Birding Safaris

Africa is a bird-lover’s paradise. An African birding safari stands to be the trip of a lifetime for amateur birders, seasoned veterans, and nature enthusiasts. With incredible species diversity, fall in love with Africa on an unforgettable bird tour. Find out more about birding safaris, read interviews with guides, and find out what to pack to get the most out of your safari.

INTRODUCTION

“If you are yearning for the unfamiliar, chasing new and exciting species, the mind boggles at the sheer variety of birds one stands to see around Africa”

Few activities send the senses into high alert quite like birding. A call from a thicket, the flash of feathers on the ground, in the water, and in the sky can transform the outdoors from peaceful repose and seemingly ‘empty’ landscape to avian rock concert depending on your enthusiasm. And, without question, bird-watching presents a superlative excuse to go on an African bird tour safari.

If you ever needed a reason to go birding in as many places as possible, Simon Barnes says it perfectly in his wonderful book The Meaning of Birds: “A bird is the place it lives in. It eats the place. It makes the sound of the place. The sighting of a bird gives you, the watching human, an instant understanding of the place you find yourself in. We often claim that a bird is the spirit or the embodiment of the place. Birds, more than any other living things, define the place they live in for the human observer. […] Birds unite the mobile human with the places we travel to and then they reward us all over again when we return home.”

A man sitting in a bird hide looking through a pair of binoculars with a bird book and satchel at his side
A passion for seeing the world in birds takes bird-lovers to extraordinary places

As any bird-lover knows, having your eyes to the skies unlocks a plethora of experiences and, in some cases, drives them in the first place. A passion for seeing the world in birds takes bird-lovers to extraordinary places – places that are often wild and remote – to build a lifetime of outdoor stories, learning the world through its birds. In Africa’s wild places, the things you see while birding are usually the icons of safari – wildlife of startling majesty which is a landmark sighting for every naturalist.

The continent of Africa is home to some 2364 species of birds, 1584 (67%) of which are endemic. If you are yearning for the unfamiliar, chasing new and exciting species, the mind boggles at the sheer variety of birds one stands to see around Africa. Uganda has also added new species to that list every year, with ten new species recorded since 2012. And so Africa continues to be the Dark Continent, endowed with the magnetism that comes from exploring the unknown, being a pioneer, and giving us a chance to revel in the undiscovered.

We chatted to some of the most passionate birders in the field. Scroll down to read the interviews.

A crowned hornbill in flight
A Cape Turtle Dove perched between rocks

TROPICAL BIRDING

“Bird tour leaders are trained experts at helping both beginners and folks that may be on their 20th trip have a good time. ”
- Keith Barnes, Tropical Birding

A lifelong passion for birds underpins the ethos at Tropical Birding. Keith Barnes started this bird tour operation 20 years ago with a friend. What has ensued is decades of birding experiences that span the globe. We chatted with Keith for insights on Africa as a birding destination and travel advice, as well as some of his stories from the last two decades of bird tours.

Read the full interview with Keith Barnes >

Tropical Birding Tours

LAWSON'S BIRDING

“My field of view happened upon a small brown bird drinking at the water’s edge and the word ‘Bingo!’ went through my brain. This was no ordinary brown bird…”
- Leon Marais, Lawson's Birding

A well-established family enterprise, Lawson’s Birding, Wildlife, and Custom Safaris specialise in guided birding and wildlife tours in Africa. Leon Marais spoke to us about all things Africa, a lifetime of birding on the continent, and offered helpful advice and tips for first-time birders and anyone contemplating a bird tour.

Read the full interview with Leon Marais >

Lawson's Birding

ROCKJUMPER BIRDING TOURS

“Everywhere has its attractions if you're into birds.”
- Adam Riley, Rockjumper

Bird-lovers are bearers of fantastic stories and can hold you enthralled with tales of their adventures. Rockjumper is one of the foremost worldwide birding tour companies. Owner and tour leader Adam Riley combines the encyclopaedic with the anecdotal as he guides us through the world of birds, bird safaris, and his favourite African destinations.

Read the full interview with Adam Riley >

Rockjumper Birding Tours
A man on safari carrying a canvas backpack looks through a pair of binoculars

Birding safari essentials

Both Keith Barnes and Leon Marais suggest getting a bird app or taking a trusty, traditional bird book with on your birding safari. Adam Riley recommends fast-drying zip-off trousers as a must-have packing item for birding safaris. Binoculars are common amongst all three bird guides as essential to the success of any birding tour. We combined their expert advice with our packing know-how to come up with the following list. Click on the images below to shop the birding safari packing essentials and get your comprehensive safari packing list here.

A man on safari looking through a pair of binoculars High-quality binoculars. A fundamental tool in bird identification, binoculars give you the luxury of undisturbed observation; a way to see detail which would be otherwise impossible with the naked eye. Recommended magnification for birding binoculars ranges from 10x42 to 8x32 depending on personal preference.
A pair of binoculars resting on top of a bird book A local bird book or app. Give a name to the exciting species you spot along the way. Download an app on your phone or take a bird book which will help you to identify and record birds that you have spotted.
A woman on safari wearing a wide-brimmed hat Sun protection. A bad sunburn is very uncomfortable and will affect the enjoyment of your travels. Protect yourself from the harsh African sun with sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat.
A man spraying insect repellent on his arm Insect protection. On a birding safari, you will often walk through bush and in forests in pursuit of different species and to explore different habitats. Protect yourself from ticks, mosquitoes, and insect bites with anti-insect clothes and effective Australian-made insect repellent.

A woman jumping across a small stream on safari Fast-drying clothing. Early morning dew, humid and muggy forest conditions, river-crossings, and rain can mean wet clothing. Wear lightweight, quick-drying fabrics to ensure you don't spend the whole day in wet clothes. This also helps for quick wash and wear for lightweight, minimal packing.
A torch can help you find the night birds while on safari A good torch. Don't miss out on birds as daylight disappears. A flashlight will assist in spotting nocturnal birds such as owls and nightjars. Please avoid shining into the birds' eyes.
A woman walking in a pair of boots Comfortable walking shoes. Sometimes you have to walk far to get to the best birding spots, so we recommend a comfortable pair of walking shoes to get you there.
A woman wearing a dark green fleece jacket on safari A fleece or jacket. The best times for birding can also be the coldest times. No matter how hot the average midday temperature, it is more than likely that you will encounter some very cold conditions on safari - making a warm layer a packing essential.
A pretty green twinspot bird perched on a branch
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