© Pink Backed Pelican © Nigel Dennis
Bird life in Kruger Park is many and varied. The park is home to the majority of South African raptors, while vultures occur most in central grasslands. Eagles are commonly found in woodlands along drainage lines.
See our Kruger Birding Guide
for detailed descriptions of all the best driving routes in Kruger Park, complete with birding calendars and bird habitat maps.
Nineteenth-century hunters named these vocal birds 'go-away birds', a reference to their call and their habit of alerting game to the presence of a hunter.
The shy Greenbacked Heron belongs to the Ardeidae family, which includes herons, egrets and bitterns. Sixteen members of the family have been recorded in Kruger. As these birds feed mostly on aquatic animals, some species are present only during wet years.
In an unusual display, a female Saddlebilled Stork at Sunset Dam near Lower Sabie repeatedly throws a stick into the air and retrieves it amidst much flapping of her wings. These storks breed mainly in February and March, and both sexes build a nest of sticks in the crest of a tree near to water. As there were no other storks present at the dam, it is unlikely that this was courtship behaviour. Perhaps the stork was practicing catching fish.
These large eagles catch a wide variety of prey including guineafowl, ducks, small antelope, hares and reptiles.
The Bateleur Eagle hunts a wide range of birds, small mammals and reptiles. It will also scavenge and has been observed stealing food from other eagles and vultures. This eagle spends much of the day on the wing, often swooping in acrobatic flight, behaviour in keeping with its common name, which is French for 'acrobat'.
Egyptian Geese feed on grass, seeds, aquatic rhizomes and tubers. These birds are territorial and will frequently fly up and down a dam to mark their territory. Egyptian Geese breed throughout the year, and lay their eggs in a nest hidden in dense vegetation. Both sexes take care of the young, and newly hatched chicks leave the nest six hours after hatching in response to a call from the female.
A resident of dams, pans and marshes
, the Blackwinged Stilt feeds by sweeping its bill over the water in search of insects, worms, crustaceans and molluscs. The young are usually raised during the dry winter months in a nest built on the ground, or on top of a mound of vegetation placed in shallow water.
A Reed Cormorant dries its wings between fishing expeditions. These birds feed on very small frogs and fish weighing no more than a few grams. They usually fish alone, although they roost together in reed beds and in dead trees.
The Hamerkop is the only member of its family, and this fascinating bird is regarded as an ill omen
by many African people (perhaps in part because of its curious mating dance and uncanny appearance). A solitary bird, the Hamerkop feeds mainly on frogs and fish
. It builds a sizeable nest from twigs, reeds and weeds, that can weigh as much as 50 kilograms, in the fork of a robust tree or on a cliff. Construction of the nest can take up to six months.
The hisses and squeals of the Whitebacked Vulture
are a common sound at the remains of a kill after the larger predators have eaten their fill. These vultures feed mostly on the softer parts of an animal and will follow other scavengers to locate food. The much larger lappetfaced vulture
weighs between six and eight kilograms. Its powerful bill is able to tear through tough hide, and lappetfaced dominate all other vultures gathered around a carcass.
In an unusual display, a female Saddlebilled Stork
at Sunset Dam near Lower Sabie repeatedly throws a stick into the air and retrieves it amidst much flapping of her wings. These storks breed mainly in February and March, and both sexes build a nest of sticks in the crest of a tree near to water. As there were no other storks present at the dam, it is unlikely that this was courtship behaviour. Perhaps the stork was practicing catching fish.
This is a common bird that often gathers at picnic sites. During its breeding season in summer, the female is sealed inside a nest
in a hollow tree with only a narrow slit for an opening. Food is passed into the nest by the male, who spends much of the day catching insects to feed the female. About 20 days after the first egg has hatched, the female breaks out and the chicks reseal the nest without any help from the parents.
The Ground Hornbill is an intriguing and rare bird that weighs up to four kilograms. It is reluctant to fly
, and groups range in size from two to eight birds. It may be seen foraging on the ground for reptiles, frogs, snails and small mammals. Only one female in a group breeds, and she lays two eggs at the beginning of summer in a hollow tree. While attending the eggs, the female is fed by the adult male and sometimes by immature birds.
Noisy, colourful and conspicuous, the glossy starling feeds on insects, fruit and aloe nectar
, as indicated in the photograph. Aloes flower in winter and provide these birds with an ample food source. Starlings often gather at picnic sites, where their resonant calls are an integral part of the distinct ambience of Kruger Park.
The Crested Barbet bores holes in dead trees
and raises its young from August to February. These birds are often seen hopping about on the ground, with tail and crest feathers erect, in search of insects.
The Blue Waxbill is the most common of the four Waxbill species found in the Park. Small groups are often seen foraging for seeds on the ground. They have been known to build their nests near wasps
The Burchell's Coucal's watery call
is often heard before the onset of rain, which has earned it the nickname of rainbird. This coucal is often encountered in riverine bush and in dense stands of grass, where it perches in low bushes and hunts for prey.
Scarlet Chested Sunbird
The Scarlet Chested Sunbird is one of the more striking of the six Sunbird species
that occur in Kruger Park. This bird is common in Rest Camps, where it can be seen feeding on nectar from aloes and coral trees.
Of five species of Roller recorded in Kruger
, only the Lilac-Breasted and Purple Roller can be seen throughout the year. Whether hawking insects or perching on a branch near the roadside, Lilac-Breasted Rollers display a feathery palette of dazzling colours.
Particularly partial to giraffe, these birds consume vast numbers of ticks each day, and their loud hissing call
is the sound most often associated with the usually silent Giraffe.
At times unkindly likened to an undertaker, the Marabou Stork is primarily a scavenger
, but its diverse diet includes frogs, snakes, lizards, young crocodiles, fish, rodents, birds and carrion.By Nigel Dennis & Michael Brett.