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Birds in Kruger National Park: The ultimate guide

Overview

Over 500 bird species call the Kruger National Park home (either permanently or as a summer vacation destination). They do not just live in the trees and the air above us; they also live on and in the ground, in bushes, and near water. Some do not even build their own homes, preferring to use those of other birds (as cuckoos do) or, like the ever-flying house martin, to stay airborne for as long as possible.

With so much variety and abundance, getting to know Kruger’s birdlife can be difficult for both experienced and novice birders on safari in the park.

Some are mostly active during the day, while others have adapted to fly and hunt at night. They eat nectar, honey, seeds, fruits, foliage, insects, other birds, fish, reptiles, and mammals(both dead and alive), among other things. They can live in groups, such as the red-billed quelea, which breeds in colonies of thousands of birds, or they can live almost alone.

How birds in Kruger National Park had adapted to habitat changes

Birds can adapt quickly to changes in their environments, especially the influence of humans and other animals. Birds such as spotted eagle owls and thicknees can be found standing on roads in Kruger to easily eat insects, while nightjars will sit on tar roads after sunset for warmth.

In December, redwinged starlings can be seen around some camps’ reception areas, feasting on the dead insects left by cars. At this time of year, European and lilac-breasted rollers can be found perched nearly every 100m along roads throughout the park, waiting for insects to be killed by passing cars.

Red-billed oxpeckers feed on ticks on the backs of antelope, giraffe, and zebra, while yellow-billed oxpeckers roost on buffalo and rhino. Cattle egrets scoop up grasshoppers and other insects that elephants and other large mammals brush aside as they walk through grass, and they frequently hitch a ride on their food provider as well.

Some honeyguides will take small mammals, including humans, to beehives in the hopes that the animal will break open the nest and allow the bird to feed on the wax and grubs inside.

Many vultures rely on other birds or mammals (and even helicopters used in anti-poaching operations!) to locate potential meals.

Howand where to find birds in the Kruger National Park

There is a wide variety of birds to be found throughout Kruger National Park. In contrast to some of the park’s other forms of wildlife, the majority of the park’s resident bird species can be observed in all areas of the park, including within the rest camps themselves.

There are a number of birdhides at picnic spots and other points where visitors are allowed to alight from their vehicles, that provide ideal locations for birdwatching, and the guided bush walks that are offered by many of the rest camps can also provide a good opportunity to get close to birdlife.

It is always worthwhile to check for birds. People who go birdwatching tend to see a lot of game because they drive slowly. For example, they may stop to look at a bird but wind up spotting a lion or leopard on the other side of the road, which they would have missed if they had been in a hurrylike everyone else.

How to identify the birds of the Kruger National Park

While on a trip through the park, it may be inconvenient to carry along all your bird field guides and books.

It helps to photograph birds and keep record of certain parts of a bird’s anatomy to be able to identify them when you are back home.

Two key parts of a bird’s anatomy which can quickly reveal information about its habitat and diet, are the length, size and shape of their legs and feet and the size and shape of the bird’s bill.

The length of their legs and feet as well as their size and shape provide insight on their potential habitat and lifestyle choices. Legs that are disproportionately long to the rest of their body, like the legs of a grey heron that wades through water or the legs of a kori bustard that walks through long grass, opposite to incredibly short legs, like those of swallows and swifts, who do not spend much time walking, can help in identification.Look out if the claws are equipped with webs to facilitate swimming or adapted to catch live prey.

The type of food consumed by the bird can be inferred from both the size and form of its bill. Is it curved like the bill of a sunbird, which allows it to reach deep into flowers in order to feed on nectar, or the bill of an African hoopoe, which allows it to pry grubs and caterpillars off the ground?

A hooked beak indicates that it may be a bird of prey, and if it is sharpened to the point where it may kill and shred flesh, it may bring you even nearer to identification.

Ornithologists suggest that you make four extra essential observations in order to assist you in identifying birds more rapidly:

Famous Kruger birds

If you went on safari in the Kruger National Park, you will probably afterwards be able to brag to your friends back home that you have seen some extraordinary birds during your trip, since Kruger is home to the world’s largest bird, the ostrich, the world’s heaviest flying bird, the Kori Bustard, Africa’s largest eagle, the Martial Eeagle and Africa’s largest owl, the Giant Eagle Owl!

The Big Six of Birds

Kruger National Park’s Big 6 Birds are animaginary grouping aimed to mirror the traditional big 5 mammals.

Whereas the big 5 refer to the five game species that were most desired as hunter’s trophies in times gone by and now refer to the five species that visitors to Kruger most want to see, the Big 6 of Birds refer to a subjective grouping of the six most desired birds that visitors to Kruger want to see.

Due to the fact that it is geared toward amateur birdwatchers, the species are straightforward and simple to recognise at a glance. As a result of human encroachment, habitat degradation, and other factors, the species’ ranges have been significantly curtailed, and they are now primarily confined to Kruger National Park and other protected areas.

The Lappet-faced Vulture, the Martial Eagle, the Saddle-billed Stork, the Kori Bustard, and the Ground Hornbill are the five of the six that can be observed with a reasonable amount of ease all across the park. The Pel’s Fishing Owl is the one exception to the rule; due to the fact that it is nocturnal and can only be found near major waterways, it is extremely uncommon to spot one.

However, populations have been found along the Limpopo, Levuvhu, and Olifants Rivers. They were documented along the Letaba, Shingwedzi, and Sabie Rivers or from dams in the vicinity, but not as frequently as other river species. The best way to see them is to hike either the Olifants Wilderness Trail or the Nyalaland Wilderness Trail, or to embark on night drives that leave from the Olifants rest camp. There is a chance of seeing them in Balule camp, as well as while driving in the Pafuri district along the Levuvhu and having the good fortune to come across one of them while it is roosting.

It is thought that there are only between 25 and 30 breeding pairs of Saddle-bills in the park, in addition to a few of individuals that do not participate in breeding. Visitors, on the other hand, are likely to come across them on a regular basis due to their massive size, striking look, and prominent location around key water points. However, because of these numbers, they are significantly rarer and more endangered than other creatures like cheetahs and wild dogs.

Most popular bird sightings in Kruger National Park

There are checklists available of the birds that may be found in the park and additional information on birds and birding on SANParks’ website. The following are a few species that you will most probably see during an excursion in the park and cherish the experience for time to come:

Lilac Breasted Roller

The lilac breasted roller is debatably the most beautiful bird in the park with their bases of the primaries and coverts a pale greenish blue and the outer tail feathers elongated and blackish. Their chins are whitish, shading to a rich lilac of the breast. Their underparts are greenish blue, bill are black and their eyes brown.

Since the Lilac Breasted Roller feeds on grasshoppers, beetles, occasionally lizards, crabs, and small amphibians taken from the ground, they often are perched on a dead treein grasslands, open woods and regions, surveying the area for prey. They are known for preying on animals fleeing from bush fires and for their acrobatics during the breeding season.

The Kori Bustard

As Africa’s heaviest flying bird, a Kori Bustard can weigh up to 19kg. It is a ground dwellerwith long neck and long feet with light brown or grey plumage. The sides of its crown extend into a black crest and its chin, throat, and neck are creamy white mixed with black bands.

During pre-mating, a male will dance before the female while inflating its neck and trailing its wings.Some male bustards also ruffle all their feathers, appearing as a great white ball or bow toward the female while inflating the bill.

They tend to remain in the same area as long as the food source is good, and are often seen alone, in pairs or groups in woodland or grassy plains.

The African Spoonbill

TheAfrican Spoonbill is a long-legged wading bird of almost a metre high. Its body is predominantly white, with red legs, face, and bill. This bird is easily identified by its uniquely spoon-shaped bill.

The African Spoonbill is shy and alert and usually found single, while fishing in shallow water by swinging its open bill from side to side in the water.

The African Fish Eagle

African Fish Eagle is a fairly large eagle with distinctive black, brown, and white plumage. It feeds mainly on fish, although have been recorded as preying on smaller water birds too.

The African Fish Eagle has a distinctive call, so well-known and clear that it is often known as ‘the voice of Africa’. Theyareoften seen in pairs, even sharing kills, perched high in a tall tree from where it has a view of the river or dam which is their territory.

Kingfishers

Although there are several different species, kingfishers are often brilliantly coloured, and many have forceful voices and dramatic courtship displays. Most species are large-headed, short-necked and have long, stout (oftenred)bills, with some blue plumage. Not all kingfishers feed on fish, some feed on reptiles, rodents, birds or insects and some rarely come near water.

When hunting for fish, the Kingfisher plunge headfirst towards the water and return to a perch to kill and eat its prey.

The Bateleur eagle

The Bateleur eagle is the most famous of the snake eagles and a beautiful sight with its pitch black feathers with white under the wings, bright red face and legs and black beak. The plumage of a juvenile bateleur is a uniform dark brown.

The bateleur has extraordinarily long wings and a very short tail, and with its feet extending beyond the tail in flight, it is easily recognisable.

Bateleur eagles spend hours on end in the air looking for food, which includes antelope, mice, birds, snakes, carrion, lizards and often road kills.

The Southern white-faced Scops owl

The Scops Owl is a small grey, nocturnal owl with striking white face, surrounded by black edging, and large prominent ear-tufts and orange eyes. They are often seen sleeping in a tree during daylight.

Saddle-billed stork

The Saddle-billed stork is the tallest stork in the world. It has long legs for a high viewpoint, to see predators over tall reeds and grasses and also for wading in deep waters hunting for food. Their long beaks allow them to grab food in fairly deep water.

Large wings enable them to take off effortlessly from the ground.

White-fronted bee-eater

The white-fronted bee-eater is found often in the park. They are easily identifiable by the white patch on their forehead, their square tails, and the brilliant red patch on their throats. They breed in excavating holes on the sides of cliffs or in earthen banks. Woodlands are home to both paired and group inhabitants.

FAQ

1.    How many bird species can be found in the Kruger National Park?

Over 500 bird species are found in the Kruger National Park.

2.    Are there ostriches in Kruger National Park?

Yes, Kruger National Park is home to the ostrich, the world’s largest bird.

3.    What is the world’s heaviest flying bird and is it found in Kruger National Park?

The Kori Bustard is the world’s heaviest flying bird and are often seen alone, in pairs or groups in woodland or grassy plains of the Kruger National Park.

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