Bird Life in Africa

Red-billed Hornbill pair, Zambia

Like every continent on this planet, Africa’s weather and terrain are what define the bird populations. But Africa’s bird populations soar to the top of the continent list with the huge size of land area, big game and extensive wildlife, vast wilderness and undeveloped expanses.


Here are some of my favorites.


Lilac-breasted Roller, Botswana


Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Botswana


Many bird species occupy the waterways of Africa.


The hamerkop is a medium-sized wading bird related to pelicans. They eat fish and amphibians, sometimes rodents and insects.

Hamerkop, Zambia


We watched this ambitious rufous-bellied heron struggle for over a quarter hour with a wiggly catfish. Seems impossible, given the size of the catfish, but eventually the heron swallowed it whole.

Rufous-belied Heron eating a catfish, Botswana


On sandy patches near the Chobe River, we came upon a flock of African Skimmers skimming the water for fish. Like all skimmer species, their lower mandible (bill) is longer than the upper mandible, enabling the bird to scoop up fish while flying.

African Skimmer, Botswana


Elsewhere in Botswana, the Okavango Delta is a swampy inland basin that is home to many species of water birds. Wading birds, with their typically long legs, could be seen everywhere.

Saddle-billed Stork, Okavango Delta. Photo by A. Alexander.

African Jacana


Flamingos are probably the most well-known long-legged wader. We found many colonies on lakes in Kenya and Tanzania. On different occasions, we watched a jackal and a hyena stalking and circling the flamingos…a good reason for this bird to stay in large, safe groups.

Flamingos, Tanzania


Kingfishers, a world-wide bird species always seen waterside, are in many parts of Africa. There are 18 species in Africa, here are two.

Giant Kingfisher, Botswana

Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Zambia


Another extensive aspect of Africa are the grasslands. The word “Serengeti” translates from the Maasai for “endless prairies.” Life here revolves around the grass.


Watching an ostrich run across the African grasslands is a supreme honor. They are the world’s largest bird and are prey to many hungry beasts, so their speed is paramount to survival. They run up to 45 miles (70 km) per hour.

Ostrich, male, Kenya. Photo by A. Alexander.


Other interesting grassland birds include the secretary bird and guineafowl.

Secretary Bird, Zambia


Vulturine Guineafowl, Kenya, Africa


Weaver birds build elaborate nests from the surrounding grass.

Weaver nest, Zambia

More about Weaver Nests in a previously written post.


In addition to water birds and grass birds, cohabitation between mammals and birds is fascinating. It is, after all, a land of extremes in terms of wildlife.


This goose and crocodile seem to have adopted the “live and let live” doctrine…at least for the moment.

Crocodile and Egyptian Goose, Zambia


Oxpecker birds, endemic to the savannas of sub-Saharan Africa, can often be found on the bodies of ungulates. They eat the ticks that annoyingly nestle into the mammals’ hide. Some sources say it is symbiotic, others say the birds are parasitic.

Oxpeckers on Sable Antelope, Botswana


This buffalo and oxpecker strike me as an unlikely pair.

African Buffalo with Oxpecker on the far left, Botswana. Photo by A. Alexander.


These cheeky cattle egrets were hitching a ride on hippos in the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania.

Ngorongoro Crater, hippos and cattle egrets


Another constantly occurring phenomenon on the eat-or-be-eaten plains of Africa is the hierarchy of species that gather around a freshly killed animal. While lions, cheetahs, or hyenas are often thought of as the fierce predators, the birds inevitably line up for their share of the carcass too.


And with large prey come large predatory birds.


One day along the Chobe River we had the rare opportunity of observing a pack of wild dogs hunting. They killed an impala and celebrated around it for at least half an hour. After the dogs were satiated and had left, these vultures moved in. You can see how big they are next to the antelope.

Vultures with prey, Botswana


This group of birds came in after the wild cats had left, settled into what remained of a baby elephant.

Vultures and Storks on carcass, Botswana


In Africa, birds are not the harmless little fluttery creatures we see in the rest of the world…but then it takes a special creature to live in the wilds of Africa. Thanks for joining the birds and me on this incredible continent.


Written by Jet Eliot.

All photos by Athena Alexander.

Southern Ground Hornbill, Zambia. Photo Athena Alexander.


109 thoughts on “Bird Life in Africa

  1. As a very young man Africa was the place I was going to not only visit but live someday!
    Getting first accustomed to the heat here in Florida was a good idea, right?
    What incredible photos and descriptions of these beautiful birds.
    Did you see all of these? and more I bet! wow!
    Enjoy these beautiful days Jet

    • Yes, I was fortunate to see all these birds, and yes, much more. Too many bird photos to squeeze them all in. Athena and I had a span of a decade where all we did was make money, save it, and go to Africa…make money, save it, and go to Africa. I’m so glad we did, and also so very glad I could bring these lovely birds to you, my friend. Thank you, Eddie.

  2. beautiful photos of birds and fascinating facts about our winged friends! the red and black bill of saddle-billed stork is so pretty. i’m amazed at how fast the ostrich could run given it’s size. and the group of long-legged flamingos must be awesome to watch! thank you for sharing as always, Jet! happy weekend πŸ™‚

    • I really appreciated your comment, Wilma. We didn’t often see the saddle-billed stork up so close, so that was fun. Glad you liked the ostrich and the flamingos. The large colonies of flamingos make sizzling sort of electric sounds, and yes, it is awesome to be near them. I hope your Friday breakfast was delicious and that your weekend is a joy.

  3. Incredible indeed! What diversity, and how striking some of these birds are. Definitely not cutesy, and I think the dinosaur-like hamerkop is my pick of the bunch.
    Thanks for this trip, Jet, and have a wonderful weekend!

    • A true pleasure to have you along for today’s African bird post, pc. I really like the hamerkops a lot, too. They are brown and often blend into the ground, so you have to be sharp-eyed to see them, and what a treat it is when you do. My best to you and Mrs. pc for a fabulous weekend.

  4. Such a group of unusual characters these birds are. They make me think of Mr. Potato Head, all their parts put together randomly. πŸ˜‰
    Great photos per usual, Athena.
    Have a great weekend ahead.

  5. Pingback: Bird Life in Africa β€” Jet Eliot |

  6. So wonderful to see these birds in Africa. Many are colorful and attractive and some can get along with animals. πŸ™‚ Beautiful photos, Jet. πŸ™‚

  7. That has got to be the weirdest collection of birds I have ever seen. Reading through your post I thought how exotic they were but as I read on the birds seemed to get crazier and crazier. Amazing creatures all of them.

    • I’m chuckling, Alastair. They are some truly unusual birds, aren’t they? I’m really glad you enjoyed it, and thanks so much for your comment. Always a pleasure.

  8. I don’t even know where to begin as there’s something interesting a/o attractive about each photo. The egrets on the hippos made me smile and the Hamerkop is really cool. I much prefer real flamingos to the evil plastic pink ones people like to put in their yards or gardens. πŸ™‚


  9. I wouldn’t want to tangle with most of those birds! I love the secretary bird – I’ve seen one – either down at the San Diego zoo or up at Safari West and couldn’t stop staring at it. It seems a combination of two different birds. That water buffalo looks like Winston Churchill making a speech. Pray tell, what was he saying?

    • I loved your rendition of the buffalo as Winston Churchill, Jan. Isn’t that a crazy photo? They are some scary beasts. And sometimes the jeep would come around a patch of tall grass, and there they would be in the path, just staring us down. The secretary bird is one of my favorite African birds. They’re fierce raptors but with crane legs. Not too easy to find, either. Thanks so much, I enjoyed your writer’s imagination, as always.

    • I’ve seen pink flamingos in the wild in Florida and the Galapagos, but the place to see them in masses like this is in Africa. They are really a joy to see. From the distance, with the wavering heat waves, they look like a pink cloud. Glad you enjoyed, and many thanks, Jill.

  10. What a variety of birds Jet. Stunning photos as always. The oxpecker and buffalo partnership is indeed fascinating. An unlikely duo those two. Although looking at the cattle egrets and hippos who am I to judge? πŸ™‚

    • Jambo Sue! I would guess you have seen many of these birds on your Africa trip, but I’m glad I could bring these birds to you today. I have found that most of us on safari stay focused on the big game, of course, myself included, so the birds sometimes get overlooked.

  11. Interesting post as always! I love wild animals roaming their lands freely. Your photos are great! One day I’ll tell you why I’m not crazy about going back to southern Africa. Your post is great! πŸ™‚

    • I love the wild animals roaming wild, too, HJ. There’s no place like Africa to enjoy this. Sounds like you’ve been but it didn’t go so well. But fun that I could entertain you with our beloved ornithological creatures today, HJ.

    • I love seeing wildlife from other parts of the world, too, montucky. And the world is so very big, and most of us can’t see all of it, so it’s a great pleasure to share what we’ve seen. My true thanks for your visit and wonderful comment.

  12. I was just thinking as I was reading that some of these guys could be harmful and sure enough you said they are not our fluttery little birds — great photos and write up.

    • Oh how I enjoyed hearing what you were thinking as you read, Bill, and then you got the answer. I’m grateful for your visit, as always, and sending you and N my love.

  13. This is probably my FAVOURITE post to date. Although I probably say that quite frequently on your posts. But being from South Africa and having observed some of these birds with my own eyes (the flamingoes in Namibia, the ostrich, in the Eastern cape, guineafowl and vultures) it is amazing to see how many I have yet to see and enjoy. Particularly the blue eared glossy starling. Wow, what a beaut! Those colours ~ reminiscent of the intensity of colour in the wild peacock in Sri Lanka and the kingfishers there. The lilac breasted roller is breathtaking and the red billed hornbill another beauty.

    Thank you Jet. Wonderful wonderful!!!


    • Hard to believe a bird as shimmery and brilliant as the blue-eared glossy starling exists, isn’t it Peta? Imagine my excitement in seeing a flock of them! I really appreciate your wonderful comment, and you sharing what you have seen as a South African and worldly being. The world is filled with beauty, sometimes we forget that, and birds are here to remind us. I’m delighted to have shared these with you, and thanks so much for stopping by.

    • I so agree, Andrea, and really enjoyed your words: “…something fantastic about the vultures too.” Huge, gnarly, sometimes ferocious taking charge in the Serengeti. Thanks so much for your visit today, my friend.

    • Yes, the birds in Africa are so very different. They also have songbirds and cranes and other birds that looks like the rest of the world’s, and of course, I love them all. Thanks for bringing a smile to my face today, Wayne. I enjoyed your comment. πŸ™‚

  14. Truly amazing variety you’ve both seen and captured here! I’m a bit envious of your adventures in lands far away. Those colorful birds at the beginning of your post were my favorites. That’s not to say that the rest weren’t equally fascinating. Even the vultures have their use, though they might not be the most photogenic birds I’ve ever seen. It seems it’s all about the pecking order! πŸ˜€

    • Yes, Gunta, you’re absolutely right: “…it’s all about the pecking order” in Africa. Those colorful birds at the beginning of truly spectacular, I’m glad you enjoyed them. Thank you, as always, for your visit. I have been spending a lot of time outside lately continuing to try to put order to the post-fire tumult; the weeds are literally as tall as me–invasives have taken over without the trees for shading. So I’ve fallen a bit behind in my blogging, but look forward to a visit soon. My warmest thanks.

      • We’re having our own struggles with the tenacious invasives here, not to mention the deer. But the wildlife returning in response to our efforts has been quite a reward. Wishing you luck and the energy to tackle the challenges.

  15. Thanks for another few interesting facts Jet. I didn’t know there was a bird called Hammerhead as well, I only knew of Hammerhead sharks. Nature is so fantastic, the African Skimmer with it’s practical beak, the Heron eating the whole catfish!, and the Ostrich running so fast, it’s all pretty amazing.

    • Really enjoyed your comment, Bertie, and observations. Nature is so very intoxicating, there is always something to learn and marvel; and I’m delighted I could share the joys of the African birds with you. Wonderful to hear from you.

    • Yes and Yes. The birds are fantastic in numerous African countries. And of course the big game are what most of us primarily focus on, because they are spectacular too. Thanks Dave, a pleasure to “see” you.

  16. And from Ben, who is just seeing this now.. I saved it for him, as a treat once his work was done.

    FANTASTIC FANTASTIC. Love it all, visually the guinea fowl steals best of show in your compilation. I remain baffled by the size of the vultures and love your observation that birds in Africa are not the “harmless little fluttery creatures”….! Very satisfying post. Good reward after my work and Peta is determined to get back to Africa some time soon. The birds were really her lure ~ ambassadors for Africa. Thank you.


    • I’m happy you and Peta both enjoyed the African birds, Ben; and I’m smiling with honor that this was an after-work treat for you. I would imagine that the two of you will find some beautiful birds in Vietnam as you get settled into your new surroundings. Many thanks to you both.

  17. You did a great job of conveying the uniqueness of Africa’s bird populations. No, they are decidedly NOT the “harmless little fluttery creatures” we are used to here! So beautiful in their own right, though.

    • Really fun to share the avian beauties of Africa with you, Nan. Some of those birds are taller than dogs! And ostriches are taller than me! My warm thanks for your wonderful visit.

  18. i’m amazed by these captures
    and stories of African birdies, Jet!
    wow, i may not ever see them
    any place other than here!
    glad you looked down occasionally
    so as not to accidentally step on hungry crocodiles πŸ™‚

    • Really enjoyed your poetic comment, David. I am delighted you enjoyed some of the unique-looking birds from this faraway land. We are fortunate to still have them on this planet with us, and what a joy for me to share them. Always, a warm thanks.

  19. Wow what a wonderful post!! I am new to looking at birds like this- absolutely love the Greater blue-eared glossy Starling!! What fascinating colors!! How long have you been a bird watcher??

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the birds here, lovepuppies1. I’ve been a birdwatcher for 28 years, and it’s always a new experience, and a bright joy. Thanks so much for your visit.

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