For many people on their first safari there is often a list of animals that they are hoping to see, and more often than not this list involves the infamous ‘Big 5’ (elephant, rhino, buffalo, leopard and lion) alongside the ever popular giraffes and zebra! I remember being exactly the same on my first safari trip – I was so excited by every animal I saw, but I personally wanted to tick off the cats! Whilst we saw a couple of birds here and there, they were not really grabbing my interest, as I just wanted to get back to seeking out the big mammals,
Having now done many hundreds of safaris my focus has now changed. I still absolutely love finding the cats, watching the playful elephants play in the water and the graceful giraffes munching on the acacia trees. However, these days I also get equally excited by the huge variety of bright and beautiful birds that I have come to love and appreciate on game drives. They are certainly much harder to photo than the bigger animals, as they are often fast moving or hidden in the trees! They are also harder to spot, being much smaller. However, it is so rewarding getting to tick so many different species off my list.
I haver pulled this blog together to share some of my all time favourite birds to spot on safari!
Lilac Breasted Roller (Coracias Caudatus)
This is my all time favourite for very good reason….. those beautiful colours! Fortunately these delightful birds are a fairly common sighting in southern Africa, so I have had a few good photo opportunities over the years. I never tire of spotting these, and I have been most successful in Hwange, Zimbabwe.
Lilac Breasted Rollers have an outstanding colour palate with green head, a lilac throat and breast, a deep blue belly and gorgeous bright blue wing feathers. Both sexes have the same colouration. These birds feed from the ground, and typically enjoy munching on grasshoppers, beetles, occasional lizards, and some small amphibians.
Both males and females incubate the 2 – 4 white eggs which are laid for around 22-24 days. The rollers have a distinctive courtship flight, during which they dive from extreme height, rocking and rolling, while making loud, harsh calls and it can be amazing to witness.
Yellow Billed Hornbill (Tockus Leucomelas)
This is another popular bird in Southern Africa that I spot often on safari….or more accurately hear on safari! These birds are often referred to by guides as Zazu (from the Lion King) but this is slightly incorrect as Zazu is a Red Billed Hornbill! They are also called ‘flying bananas’ because of their huge bills that are yellow and look just like bananas!
Yellow Billed Hornbills feed mainly on the ground, foraging for seeds, spiders, insects and even scorpions. They sometimes even catch snakes, which they kill by bashing them on against a hard surface! These birds swallow their prey whole, and the indigestible parts simply pass through their digestive system. Yellow-Billed Hornbills are also known to forage for food with Dwarf Mongooses who help them find prey. In return, the hornbills alert the mongooses to danger from overhead raptors. Fascinating if you get to see this in action.
Saddle Billed Stork (Ephippiorhynchus Senegalensis)
Standing at up to 1.5m tall the saddle billed stork, which is the tallest stork in the world, doesn’t really fit my with initial birds description of ‘more difficult to spot’. However these are one of the birds I have spotted less often, despite being wide-spread across sub-saharan Africa. They are a phenomenal sight though with their long bright red beaks, which measure up to 36cm long.
Even though the female storks are smaller than the males, the main way you can tell them apart is that the females have yellow eyes and the males have dark brown eyes. Both sexes will sit on the nest to incubate the eggs, for between 30 and 35 days.
The saddle-billed stork has a largely fish based diet of crustaceans (crabs, shrimps), and amphibians (frogs). But they will also eat small reptiles, bird eggs, small mammals, and large water-beetles. The storks will use their beaks to stir up the water to get the fish to swim towards them, and this causes the water to become muddy, so they often rinse their fish before consuming them whole.
The Rosy-faced or Peach-faced Lovebird (Agapornis Roseicollis)
These birds are endemic across South-west Africa and can often be seen in huge groups, creating a fabulous green streak across the African skies. I have seen these birds mist frequently when visiting Namibia. Lovebirds are renowned for their sleep position in which they sit side-by-side and turn their faces in towards each other, creating a perfect endearing picture.
Love birds feed largely on berries and seeds, but unfortunately are seen in some areas as a pest because large groups can feed on crops, like millet.
Blue Breasted Bee-Eater (Merops Variegatus)
There are 27 different species all of which have their own distinct colours. The blue-breasted bee eaters are found largely in central African countries, and I have seen them most often in Zambia. I have seen them on a few different occasions but these are a difficult bird to photo as they are highly active and do not stay in the same position for long! They are also only 18-23cm in length and they blend in well in the grasslands.
The blue-breasted bee eaters’ diet consists of a wide variety of insect species. Although they have a preference for honey-bee workers and flower bees.
Okay…..I know this is cheating a little bit. However, I couldn’t finish the blog without mentioning the lovely kingfishers! Especially as I am so happy with the photos I have managed to capture of these beautiful birds over the last few years. Whether, pied, malachite or brown hooded a kingfisher sighting always cheers my day! Uganda is where I have had most success in spotting kingfishers, but I have also seen them a few times in Zambia.