Birding in South Africa’s National Parks

Southern Africa, south of the Zambezi and Cunene Rivers, has a checklist of more than 950 bird species, of which more than 10% are endemic to the subregion.

Words by Rob Little, FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, UCT. Images by Maans Booysen.

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Cape Spurfowl.

South Africa hosts about one tenth of the world’s bird species and almost a third of Africa’s bird species. Avitourism – or travelling birdwatching – is growing in South Africa, with an influx of international tourists visiting southern Africa.

Ecotourism, including avitourism, has the potential to alleviate poverty by bringing money into the economy and by creating jobs. This type of ecotourism attracts domestic and foreign tourists to visit and experience the natural environments of a country while promoting and supporting the conservation of its biodiversity.

South Africa’s 19 national parks offer excellent birding, with each park representing the habitat biomes that they respectively conserve. Of the 700 regularly seen terrestrial species in South Africa, at least 640 can be found in the 19 national parks, with 13 of the 18 species endemic to South Africa and another 19 of the 20 species endemic to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. A further 56 species are endemic to southern Africa, bringing the total number of southern African endemics found in the parks to 88 species. While the north-eastern parks are the most species-rich regarding birds, the south-western parks have the highest proportion of endemic bird species. It is no wonder then that 12 of the 19 national parks make up, or are contained within, a BirdLife South Africa Global Important Bird and Biodiversity Area.

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Drakensberg Rock Jumper

Because of the conservation status and tranquil ambiance of our national parks, many animals including birds are relaxed and quite accepting of the presence of visitors. Some birds can actually be fairly tame, such as the Cape spurfowl frequently spotted amongst visitors at Geelbek restaurant in West Coast National Park, and the Natal spurfowl seen at many camps in the Kruger National Park.

Additional information about the book [publication due mid-1918]

Rob Little is the author of Birding in South Africa’s National Parks (Jacana), which is soon to hit the shelves. This is the first book dedicated to birding in South Africa’s national parks. The book offers a concise introduction and summary of birding in the parks. Interesting facts about where to find birds, including the special birds of each park, and a description of general habitats, are presented in a readable fashion. This will be a worthy addition to the bookshelves of bird enthusiasts.

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