Traditionally the Kruger National Park is known for its big mammals and the Big 5, but there is much more to the park than just the big hairy scary’s. With more than 530 species recorded to date, the Kruger National Park ranks with some of the best birding destinations in the world! South Africa has 107 bird orders of which 88, or 82%, are represented in the KNP. The Park also boasts an incredible 57 diurnal raptor species! It is also home to the “Big 6 Birds”, which include the Southern Ground Hornbill, Kori Bustard, Martial Eagle, Saddle-Billed Stork, Pel’s Fishing Owl and Lapped-faced Vulture.
The Kruger National Park covers an area of about 20000km2 and forms part of a bigger conservation area which is called the Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which stretches over international borders and includes parks in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, along with private game reserves in South Africa. This combined area covers approximately 35000km2. This makes it one of the largest and species diverse parks in the world! The Park has some 13 different vegetation types which all are home to different bird species.
It has well-developed tourist infrastructure and is very accessible compared to other destinations in Africa. Accommodation types range from standard 3-star basic accommodation to 5-star luxury lodges. All major rest camps in the park are equipped with very good restaurants and fully stocked shops where all the necessities can be bought. The road infrastructure is well maintained with the major routes tarred and the rest are good gravel roads.
Safaris in the park can be conducted in Open Safari Vehicles or in closed airconditioned suv’s. The open safari vehicle is the preferred option, as these vehicles are designed to give you an all-round view and one can absorb all the sounds and smells of the bush. When coming on a birding or birding photographic safari, the open safari vehicles are unrivalled.
Birding Safaris can be a day trip, however we do recommend a longer stay to truly get some good birding done. We offer overnight trips that range from 1 night to the longer ones of up to 14 days. Typically, on our long trips we can cover more of the park and the different vegetation types. The 10-night, North to South trip is our best seller among birders. Even though we classify these trips as birding trips, we do also look at all the other animals in the park and we will definitely not bypass a good leopard, lion or elephant sighting! On our longer trips we normally get to see some incredible mammal sightings and manage to tick most of the normal species.
What can you expect on a birding safari with us?
Firstly, you will have an expert birding and photographic guide that knows the park like the back of his hand and knows where to find those specials. This is a very important aspect to any successful safari. A guide can make or break a safari and we select our guides carefully. Our guides are dedicated and will work hard to find the birds you are seeking.
As for the birding, it will depend largely on what time of the year you will be coming to visit. In our summer months, November to February, all the migrants are back, and the number of birds seen will typically be higher. Our winter months still offer good birding, and you can rack up a good list. Just to give an example, on a day trip in the winter month, you can see around 90 different birds whereas in summer that number can go up to about 120 to 130 birds. On a 4- or 5-night trip in summer you can get to 230 bird species and in winter about 130. Please remember these figures can change drastically due to weather and drought.
We custom make our safaris to your needs. We normally ask our guests what birds are on their wish list and work out an itinerary according to that to give us the best possible chance in finding the target species. Depending on the target species, we will also recommend a suitable time of the year, when you will have the best chance of finding the targeted species for example, if you would like to connect with the pennant-winged nightjar, then early November will be the best time to visit as the males are then in full breeding plumage and they display to get the females attention. After November they will lose the pennants and they stop displaying which then makes them unlikely to find. This is crucial to any birding safari for it to be success.
We own 2 of our open safari vehicles which have been designed purposefully to enhance your experience in the bush. Please follow the link () to see our open safari vehicles and how they work. You will also have bean bags for camera support, and we can also fit gimbal heads if requested at extra cost. We have a nice coffee station on the vehicle for those early mornings!
Accommodation wise we prefer to stay in the park camps in the basic accommodation SANParks has to offer. This allows us to be in the bush and we don’t need to go through entrance gates in the morning. In the summer months we also have the advantage that the camp gates open an hour earlier than the entrance gates which is crucial to get those early morning birds! The camps themselves are also very good birding spots. We often get species in the camps that are very difficult otherwise to find in the Kruger. The birds in the camps are also very habituated to people and allow for fantastic viewings and photographic opportunities. At night in the camps, we often hear and see the owls that roost in the camps like the African Scops Owl, African Barred Owlet and Barn Owls. It’s not only the owls that you might see at night in camp, but some nocturnal mammals such as the 2 bushbaby species, African Wild Cat, Genets, Honey Badgers and sometimes a Hyena at the perimeter fence comes to visit. When you do your safari in the summer, it becomes very hot during the day and the nights tend to be hot as well. For this reason, all the accommodation is airconditioned and most of the bigger camps do have swimming pools to cool down in.
Food and drinks we have different options available for you, however we normally like to treat our guests with a few traditional South African Braai’s (Barbeque) around a fire. Here we can share stories and listen to all the night sounds, if we are lucky, we might hear hyenas or lions roaring in the distance. We prepare some fantastic South African meats on the fire (you won’t get better anywhere else) and some sides like s braaibroodtjie (Toasted Sandwich prepared on the fire, believe me, you can’t stop eating them), garlic bread, sweet potato, or salads! These dinners will undoubtably be the best food on the trip! On the days where we don’t braai, we will use the restaurants for dinner. The restaurants in the park have top quality food. We then normally do a nice brunch in the late morning after a great session of birding at one of the camps or picnic sites and these will be either prepared for you by your guide or at one of the restaurants. Then the important question about drinks! We’ll all the shops are fully stocked with all the different beers, spirits, and wines. You can just head over to the shop and buy your drinks and enjoy them next to the fire after a hard, long, and hot day!
What to expect birding wise… Well, this depends greatly on the season, duration of your safari and the locations we will be birding.
The park can be divided in three sections, the North, Central and the Southern Section.
The North of the park is undoubtably the best area for birding, however not so great for game. The northern section of the park stretches from Letaba rest camp, all the way north to Pafuri gate. This area holds up to 75% of the biodiversity found in the park. It is every birders dream area to bird in and there are some birds that can only be found in the north of the park like Racket-Tailed Rollers, Arnot’s Chat, Three-Banded Courser, Lemon-breasted Canary, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Verraux’s Eagle, Dickinson’s Kestrel and Tropical Boubou to name a few. Other interesting birds that are more common in the north are the likes of Broad-billed Rollers, Purple Indigo Birds, Crowned Eagles, Eurasian and African Golden Orioles, Pennant-winged Nightjars, Ayre’s Hawk-eagle, Crested Guineafowl, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Bohms & Mottled Spinetails, Narina Trogon, Meve’s Starling and Southern Yellow White-eye to name a few. To do the Northern section, we suggest a safari with 5 nights in the park or more. Please click on the link () for packages.
The Central Region stretches from Thsokwane north to Letaba Rest camp. These areas are characterized by a lot of open grasslands and savanna. Here the general game viewings get better and is a great area to find lions and cheetah. You also have the chance to find one of only 3 natural born white lions, called Casper, around Satara. This area is very good for all your grassland species such as Common Ostrich, Kori Bustard, Black-bellied Bustard, Secretary Birds, Red-backed Shrikes, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Common Buttonquail, African Pipits, Rufous-naped and sabota Larks, Zitting Cisticola, Amur Falcons, Lesser Kestrel, Montagu’s & Pallid Harriers, Tawny & Martial Eagles, Bateleur Eagles, Burchells Starling, Most of the vulture species, African Harrier-hawk, Harlequin Quail, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, Namaqua Dove, African Sops Owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Brown Snake-eagles, Collared Pratincole and Bronze-winged Coursers to name only a few. We recommend at least 3 nights in the central region of the park. Please follow the link () if you would like to do a safari in the central region only.
The Southern section is undoubtably the best area for general game viewing with high concentrations of predators, especially leopards, but it is also the busiest area with tourists. Birding wise it is an excellent area with a high vegetation diversity which makes it a perfect area to find a lot of the general bird species. Bird species that you can expect to find in the south are Dark-chanting goshawk, Gorgeous, Orange-breasted & grey-headed bushshrikes, Shikra, African Goshawk, Black & Brown Crowned Tchagra’s, Black-backed Puffback, Southern Black-tit, Stierling’s Wren-warbler, Senegal & Crowned Lapwing, Brown-headed Parrots, White-browed & Red-capped Robin-chats, African Hawk-eagle, All the stork species, Shelly’s Francolin, Groundscraper Thrush, Red-headed, Lesser-masked, Southern-masked & Village Weavers, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Goliath, Purple, Grey, Striated, Squaqo & Black Headed Heron, Black-crowned Nightheron, Purple-crested Turaco, Red-winged Starling, House Sparrow, Creasted & Black-collard Barbets, African Green Pigeon, Woodland’s, Grey-headed, Brown-hooded, Striped, Giant, Malachite & Pied Kingfishers, Knob-Billed & White-faced Ducks, Chinspot Batis, Brubru, Lesser & Greater Honeyguides, Eastern Nicator, Retz’s & White Crested Helmet-shrikes, Southern Ground Hornbill, Southern Yellow-billed, Southern Red-billed, African Grey, Crowned and Trumpeter Hornbills, all 4 woodpecker species, Ashy, Spotted, Pale and Dusky Flycatchers, African Paradise Flycatcher, Great, Yellow-billed & Little Egrets, Whalberg’s Eagle, Gabar Goshawk and Magpie Shrikes to mention a few. This is really a great area to bird in, and you won’t be disappointed with your species count of birds and mammals alike after the safari. We Recommend at least 4 nights for the South of the Park. To view the packages, we have available for the south only, please click on the link ().
This is always a hot topic, however if you are looking to maximise your birding experience, there is no better time to come to the park between November and February! This is when all the migrants are back and the breeding birds in full breeding plumage. But this time of the year is also the hottest with a very high humidity, lots of thundershowers, the bush is very lush and green, makes it difficult for general game viewing and lots of insects. But all considered, it is totally worth it!
The winter months are not bad at all for birding, we still have lots of our resident species and we do get a lot of altitudinal migrants coming into the park from the highveld like Narina Trogon, Blue-mantled crested-flycatcher, Crimson-breasted shrikes & Stone Chats. These altitudinal migrants are not present during our summer months, and this alone makes it worthwhile to come in the winter. A lot of our big raptors also nest during this time. Added to that, it is undoubtably the best time for game viewing. As the season get drier and surface water disappears, animals are force to go and drink from the permanent rivers and dams. This makes for exciting game viewing as predators also know this and you often see predators on the hunt during this time. Although in winter it is dry, visibility in the bush is great, it’s not all good. Temperatures do drop during the evening, and it can become very chilly, especially in the early mornings on the back of a open safari vehicle! You need to dress very warmly!! To conclude, birding wise, Summer is the best time, but coming in winter will not disappoint you!!
Duration of a safari will largely depend on you and your budget. We do however recommend that you come for at least 3 or 4 nights to truly experience the Kruger National Park. As with all things, one does get quiet days in the park, or you dip on certain species on a particular day, then having an extra day or few more days in that area helps a lot! The more time you spend in the park the luckier you get! We have various options and packages available to you, but our favourite trips are the 7-night, 10-night & 13-night Safaris. These longer safaris allow us at least 2 days in a certain camp and make for a far more relaxing safari experience. By staying at least 2 nights in a camp means that we don’t need to check in and out every time and allows us to rest up or go for a swim during the hottest parts of the day when bird activity dies down. You are welcome to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and chat to me about this. We can always work something out that will suite you with the time that you have available.
If you are looking to do a birding & wildlife safari in the Kruger National Park, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I will gladly assist you in all your questions you have and together we will plan the best Kruger Birding Experience for You!
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