Latest observations of Birds

Birds are the most-watched type of wildlife. They are easy to see virtually wherever you are, they are colourful, active and inquisitive, and you can observe their fascinating behaviour - what's not to like?

Southern Africa has 956 species of birds with 174 endemic/near endemic to the region. These comprise about 700 land birds, 200 water birds and 50 pelagic (ocean-living) species.

  • The two forest biomes (Afrotemperate Forest and Eastern Lowland Forest) contain many bird species, although they share relatively few species between them.
  • The Savanna Biome, or Bushveld, contains a spectacular number of bird species, with these segregating into moist and arid savanna. This is prime bird habitat.
  • The Fynbos Biome is poor in bird species, with Fynbos types also poor in numbers of birds. However, it is home to 7 endemic species.
  • The Grassland Biome contains several endemic species, but has a very high proportion of threatened Red List species.
  • The two Karoo Biomes (Nama Karoo and Succulent Karoo ) contain a high proportion of the subcontinents endemic bird species, with larks featuring prominently.
  • The Namib Desert has low numbers of birds, except after heavy rains, but several species are endemic.
  • The Albany Thicket Biome shares many species with savannas, and does not appear to have a special bird fauna.
  • Wetlands in southern Africa are largely the estuaries and lagoons, home to millions of migratory birds; salt pans, which fill up with water in the wet season and attract spectacular numbers of waterbirds; and rivers of which the Zambesi, Kavango and Okavango Swamp are the most spectacular.
  • Seashore birds are limited in number of species, but many occur in huge numbers. Open ocean species are relatively poor compared to terrestrial species, but the region offers unsurpassed opportunities to see pelagics.


Birds can usually be identified from some combination of their colour, shape, size, behaviour and song. Spend some time watching the birds in your garden or local park and get familiar with them. They will act as a good comparison when looking at other species later on. Bird songs and calls are a fascinating subject in their own right, and help provide clues to presence and identification. Some groups such as larks, warblers, pipits and cisticolas require special dedication.

Photography for identification

It can be difficult to get close enough to birds to take photographs, unless you have telephoto lenses or other specialised equipment, but with patience you can often get a clear enough image to allow identification. Try to take a range of photos showing the bird from several angles, and supplement these with descriptions of any distinctive features. Make notes of size (e.g. in comparison to familiar species - "as large as a dove", "smaller than a robin-chat" etc.). Watch out for any distinctive behaviour or movements and flight patterns, and if you hear it call or sing try to describe that as well.

Nesting birds are very vulnerable to disturbance and nests and eggs are protected by law, so please do not attempt to photograph a nesting bird.

Useful links


  • Southern Africa is well endowed with useful and superb field guides, not just to species but also to special sites and families. Visit any bookshop to see a selection of these.

Bird recording and conservation

1. ADU; 2. BLSA; 3 – links to clubs?

The British Trust for Ornithology is the major organisation for recording and analysing data about birds in Britain. They organise large-scale surveys across the country, including national bird atlases, the Breeding Birds Survey and Garden BirdWatch, and also collate data from bird ringing in the UK.

The leading bird conservation society is the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, who work closely with the BTO and many other organisations.

Find out what else is happening in your UK area from your local Wildlife Trust.

Birds group links

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