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South Africa has an amazing total of endemic bird species, the highest number on the African continent: 18 true endemics, 50 near endemics (with more than 70% of their range within the borders of South Africa), and one breeding near-endemic, making a grand total of 69 birds endemic or near-endemic to southern Africa.

South Africa’s national bird is the Blue Crane, a small, elegant crane and arguably one of the world’s classiest birds, with a gunpowder blue plumage, massively extended primary plumes and an exhilarating and elegant courtship dance. This species is mostly restricted to South Africa.

Please click here to view and download South Africa’s complete bird checklist, as well lists of the country’s endemic and near-endemic species.

Listed below are 18 South African true endemics whose range is entirely restricted to South Africa, along with their conservation status. Many of these are threatened due to a variety of reasons, mostly due to habitat loss.

Thanks to Chris Lotz of Birding Ecotours for helpful comments that improved the contents of this page. Find out more about endemic birds here:

  • Rudd’s Lark (Heteromirafra ruddi). Endangered.
  • Botha’s Lark (Spizocorys fringillaris). Endangered.
  • Fynbos Buttonquail (Turnix hottentottus). Endangered.
  • Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus). Endangered.
  • Knysna Warbler (Bradypterus sylvaticus). Vulnerable.
  • Red Lark (Calendulauda burra). Vulnerable.
  • Southern Black Korhaan (Afrotis afra). Vulnerable.
  • Yellow-breasted Pipit (Anthus chloris). Vulnerable.
  • Knysna Woodpecker (Campethera notata). Near threatened.
  • Protea Seedeater (Crithagra leucoptera). Near threatened.
  • Cape Rockjumper (Chaetops frenatus). Near threatened.
  • Agulhas Long-billed Lark (Certhilauda brevirostris). Near threatened.
  • Cape Bulbul (Pycnonotus capensis). Least Concern.
  • Cape Long-billed Lark (Certhilauda curvirostris). Least Concern.
  • Victorin’s Warbler (Cryptillas victorini). Least Concern.
  • Orange-breasted Sunbird (Anthobaphes violacea) Least Concern.
  • Cape Siskin (Crithagra totta). Least Concern.
  • Cape Sugarbird (Promerops cafer). Least Concern.

Of the endemic and near-endemic birds of South Africa, there are 49 species present in KwaZulu-Natal Province, making this region a must on any birders’ wish list.

KwaZulu-Natal Province provides southern Africa’s most diverse area for birding, including forest, grassland, wetland, bushveld, mountain, estuarine, coastline and open ocean habitats. At least 750 of South Africa’s 865 recorded species occur in KwaZulu-Natal. Two birding routes, the Southern KwaZulu-Natal Birding Route and the Zululand Birding Route, have been set up in the province.

The Southern KwaZulu-Natal Birding Route takes you from the golden beaches and lush forests of South Africa’s south coastline through the beautiful Midlands and up to the spectacular heights of the Drakensberg Mountains. The variety of habitat and a bird list in excess of 550 species including many rare and endemic species such as Blue Swallow, Cape Parrot, Drakensberg Rockjumper, all three southern African Crane species, and Bearded Vulture.

The Zululand Birding Route covers a zone where more than 600 bird species have been recorded. This route is grouped into four regions, with five different birding areas. Each birding area has its own unique character and set of special bird species.

More information about these birding routes can be found on this link:

How does one compile a list of must-see or iconic birds of South Africa?

An icon is not always the biggest, the fastest, the flashiest or the most pervasive. An icon is something that captures the spirit of a time or the essence of a place. It’s different for everyone, but the following are some of the local organising committee favourites.


The Black Harrier is a graceful, medium-sized, charcoal-black bird with striking white markings, piercing yellow eyes and a long-barred tail. It is a rare near-endemic raptor with a restricted distribution that is mainly centred in the fynbos and karoo areas of the Western and Eastern Cape of South Africa. Black Harriers breed close to coastal and upland marshes and are migratory birds. The majority of these birds undertake an unusual west-east migration. Their annual movements cover the southern half of the land surface of South Africa (including Lesotho); however, there is great individual variability. It is believed that the Black Harrier has lost about 50% of its preferred habitat over the last century because of habitat transformation from agricultural activities and the burning of fynbos and grasslands. As a result of its small population and restricted range, the Black Harrier is classified as Near Threatened within its South African range and globally Vulnerable with an estimated total world population of 1000 to 2000 birds.
One of only two sugarbirds in the world, and a family endemic to southern Africa, they can be found only in two provinces of South Africa (Western and Eastern Cape). Cape Sugarbirds generally inhabit mountain slopes in the fynbos biome. They occasionally visit gardens in rural and urban areas to find food. The Cape Sugarbird is easy to recognise. They are a buffy-grey colour, with a yellow vent and a long flowing tail. The bill is long and decurved. They are specialist nectar feeders, feeding mainly on Proteaceae. Their long brush-tipped tongues are adapted for collecting the nectar of a variety of species of protea. Although the staple diet of this sugarbird is nectar; they will also consume spiders and insects. Gurney’s Sugarbird, the other member of the Promeropidae family, can be found in KwaZulu-Natal.
The Knysna Turaco (Lourie) occurs in eastern southern Africa, is a relatively large turaco, and one of 23 members of a bird family endemic to Africa. It is a resident breeder in the mature evergreen forests of southern and eastern South Africa and Eswatini. The Knysna Turaco has an elegant, rounded crested, which is tipped white. The primary flight feathers are bright red – only visible when the bird is in flight. They are usually seen flying between forest trees and hopping with agility along branches. The turacos red (turacin) and green (turacoverdin) colours contain copper. It has a loud, harsh kow-kow-kow-kow call.
The Orange-breasted Sunbird is the only member of the bird genus Anthobaphes. This sunbird is endemic to the fynbos habitat of southwestern South Africa. The male is a stunning sunbird with a fiery-orange belly and an iridescent purple breast band, and a green head. The female and juvenile are a dull olive, with slightly paler underparts. Singles, pairs, and small groups are tied to fynbos heathland, where they feed mostly on the nectar of Erica and Protea flowers. The species may be nomadic when its preferred flowers are absent, shifting to gardens and the edge of the Karoo. It gives a distinctive tinny, rapidly repeated “tshuuew” contact call.
The Namaqua Sandgrouse is a species of ground-dwelling bird found in arid regions of southwestern Africa. It is common in the Kalahari Desert, the Nama Karoo (in central and western South Africa), and parts of the Western Cape. It is nothing short of gorgeous, with vivid markings and a stout stature that provides them with character. At the base of the male’s neck are two bold stripes, one white and one dark brown. It is the only sandgrouse in South Africa with a long pointed tail. They are well-known for their characteristic call, which sounds remarkably like the word “kelkiewyn”, the Afrikaans name for the species, meaning “glass of wine”. The Namaqua Sandgrouse is a tough character that thrives in harsh conditions. It favours deserts and other arid areas. This bird needs only seeds, gravel, and access to some sort of fresh water source to survive. They can fly more than 50 km between roosting areas, feeding grounds and water sources.
The Secretarybird is a large, mostly terrestrial bird of prey. Endemic to Africa, it is usually found in the open grasslands and savanna of the sub-Saharan region. This large raptor is apparently named for the crest of long feathers at the back of its neck that resemble quill pens that 19th-century clerks stuck into their wigs (although other sources for their name are also suggested.) Unlike other birds of prey, the Secretarybird has very long legs and tail. Its plumage is light grey, except for the black wingtips, tail and thighs. Its face is covered in red and yellow skin. Although they are adept fliers, sometimes soaring high into the sky, Secretarybirds hunt on foot, covering up to 30 km a day, earning the title ‘Africa’s marching eagle’. Secretarybirds utilise the thickened soles of their feet to stamp on their prey, stunning it and then swallowing it whole. The Secretarybird has traditionally been admired in Africa for its striking appearance and ability to deal with pests and snakes. It is a prominent feature on the coat of arms of South Africa, which was adopted in 2000.
The Southern Black Korhaan is a member of the bustard family, Otididae. This relatively small bustard is endemic to South African, only occurring in southwestern South Africa, from Namaqualand, south to Cape Town and east to Makhanda. The name korhaan refers to the loud and repeated “kor-kor” calls of the male black bustards. These are performed either from a prominent high point such as a termite mound or in aerial display flights over their territories. Males are striking with their black and white underparts and red bills, whereas the secretive females who incubate the eggs and raise the chicks are far more cryptically plumaged.


The Cape Parrot only occurs in South Africa and is closely associated with yellowwood (Podocarpus/ Afrocarpus) forests. The distribution of the Cape Parrot is restricted to a mosaic of Afromontane Southern Mistbelt forests from Hogsback in the Eastern Cape through to the Balgowan and Karkloof areas of KwaZulu-Natal and Magoeboeskloof in Limpopo. The Cape Parrot’s lifestyle is focused on yellowwood trees for breeding, feeding and social interactions. Fruit kernels of yellowwood trees are only available from June through to November. Yellowwoods are mast fruiting and these fruiting events can be separated by long intervals of six to seven years. Due to the variable fruiting phenology of yellowwood species, the Cape parrot is considered a food nomadic, moving between forest patches and occasionally making long foraging trips to coastal forests or visiting food sources outside of forests, including commercial orchards and gardens during the summer months when food is scarce. Foraging is concentrated in the first and last few hours of daylight. Often confused with the more widely distributed Grey-headed Parrot, the Cape Parrot is the only endemic South African parrot species.
Denham’s Bustard is widespread in KwaZulu-Natal, where it is found in both upland grasslands and low-lying coastal grasslands of north-eastern Zululand and adjacent Mozambique Denham’s Bustard breeds over much of sub-Saharan Africa. It is a species of open ground, including agricultural land, grassland, floodplains and burnt fynbos. It is resident, but some inland populations move to lower altitudes in winter.
The Drakensberg Rockjumper is a medium-sized insectivorous passerine. It is endemic to the alpine grasslands and rock outcrops of the Drakensberg Mountains of south-eastern South Africa and Lesotho. This ground-nesting species forages on rocky slopes and scree. It is frequently found perching on rocks. The Drakensberg Rockjumper features on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It can be seen on the undulating slopes of the Kamberg and the 4×4-only Sani Pass, which follows a series of switchbacks to a remote Lesotho border. Here, the tussocky grass, mossy boulders and clumped heather of the Alpine zone are the easiest place to find this high-altitude endemic bird as well as the Mountain Pipit.
Gurney’s Sugarbird is one of only two species in the family Promerodpidae, a family entirely endemic to Southern Africa. The beautiful Gurney’s is smaller than its cousin, the Cape Sugarbird, and sports a rufous breast and crown. Usually seen singly or in pairs, Gurney’s Sugarbirds only congregate in larger numbers at rich food sources. When breeding, they form monogamous bonds, with the male defending the pair’s territory while the female builds the nest. Gurney’s Sugarbird is found in South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique, eSwatini and Zimbabwe. A reliable site for this species is Giant’s Castle in the central Drakensberg. It generally prefers montane habitats with Aloe, Protea and Strelitzia, also occupying Protea farms; its distribution is strongly linked to that of the Silver protea.
The Orange Ground Thrush is a species of bird in the family Turdidae. Its population size is not known; however, its population is declining mainly because of habitat loss. The Orange Ground Thrush prefers areas in the forest where little vegetation occurs at 1.0-1.5 m and where a good layer of leaf litter is present. It is a relatively large, brown-backed, orange-breasted thrush with bold white wing-bars, an olive crown, a black bar below the eye, and a broken white eye-ring. It has rufous-orange lores and underparts, with white mid-belly to under tail coverts. It is generally shy and scarce. The Karkloof is an exceptional, unspoilt area in the Natal Midlands, protecting Mistbelt grasslands, wetlands and huge tracts of Mistbelt forest. Benvie Garden in the Karkloof is possibly the best place in the world to find and photograph this special bird species.
The Southern Bald Ibis is endemic to South Africa with its core range and breeding strongholds in KwaZulu-Natal (Drakensberg), Free State and Mpumalanga. The Southern Bald Ibis is a relatively large bird found in open grassland with a total breeding population of approximately 4600 birds. These birds breed colonially on open cliffs of mountain faces and river gorges, sometimes around waterfalls. The Southern Bald Ibis is currently listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and is listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The Ground Woodpecker is one of only three ground-dwelling woodpeckers globally, and it’s southern Africa’s only woodpecker not associated with trees. It inhabits mainly barren, steep, boulder-strewn slopes in relatively cool hilly and mountainous areas of South Africa, Lesotho and eSwatini. The Ground Woodpecker is an olive-grey bird with a pinkish-red belly and rump and cream-barred wings. It is the largest woodpecker in South Africa. Its far-carrying ‘dwerr’ call is synonymous with the rolling, treeless landscapes where it occurs. The Ground Woodpecker is a locally common, endemic species of rocky, hilly slopes in fynbos, karoo and grassland. Their diet is highly specialised, including ants, ant broods and alates, termites (Isoptera), beetles and other insects, and mites.