Birds of Botswana
Botswana is a natural paradise for avid birders and casual birdwatchers alike. With over 550 recorded species, birding in Botswana offers you the chance to spot the one or other bird that is still missing from your list. Especially as some of the birds which you may find commonly in Botswana, are quite rare to see elsewhere. Couple this with a beautiful natural scenery and you have all the ingredients for an amazing, bird-seeking adventure.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME OF THE YEAR FOR BIRDING IN BOTSWANA
The green season of migratory birds
Botswana provides you with excellent birding opportunities all year round. If you have the chance to go, book a ticket because you will not be disappointed. If you are flexible with your dates and can choose your ideal travel time, then it is the green season, between November and April, which we can recommend the most. During this time, the migratory birds return to Botswana, creating a buzz of activity and the plumage on many of the birds is at its most spectacular.
WHERE TO SEE BIRDS IN BOTSWANA
Botswana offers a beautiful variety of birdwatching. The parks in the north of the country contain permanent water sources and will amaze you with unique species. Some of these, very rarely spotted elsewhere but are commonly found here. In contrast, you have the dry south, famous for its high numbers of raptors. It is a harsh climate, but full of life. When the rains come this becomes truer than ever.
It was extremely difficult for us to choose one bird per birding hotspot for the list below. We fear, we may have started an office debate which at the time of writing, is still ongoing. But here it goes, a list of species to look out for in each of Botswana’s main national parks and wildlife regions:
LIST OF BIRDS IN BOTSWANA
Chobe National Park
The Chobe offers many fantastic birding opportunities, but arguably it is the spectacular flight of the African skimmer that steals the show. Uncommon in many other parts of the world, in the Chobe National Park these birds can often be seen in flocks of between 20 to 100 at a time.
As you look over calm waters, you can witness these black and white birds, with their characteristic orange bill with yellow tip, fly so close above the waterline that their wings nearly touch. Their lower jaw is much longer than their top jaw and is pointed at the end. It looks odd but it is functional. As they narrowly fly above the water surface, they dip their lower jaw into to water, creating a wake. Once they have snatched a little fish, they quickly shut their bill before enjoying another successful catch.
Moremi Game Reserve
Although not endemic to Botswana, the slaty egret is nearly endemic. Other than in the greater Okavango Delta and in parts of southern Zambia you are not likely to come across these rare birds. They are classified as vulnerable and the biggest threat they face is habitat loss. A highly prized sighting, your chances of spotting the slaty egret in the Moremi Game Reserve are quite high.
At first believed to be a colour variation of the more commonly found black egret, research into the slaty egret’s morphology, habitat and diet showed significant differences. For example, the slaty egret does not use its wings to create a canopy to feed. It also feeds on small fish, but the slaty egret’s diet is significantly made up of frogs, snails and other invertebrates. They can even catch dragonflies and other insects too.
There are not many birds that can claim to have a current name stemming from their original SeTswana name. There is also only one bird that has the distinction of being the national bird of Botswana. Both honours fall on the Kori Bustard (or the Kgori in SeTswana). The Kori Bustard has another important award and that is the claim to being the largest and heaviest flying bird in the world. Fair enough, it requires a bit of a runup and considerable effort to get up into the air, but large aeroplanes also require that.
Interesting is the relationship between the Kori Bustard and the Carmine Bee-eaters in the Savuti region. Here you can sometimes spot the Bee-eaters catching a ride on the backs of the Kori Bustard. They feed on the insects which are disturbed by the Kori Bustard walking through the grass or marsh and in turn, they keep an eye out for any potential predators nearby.
The Kori Bustard is not only Botswana’s National Bird, but also the heaviest bird in the world that can fly, unlike the Ostrich which is landbound.
PEL’S FISHING OWL
One bird that is sure to excite every keen birder is the rare Pel’s fishing owl. The Pel’s fishing owl is also one of only three species of fishing owls in the world. Its diet is made up almost entirely of fish, hence why they are found near rivers and permanent sources of water such as is the case in the Okavango Delta.
They are one of the largest owl species and unlike other owls, they do not fly silently. And why would they, it’s not like the fish can hear them approach. Perhaps you will be lucky enough to hear Pel’s fishing owl swoop down on an unsuspecting fish on your next Okavango Delta safari.
Makgadikgadi Pan & Nxai Pan National Parks
If you have seen images of the dry Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans then this must seem like a strange choice. But with the rains during the green season, the Makgadikgadi Pan can fill with water and attract animals you would normally never have expected. None more (or rather less) so than the elegant lesser flamingo. During green season between tens and sometimes even hundreds of thousands of lesser flamingos migrate to the Sowa and Nata Sanctuary to breed and feed on the microscopic algae.
The salt pans form one of the very few regular and successful breeding places for lesser and greater flamingos in Africa and as such and is regarded as an extremely important habitat. Their arrival is very weather dependent, making it difficult to predict precisely when the flamingos will arrive. But if you want to witness this amazing event, you can make a note between November and April in your calendar and get in touch with us.
Central Kalahari Game Reserve
The Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) can provide fantastic birding throughout the year. It is a park which is famous in the birding world for one thing: raptors. The high number of small prey provides plenty of food for a variety of birds of prey, of which few are as beautiful as the Bateleur. With its shiny black coat mixed with grey and brown, its red face and rather strangely, very short tail it is one of the most distinguishable eagles and is commonly sighted in the CKGR.
Their name “Bateleur” is French for “street performer” or “tumbler” and this is believed to refer to their acrobatic flying style and the fact that they rock their wings side to side when gliding as if they were a tight rope walker trying to keep their balance.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park:
Surviving in the rugged Kgalagadi is not a simple feat. This holds true in the bird-world too. Some birds however, thrive in this environment. They prefer the dry savannah, and the open plains with its isolated trees. The lappet-faced vulture is one of these birds. They are the most powerful and aggressive of the African vultures and can back it up in size too, with a wingspan of 2.5–2.9 m.
The lappet-faced vulture relies on its eyesight as opposed to its sense of smell to find its food. And it has an impressive eyesight at that! They can spot tiny details in the landscape with clarity from an unbelievable distance. Sadly, this remarkable ability can also be fatal. In recent years, poachers have poisoned lappet-faced vultures because their circling above a dead animal can help alert rangers to poaching activity. Currently listed as endangered, the Kgalagadi is a great place to witness these remarkable birds.
DISCOVER EXCLUSIVE BOTSWANA SAFARIS
OUR EXPERT ADVICE
A MOKORO WILL GET YOU CLOSER THAN YOU EVER IMAGINED
One of the most special things on your trip will be witnessing the diversity of Botswana’s birdlife from inside a mokoro. Quietly drifting along the waters, you can get right up close to the birds and your presence will hardly even be noticed. A beautiful experience.
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