Are you trying to identify a bird found in South Africa?
Some of the wildest and most colorful birds you could imagine are found here. From the gigantic, flightless Ostrich to the Pink Flamingo, there’s something to catch everyone’s attention!
Due to the sheer number of species, there was no way to include every bird in South Africa in this article. So instead, I tried to focus on the birds that are most regularly seen and observed.
Today, you will learn about 26 COMMON types of birds in South Africa!
#1. African Fish Eagle
- Haliaeetus vocifer
- Adults are 63–75 cm (25–29.5 in) long with a wingspan of 2.0-2.4 m (6.6-7.9 ft).
- Their brown bodies contrast with black wings and a white face, chest, and legs. Their beaks and feet are bright yellow.
- This species’ long talons are barbed to aid in picking up fish.
As the most popular bird in South Africa, this species is featured on flags of countries across the continent.
The African Fish Eagle symbolizes hope and freedom and is also known as the Screaming Eagle or the African Sea Eagle.
In addition to fish, they eat large birds, frogs, baby crocodiles, and carrion. They’re even known to eat monkeys! Typically, they perch on a branch, then dive down in a graceful swoop to grab their dinner. Additionally, they love to steal prey from other birds for an easy meal on the go.
The African Fish Eagle’s resoundingly clear call is sometimes known as The Spirit of Africa.
This remarkable bird is a habitat generalist, meaning it can live in most climates. Its only true requirement is a large body of water, like a lake or the ocean. So, other than the desert, you can expect to see this bird no matter where you are in South Africa!
#2. African Grey Hornbill
- Lophoceros nasutus
- Adults are 45–51 cm (18–20 in) long.
- They are white, grey, and dusty brown. The wings have a scalloped pattern, and the dark grey head fades into white underparts.
- The beak is prominent, strong, and hooked downward.
The first thing you’ll notice about the African Grey Hornbill is its large beak. They look somewhat top-heavy, but the bill has internal supports and hollow chambers that keep it fairly light. Nevertheless, its top two neck vertebrae are fused, probably for additional support.
African Grey Hornbills have the most unusual breeding habits of any bird in South Africa!
The mother sheds all her flight feathers just before nesting time in preparation for the coming months. Then, the female encloses herself and the eggs inside with mud, poop, and fruit purée! The male brings food to the incubating mother and passes it through a tiny hole in the chamber wall. While she is incubating the eggs, she regrows her flight feathers.
Once the nestlings outgrow the hollow, she breaks out, reseals it, and then both parents feed the young through the small hole that remains. They probably deserve an award for their dedication to making more little African Grey Hornbills!
#3. African Paradise Flycatcher
- Terpsiphone viridis
- Adults are about 17 cm (6.7 in) long, but their tail streamers can double this length.
- The coloring is typically black across the head, neck, and body, with chestnut wings and tail feathers. However, coloring is variable across subspecies. Its legs, beak, and rings around the eyes are blue.
The African Paradise Flycatcher confuses birders in South Africa because its coloring is highly variable. Although the wings and tail feathers usually contrast with the head and body, everything else about these birds’ coloring depends on their location and environment.
Look for this species in dense, moist forests, bushlands, and plantations. It can even be seen in gardens or catching pest insects in orchards. When eating, they flutter their tail and use wing downbeats to hover in place. Their main food source is insects and spiders from the undersides of leaves.
The call of the African Paradise Flycatcher is as varied as its coloring but generally sounds like a shrill, loud “ahh-ahh.”
#4. African Sacred Ibis
- Threskiornis aethiopicus
- Adults are 68 cm (27 in) long with a wingspan of 112-124 cm (44-49 in).
- Their plumage is white overall, with black wing tips and tail feathers.
- The head and legs are black and featherless, and the beak is very long and curved downward.
The Sacred Ibis was integral to ancient Egyptian religious ceremonies. Unfortunately, it’s now locally extinct in Egypt. However, it is still widespread in South Africa.
Its long scythe-like beak cuts through vegetation in marshes, swamps, and along riverbanks. It pokes in the muddy bottoms of small water bodies as it forages and visits mud flats far inland in search of food. You may even see them in garbage dumps, pasturelands, and freshly plowed fields, looking for earthworms.
The African Sacred Ibis has a variety of sounds, from a call similar to a yappy dog to a long, loud honk. This call, a long chirping noise, is one of their most common.
#5. Common Hoopoe
- Upupa epops
- Adults are 25–32 cm (9.8–12.6 in) long with a wingspan of 44–48 cm (17–19 in).
- Its coloring is cinnamon-brown on the head and body, with black and white barred wings.
- The head is adorned with a crest of brown feathers tipped in black.
Look for the Common Hoopoe in rural gardens, cities, plantations, savannas, and grasslands. They often spend time near piles of rotting leaves or a fallen log where insects, grubs, and worms will use it as a habitat. It’s like a buffet for the Hoopoe!
This unusual-looking bird has a variety of defensive tactics. Its movable crest is used for advertising and intimidating potential predators and rival Hoopoes. If that doesn’t work, this species is ready for a fight! They use their strong head and neck muscles to gouge their long, pointed beaks into opponents’ eyes, which can blind them.
In addition to their fighting skill and intimidating looks, they produce a substance that smells of rotting meat. They cover themselves and their eggs with the substance to warn away predators. Nestlings even have their own scent gland that makes them unappetizing to predators.
#6. Common Ostrich
- Struthio camelus
- Adults stand up to 2.8 meters (9 feet) tall and can weigh 154 kg (340 lbs).
- Their plumage is dark on the body, with white wings and tail tips. Males are black, and females are brown.
- The long legs and neck are buff to pinkish, sometimes with pale downy feathers. They have large feet with sharp talons and small heads.
The Common Ostrich is not only the largest bird in South Africa but also worldwide!
But that’s not the only reason this giant species is remarkable. They can run at over 70 kph (43 mph), and their kick is powerful enough to kill a lion! Interestingly, all this athletic prowess is for survival only since Ostriches are predominantly herbivores. They eat the occasional lizard but prefer fruit, seeds, and grasses.
During the breeding season, they form harems of one male and between two and seven females. Then, they raise their young as a community. Each female can produce up to nine offspring, so this village is particularly important!
You might think Ostriches look practically prehistoric, and you’d be right! The lower parts of their legs are scaled for protection, as was typical for their dinosaur ancestors.
#7. Grey Crowned Crane
- Balearica regulorum
- Adults stand 1 m (3.3 ft) tall and have a wingspan of about 2 m (6.5 ft).
- Their coloring is black, white, and gray, with a crimson and white patch behind the eye and a red inflatable wattle.
- They have a crest of thin golden feathers at the back of the head.
The endangered Grey Crowned Crane is one of the most distinctive birds in South Africa!
Unfortunately, this is one of the reasons for its decline. They are often captured and sold illegally as part of the exotic pet trade. Keeping a Grey Crowned Crane captive in nearly any setting except a zoo is illegal. Climate change and pesticide use are also seriously affecting their population.
In the wild, they breed in wetlands that are harder for predators to access, building solitary nests near the water’s edge. Their long legs help navigate tall grass and water, with feet built more for balance than grasping. They also use their feet to find food! Grey Crowned Cranes stamp their feet as they walk, causing their prey to run and reveal itself. Then, they scoop up the food in their beaks.
While foraging, they often make a series of calls and songs.
#8. Grey Go-Away Bird
- Corythaixoides concolor
- Adults are 47–51 cm (18.5-20 in) long.
- Their coloring is uniformly grey all over the back, with buff tan feathers on the underside and crest.
- This species has a round, pigeon-like body, but its long tail feathers and crest set it well apart from doves.
Have a listen to how the Grey Go-away Bird got its name. Its call sounds remarkably like a person yelling, “Go Away!”
Although its preferred habitat is acacia woodlands or savanna, the Grey Go-away bird has become more accustomed to people. As a result, you might find them in parks or yards, especially if you have a bird bath or pond.
One surefire way to attract this species is with fruit trees, including figs and berries. Unfortunately, farmers consider them a pest species because they like to congregate, and a group of 20-30 Grey Go-away Birds can cause havoc in an orchard. Interestingly, it’s now the farmers yelling go away instead of the birds!
#9. Hadada Ibis
- Bostrychia hagedash
- Adults are about 76 cm (30 in) long.
- They are grey overall, with a wash of iridescent green and purple on the wings. The top of the beak and feet are red during the breeding season.
- The beak is long and slightly curved; aside from that, this species has a shape similar to a duck.
Despite its large and relatively round shape, the Hadada Ibis spends much of its time in trees! This species roosts and nests in branches, which can be particularly dangerous for their young. Nestlings frequently fall to their death because the platform is built in a high fork of a tree, and it is flat, with no protective lip to keep the young inside.
Although it’s comfortable in trees, the Hadada Ibis forages for food on the ground. They feed on multitudes of insects and larvae, which is a boon to those who work outside.
For example, gardeners appreciate their visits since they eat snails and don’t damage the plants. Greenskeepers like them too, because they remove moth and beetle larvae that eat the roots of grasses. They also dig up earthworms with their long curved beak.
Its name derives from the sound of its loud call.
- Scopus umbretta
- Adults stand about 56 cm (22 in) tall.
- Brown all over, with a dark brown to black bill and legs.
- This waterbird has an unusual crest, making its head appear elongated toward the back.
You might have seen pictures of the Hamerkop on its favorite perch – the back of a hippopotamus! This water bird likes to hunt from these living platforms, and the hippos don’t seem to mind.
An easy way to identify this bird in South Africa is to look for its incredible nest. They build a huge nest (up to two meters tall) in a tree fork, with only a tiny side entrance. The same nest can be used for up to four years unless it is disturbed in some way, which happens more often than you might think.
They’re also rather noisy, cackling and yapping while they hunt and socialize.
#11. Helmeted Guinea Fowl
- Numida meleagris
- Adults grow up to 53-58 cm (21-23 in).
- Their coloring is black with white spots. The legs are black, and the featherless head is bright blue with red on the face.
- This species has a large, round body and a very small head and neck.
These chicken-like birds in South Africa are capable of flight but only do so when in danger.
Instead, they walk up to 10 kilometers (6 miles) daily in their quest for food. They’ll eat anything from small mammals and lizards to worms, insects, frogs, small snakes, snails, seeds, fruit, and spiders.
Outside breeding season, they form flocks of up to 24 birds and roost communally so they can alert each other to predators. They have an explosive take-off and only flap for short distances, gliding for longer flights. They prefer to flee from predators on land and can run 35 kph (22 mph) on land.
Helmeted Guineafowl have various calls, and some are more pleasant than others. For example, their whistling tune is much nicer on the ears than the raucous and irritating one found here.
#12. Hooded Vulture
- Necrosyrtes monachus
- Adults are 62–72 cm (24–28 in) long with a wingspan of 155–180 cm (61–71 in).
- Their plumage is a uniform brown, with a featherless pinkish-white face and a grey-brown “hood” of short feathers.
- This large vulture has an upright posture, large body, and small head, which are typical of its kind.
The Hooded Vulture is more mild-mannered than most other scavengers in South Africa.
As a result, it’s developed skills to make sure they can eat before more aggressive vultures chase it off from a carcass. It often arrives first, takes a small meal, and moves on, eating more frequently and in smaller portions.
Another way this species has adapted is to start visiting slaughterhouses and garbage dumps. Here, they take advantage of easy meals. The clever part is that the bigger, more aggressive vultures are not comfortable around humans, so Hooded Vultures avoid conflict.
Despite finding ways to adapt and survive, Hooded Vultures are still considered critically endangered. Often, when poachers kill big game, they remove the valuable parts and then poison the carcass with pesticides. These toxins kill any vultures that come to feed, so rangers won’t see vultures circling the carcasses, and the criminals have more time to get away.
#13. Lesser Flamingo
- Phoeniconaias minor
- Adults stand 80-90 cm (31-35 in) with a wingspan of 90-105 cm (35-41 in).
- Pinkish-white plumage, with bright pink legs and eye rings.
- These recognizable birds stand tall on very thin legs and have long, curved necks.
This fascinating species is impossible to confuse with any other bird in South Africa!
Have you ever wondered why Flamingos are pink? Interestingly, their primary food source is Spirulina algae, which contains photosynthetic pigments that turn the birds pink.
Unfortunately, their bright coloring and relatively large size make them a target for many predators. Common culprits are big cats, eagles, pelicans, foxes, jackals, hyenas, vultures, and baboons. To protect themselves and their young, they form gigantic flocks called crèches. Here, babies can number up to 100,000 individuals watched over by several adults.
Lesser Flamingos are among the most successful species in their family, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t in trouble. On the international scale, they are listed as “Near Threatened” because of habitat loss, human land development, limited breeding sites, and heavy metal poisoning in some lakes.
#14. Lilac-Breasted Roller
- Coracias caudatus
- Adults are 36-38 cm (14-15 in) long, with a wingspan of 50-58 cm (19-23 in).
- The coloring of this species is lilac on the chest with bright teal and royal blue on the head, body, and wings.
- This species’ head is large for its body.
The Lilac-breasted Roller has an aggressive attitude, particularly when defending its nest. It will ascend 144 meters (472 feet) to dive bomb much larger raptors. And it will juke and roll to attack other intruders.
They are primarily insectivores, but they also eat scorpions, snails, lizards, rodents, and even other birds. They use their wings to batter prey into submission, then eat it whole.
Lilac-breasted Rollers make a remarkably loud and frightening sound as it plummets from the sky to attack.
#15. Little Bee-Eater
- Merops pusillus
- Adults are 15–17 cm (6-7 in.) long.
- They have a green back, a bright yellow throat, and a black collar. Their bellies are a deeper brownish-yellow.
- This species is slender and upright, with a pointed black beak.
Little Bee-eaters are the smallest species of African bee-eater. These birds are quite tame and friendly. They make practically no sound except for a quietly trilled “s-s-e-e-e-p.”
As their name implies, these little birds subsist on hornets, wasps, and bees. But, they’ve found an efficient way to avoid being stung by their favorite foods. Before they eat them, they smash their prey’s stinger into a hard surface several times to extract it.
Look for groups of Little Bee-eaters lined up, roosting communally on a branch. These tight-knit communities spend time together year-round. For example, a non-breeding pair will help feed chicks and even sit on the eggs to help out. Some nesters can have as many as five helpers raising the nestlings.
#16. Marabou Stork
- Leptoptilos crumenifer
- Adults reach heights of 152 cm (5 feet) and have a wingspan of 3.7 m (12 ft).
- Its back and wings are black, with a white underside and bald, pinkish-white head and neck.
- This species is very large, with a pelican-like shape, huge bill, and long legs.
The Marabou Stork is the largest carrion bird in South Africa!
This gigantic species stands taller than some adult humans and has an incredibly large wingspan.
Look for these birds, also called “Undertaker Birds”, circling above carcasses or garbage dumps. They fly with their neck retracted but keep their feet out, using them as a steering rudder. They occasionally take live prey, including flamingo chicks and crocodile hatchlings.
#17. Pied Crow
- Corvus albus
- Adults are 46-52 cm (18-20 in) long.
- Their coloring is completely black, except for the stark white “vest” between their wings and across their chest.
If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between a crow and a raven, studying the Pied Crow is a good way to learn! This bird in South Africa is considered a “link” between the two related families. It has the larger bill and long legs of a raven, as well as wider wings and a longer tail. However, its beak is small and straight like a crow’s, and it also has the typical “caw” call.
Pied Crows are often found near humans, but they don’t interact with people very much. They seem to like villages and towns, probably because of the abundance of food due to human refuse.
They are social and may congregate near an abundance of food but are generally found in pairs or small groups. Pied Crows eat reptiles and mammals, nestlings and eggs, insects and invertebrates, peanuts, grains, carrion, and human trash. If there is a slaughterhouse in the vicinity, you’ll almost certainly find them there, too.
#18. Pied Kingfisher
- Ceryle rudis
- Adults grow to 25 cm (10 in) long.
- Their coloring is white, with small black spots on the face, head, wings, tail, and shoulders.
- This species has an extremely long and sharp beak.
Pied Kingfishers are the largest hovering bird in South Africa.
They often hover over a body of water, hunting until they spot a likely victim. Then, they drop vertically into the water, grab their prey, and leap out again. In addition, they often eat small prey in flight, allowing them to hunt small insects continuously without the need to return to shore.
Compared with other kingfishers, this species is gregarious and friendly. They often roost together in large groups at night. Pied Kingfishers are nearly always found close to large bodies of water.
#19. Pin-Tailed Whydah
- Vidua macroura
- Adults are 12–13 cm (4-5 in) long, but males have exceptionally long tails – up to 20 cm (8 in)!
- Males are black on the back, head, and wings, with a white belly and throat.
- Females are light brown with black streaks.
- Both sexes have a short, conical, red-orange beak.
Look for Pin-tailed Whydahs in grassland habitats. It’s a common bird in South Africa south of the Sahara.
This species is considered a brood parasite, meaning the female lays her eggs in the nest of other species. Then, once the eggs hatch, the mother takes care of the Pin-tailed Whydah hatchlings along with her own.
Unlike some other brood parasites, the Pin-Tailed Whydah doesn’t destroy the host bird’s eggs, which means other species can still thrive alongside it.
- Sagittarius serpentarius
- Adults grow as tall as 1.3 m (4 ft 3 in).
- Their coloring is pale gray on the head and top half of the body, with black flight feathers. They have black feathers that stick out on the back of the head.
- This species has red skin on the face around the eyes and beak. The beak is pale and sharply hooked.
The Secretarybird in South Africa gets its name from the quill-like feathers on the back of its head.
This large bird hunts on the ground, but it has a fascinating way of grabbing a meal. Its neck isn’t flexible or long enough to reach the ground quickly. So, when they find their prey, they stomp on it until it stops moving! Then, they kneel on their long legs to pick it up and eat once it’s incapacitated.
They’ll happily consume large insects, crabs, mammals, lizards, tortoises, smaller birds, and snakes, including VENOMOUS species. Interestingly, they’re known to search the ground after a forest fire and eat cooked meat.
#21. Southern Yellow-Billed Hornbill
- Tockus leucomelas
- Adults are 48–60 centimeters (19–24 in) long.
- Its coloring is white with black markings on the wings and neck.
- The long, down-curved beak is bright yellow, and the skin around the eyes and beak is red.
Look for this bird in South Africa on dry savannas with sparse tree cover. This powerfully built species flies with heavy wingbeats that alternate with long periods of gliding.
The Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill forages on the ground for insects, their larvae, and seeds. They don’t dig into the ground like some other hornbill species. However, they will use their long, curved beak to flip over rocks and debris in their search for food.
Their sounds are loud and raucous, a “ko-ko-ko-ko” or “kada-kada-kada.”
#22. Speckled Pigeon
- Columba guinea
- Adults grow up to 41 cm (16 in) long.
- Their coloring is slate gray overall, with rusty wings and white tips on the flight feathers.
- They have a ring of red skin around the eye, giving them a wide-eyed look.
It’s not uncommon for hundreds of Speckled Pigeons to form a flock and inhabit the exterior of large human structures. They’re the primary food source for birds of prey that live in large cities.
Although their shape and behavior are similar to typical urban rock pigeons, Speckled Pigeons are much larger. This species is the largest pigeon in South Africa at nearly 41 cm (16 inches) long.
Even if the Speckled Pigeon’s call is understated and melodic, it can be overwhelming when hundreds are singing at once. It sounds like “OooOOOuu” repeated a dozen times or more in a row.
#23. Village Weaver
- Ploceus cucullatus
- Adults are 15–17 cm (6-7 in) long.
- Males have a black face with a bright red eye, a bright yellow chest, a brown cowl down the back of the head, and splotchy black and yellow wings.
- Females are largely yellow (including the head), with pale olive stripes on the upper parts and buff-yellow chest and underparts.
The Village Weaver has some of the most interesting nesting habits of any bird in South Africa.
For one, the nests themselves look like Christmas ornaments! They’re woven balls of grass and feathers that hang from the branches of trees. Additionally, male Village Weavers build the nests alone and defend them to attract a mate. Think of this as showing off your big, new house to your date!
Once a female chooses a nest (and a mate), she fills it with bedding and lays her eggs. Then, the male finds another mate and begins the process again! Despite having up to five broods at a time, the male Village Weaver contributes to the feeding and care of all his hatchlings.
These communal birds can be quite noisy, as they spend most of their time in their nests calling to one another.
#24. White-backed Vulture
- Gyps africanus
- Adults are 78-98 cm (31-39 in) long and have a 1.96-2.25 m (6-7 ft) wingspan.
- Its coloring is muted brown, except for its off-white back. The face and wings are darker brown than the body.
- This species has a bald face and short, downy feathers on the head and neck.
This species has seen the most rapid decline of any bird in South Africa.
Its conservation status has gone from Least Concern to Critically Endangered in just fifteen years. Power lines, poisoned carrion, pesticides, and poaching are also contributing factors.
Part of the reason for their decline is that White-backed Vultures are very tame and will happily wander into town to look for food. Unfortunately, it’s vulnerable to kidney failure due to poisoning from diclofenac, a drug widely used by humans for pain, inflammation, arthritis, and gout.
In addition to diclofenac poisoning, fires have recently eliminated much of their breeding territory, adding to the decline. Their extremely long breeding cycle is another strain on their population. White-backed Vultures have to incubate their eggs for two months and care for nestlings for four to five months.
#25. White-Throated Bee Eater
- Merops albicollis
- Adults are 19–21 cm (7.5-8.5 in) long, with males gaining an additional 12 cm (5 in) from their tail streamers.
- Look for this species’ white throat and white eyebrow on either side of its black eye stripe to differentiate it from other Bee Eaters.
- Their coloring is bright green to white on the belly with a pale blue rump, a black collar underlined in turquoise, and bright yellow-orange on the back of the head.
White-throated Bee Eaters congregate in large groups, which protects them from predators. They also raise their young communally, sharing the duties of protecting nests and bringing food to nestlings.
Like others of their family, White-throated Bee Eaters eat hornets, wasps, and bees, catching them in mid-flight by leaping from a low perch. Before they eat them, however, they remove their prey’s stinger by jamming it into a hard surface several times to extract it. That’s a straightforward way to make sure your meal is safe to eat!
This species has a dry, high-pitched, rattling call.
#26. Woodland Kingfisher
- Halcyon senegalensis
- Adults grow to 23 cm (9.1 in) long.
- Its wings and back are electric blue, with black patches on the wings and a white chest and neck.
- This species’ beak is large for its body, brilliant orange on top and black below.
The really interesting thing about kingfishers is you can instantly tell whether they live on fish or insects by the color of their beaks! As with the Woodland Kingfisher, orange beaks indicate an insect diet, and other colors like black or blue mean a fish-heavy diet.
Woodland Kingfishers are unusual because they can mimic other birds with the way they stand. When they squat and puff out their feathers, they tend to look like a sparrow, and if they stand taller, they are more like a robin. Females stand up tall more often to advertise to a potential mate. They also spread their wings wide to appear as large and colorful as possible.
The sound of their song is usually one sharp note, a pause, then about 20 trills of a descending note.
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Check out these guides to other animals found in South Africa!
- The 20 MOST Common SPIDERS Found in South Africa!
- 48 Amazing ANIMALS to see in South Africa! (ID guide w/ pics)