BIRDS IN KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
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.
Planning a Trip to South Africa?
- 🚗 Hiring a car? We recommend getting a quote from DiscoverCars
- 🚐 Hiring a campervan? We recommend Motorhome Republic
- ⛑ Arranged your travel insurance? Compare quotes from World Nomads & Safetywing
- Order your International Driver’s Licence online here
- 🏩 Booked your accommodation? We use Booking.com to find the best deals
- 🐾 Is someone pet-sitting for you? 🐾 We use and love TrustedHousesitters
- (Get 25% off at checkout for new memberships with our discount code: LIFEJOURNEY25)
VIDEO: BIRDS IN KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
RARE BIRDS IN KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
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
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.
An African spoonbill strikes it lucky
AFRICAN BIRD IDENTIFICATION IN KRUGER
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.
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.
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 Kalahari: an 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.
PHOTOGRAPHING BIRDS IN KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
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.
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.
KRUGER PARK BIRDS
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.
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 and EUROPEAN ROLLER
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.
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.
SOUTHERN RED-BILLED AND SOUTHERN YELLOW-BILLED HORNBILLS
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.
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.
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’.
During our safari drives, we would watch them in the trees close to the water, waiting for insects to skim the surface.
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)
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.
We’d often see the pied kingfisher hover about 10m above the water, with head down before plunging down in search of fish.
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).
AFRICAN FISH EAGLE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
BROWN SNAKE EAGLE
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.
AFRICAN HARRIER HAWK
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.
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.
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.
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?
OTHER BIRDS IN KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
I’ve shared some other interesting images of the different birds in Kruger National Park so you can appreciate what captivating subjects they make.
BIRDS IN KRUGER NATIONAL PARK … THAT’S A WRAP
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.
Pin and Save for later
YOU MAY ALSO BE INTERESTED IN READING:
- Safari Accessories – The Absolute Essentials
- Exploring Kruger’s lesser known Neighbour: Life in Klaserie Nature Reserve
PLANNING YOUR TRAVELS?
These are some of the travel resources we use when planning our trips.
- 🚘 Car Hire: We use DiscoverCars.com
- Motorhome/Campervan Rental: We highly recommend the Motorhome Republic
- 🛏 Book Accommodation: We use Booking.com to find accommodation that suits our budget
- 🆓 Free Accommodation: Check Out TrustedHousesitters here
- Activities and Experiences: Get Your Guide and Viator
- Travel Insurance: World Nomads
- 🥾 Travel Gear and Accessories: Check out our top picks here — Lifejourney4two page on Amazon
- 🛒 Wall Art: Shop our ETSY store
For a more thorough list visit our Travel Resources page here.