winter and spring before the rains. The countryside was very dry, and the sparse foliage offered good opportunities to spot birds that were taking refuge in the branches.

Amongst my photography gear was my Sony a7III with a Sony 200-600mm telephoto lens.

Black-backed-Puffback_Birds in Kruger National Park
A black-backed puffback eyes us warily from a thorn bush

When capturing images of birds in the open, I let the Sony continuous auto-focus do all the tracking work.

However, throw some obstacles in the path, and I needed a different game plan.

It’s back to basics. 

Reverting to Direct Manual Focus (DMF) allows me to manually push the focus point onto the bird itself and not have the camera tricked into thinking I want to focus on the closer thorn bush.

Just to be sure, I activated Focus Peaking to confirm the focal range. It is a killer combo.


Most of our images of birds in Kruger National Park were captured from the car window, but not all. Within the campsites, we would wander about, cameras in hand.

Sometimes, the birds were quite comfortable having us reasonably close, and we were lucky enough to grab some unhurried shots. Other times, it would be a flap of wings and just a fleeting glimpse.

Greater Blue Eared Starling on Aloe bush_Birds in Kruger National Park
Greater blue-eared starlings are regular visitors to the Kruger bushcamps

Spotting birds from a moving vehicle is a particular skill set in itself, but nothing that can’t be mastered with a bit of practice, concentration and a healthy interest in birding.

Below are some of our favourite images and for those that come with a story,  I’ve included a few words.


Lilac Breasted Roller

The lilac-breasted roller is probably the most well-known of the five roller varieties that can be seen in Kruger. You can see why this little guy gets a lot of attention — he’s been blessed with stunning plumage.

The rollers like to sit in the trees and swoop down to feed on insects and fly back to their perch quickly.

lilac roller with bug in its beak-Birds in Kruger National Park
Lilac-breasted roller with beetle
lilac breasted roller on a branch
Beautiful coloured plumage
Lilac breasted roller in flight_Birds in Kruger National Park
Distinctive colours make for easy identification

European Roller

The European roller is a seasonal visitor to Kruger and is found between the months of November and March.

It, too, has stunning and distinctive plumage.

European Roller with turquoise front and light brown back
European roller
European roller in flight
European roller’s stunning coloured plumage
European roller in flight
European roller in flight



Distinguishing the different types is accomplished by observing the bill colour. The birds forage on the ground for insects with the yellow hornbill, adding fruits and seeds to its diet. The yellow hornbill has a much larger beak than the red.

These two are year-round residents of Kruger.

a red and yellow hornbill interact in a tree
Southern red hornbill on the left and southern yellow on the right

African Grey Hornbill

The African grey hornbill forages within trees, with its diet consisting of fruits, leaves and small reptiles. It has a two-tone grey and ivory-coloured bill and is a year-round Kruger resident.

African-grey-hornbill in a tree
African grey hornbill with its distinctive two-tone coloured bill


This cute, multi-coloured white-fronted bee-eater is a resident of Kruger and easily distinguished from other bee-eaters by its black ‘eye mask’.

White Fronted Bee Eateer looking straight at camera_Birds in Kruger National Park
White-fronted bee-eater

During our safari drives, we would watch them in the trees close to the water, waiting for insects to skim the surface.

White-Fronted-Bee-Eater-with-bee-in-beak_Birds in Kruger National Park
Doing what bee-eaters do!



The ‘cutie’ of this group has to be the malachite kingfisher.

We were crossing a river with some high river reeds close by and stopped mid-stream to watch a malachite kingfisher with absolute focus, watching for fish in the water below.

What really was amazing was that in the wind, the reed he was sitting on, along with his body, pivoted about his head, which maintained position. (see the video)

Malachite-Kingfisher_Birds in Kruger National Park
Malachite kingfisher


I was lucky to see this giant kingfisher high up in the trees over the water, quite a distance away. You can see that it blends well with the busy background. The image isn’t that sharp, as the distance between us was about 60m.

Giant Kingfisher_Birds in Kruger National Park
Giant kingfisher


We’d often see the pied kingfisher hover about 10m above the water, with head down before plunging down in search of fish.

Pied-kingfisher-in-hover-mode_Birds in Kruger National Park
Pied Kingfisher in full focus on its target
Pied Kingfisher_Birds in Kruger National Park
Pied Kingfisher


Brown-Hooded-Kingfisher_Birds of Kruger National Park
The brown-hooded kingfisher


From this illustrious group of raptors, we sighted the African fish, tawny, bateleur, African hawk, and brown snake eagle (image not included due to poor quality).


We watched this African fish eagle deliver half a catfish to its solitary chick in its nest. It then flew a distance away to enjoy the remaining half of the spoils.

Fish-Eagle-with-half-catfish-in-tree_Birds in Kruger National Park
African fish eagle coveting a catfish


We spied a tawny eagle in a tree that was staring hard at a point not far in front of our vehicle. Soon after, it swooped down to the road and started feeding on a small number of wasps. Its eyesight must be phenomenal as the distance between bird and prey must have been close to 40 metres.

Tawny Eagle wings half out_Birds of Kruger National Park
Tawny Eagle completing pre-flight checks 
Tawny-Eagle-taking-to-flight_Birds of National Park
Launch sequence
Tawny eagle looking at a flying insect close to the ground
Face-off! Not hard to guess the outcome here.


What is immediately evident when identifying the bateleur is its colourful plumage, orange legs and reddish-orange beak. It is known to scavenge more food than it hunts.

We rounded a corner to find a Bateleur mid-road, picking at some small pieces of fur. It wasn’t in a hurry, preferring to finish its snack before taking flight.

Bateleur eagle

We spied what I think is a juvenile bateleur eagle, but I must admit, this one was pretty hard to identify. Feel free to comment if you know otherwise.

Juvenile bateleur eagle


Within 100 metres of leaving camp, we observed a pair of African hawk eagles close by the track. The mating pair hunt together, one bird flushing out prey and the other despatching it. Never under-rate teamwork.

African-Hawk-Eagle-x-2_Birds in Kruger National Park
African hawk-eagles



We noticed a bird tracking continually over our car whilst we were driving, and it turned out to be a yellow-billed kite. Maybe he was hoping we would scare some prey out into the open.

Yellow-Billed-Kite_Birds in Kruger National Park
Yellow-billed kite on the lookout


This eagle is frequently observed in Kruger and is distinguished by its all-brown plumage. It has a piercing yellow set of eyes, which is used to search for prey from the tops of trees.

It is considered a medium-sized eagle.

Brown snake eagle


We watched this African harrier hawk thoroughly search the openings in this tree, all the while being harassed by a starling who must have had a nest close by.

These hawks have double-jointed knees, which assist them in raiding tree holes for prey. Although normally seen with a yellow face, when distressed, the face turns red, as we witnessed here.

African harrier hawk dived-bombed by a starling


This Verreaux’s eagle-owl was well camouflaged on the trunk, and we nearly drove past him. Even with the rumbling of the diesel engine, he continued to snooze, not even raising an eyelid.

Verreaux’s eagle owl


Not sure if this little guy deserves a place amongst the raptors, but for the sake of this post, we’ll elevate him to the same status. This tiny pearl-spotted owlet emitted a high-pitched call, allowing us to find his location.

Interestingly, the species has a pair of black spots on the back of its head to protect it and deter attacks from larger birds.

Pearl Spotted Owlet_Birds of Kruger National Park
A pearl-spotted owlet keeping a watchful eye out


Whether circling overhead or milling about a carcass, vultures are not as macabre as they are portrayed to be. They are scavengers preferring fresh meat to old, but a little smell won’t deter them.

Did you know that many vultures are now found on the endangered species list, having fallen prey to the poisons laid out by farmers?

White-Headed Vulture on left with White Backed Vulture_Birds in Kruger National Park
A white-headed vulture (left) with a white-backed vulture sharing the spoils
2 x hooded vultures_Birds in Kruger National Park
A couple of hooded vultures double-checking the other


I’ve shared some other interesting images of the different birds in Kruger National Park so you can appreciate what captivating subjects they make.

2 Green Wood Hoopoes_Birds in Kruger National Park
The iridescent colours of the green wood hoopoe seen here inspecting the bark for grubs
2 x blue Waxbill_Birds in Kruger National Park
A small bead of water, after a splash in the birdbath, has caught the attention of a blue waxbill 
African-Spoonbill at a waterhole_Birds in Kruger National Park
African spoonbill pauses his foraging for our camera shoot
White bellied sunbird_ Birds in Kruger National Park
A white-bellied sunbird takes a momentary break 
Yellow-billed-oxpeckers_Birds in Kruger National Park
Yellow-billed oxpeckers attempt to out-stare a buffalo
Grey-Heron_Birds in Kruger National Park
A stately grey heron stands absolutely still during the search for fish
Lesser Striped Swallow_Birds in Kruger National Park
A lesser striped swallow standing proud
Yellow Weaver on an aloe branch
The black-headed oriole throws a cheeky look my way
Crested Barbet_Birds in Kruger National Park
Hiawatha? No, it’s a crested barbet
Red Billed Hornbill_Birds in Kruger National Park
The red hornbill showing a few tricks of his own
Green-winged Pytilia_Birds in Kruger National Park
A green-winged pytilia hides in the lower branches of a bush


These are just a few of the many varieties of birds in Kruger National Park that call this vast expanse home. Although the large game is interesting to observe, don’t forget that there is a whole smaller ecosystem right around you that is nothing short of bedazzling.

If you are undecided on where to go bird watching in Southern Africa, then head to Kruger National Park.

Have you had some magical sightings of birds in Kruger National Park? Drop us a line.

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These are some of the travel resources we use when planning our trips.

For a more thorough list visit our Travel Resources page here.

Photo of author


Being an Australian brought up in the country, Lars learnt at an early age to enjoy the freedom and beauty of nature. Leaving Australia at the age of 20, although he didn’t know it then, would be the start of a life filled with adventure. Join him here and see the world through his lens.

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