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South Africa has an amazing total of the highest number of endemics on the continent: 19 true endemics, 2 breeding endemics, 1 winter endemic and 45 endemics with more than 70% of their range within the borders of South Africa, making a grand total of 69 birds endemic to Southern African.

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

Three of South Africa’s sunbirds fall into this category, the stunning Orange-breasted Sunbird is a true endemic restricted to the southwestern Cape’s unique Fynbos. Two near-endemics are Greater Double-collared and Southern Double-collared Sunbird.

The winter endemic is the Long-tailed Pipit appears every winter in the area around Kimberley, but much about this bird is still a mystery.

Please click here to view and download Southern Africa’s full list of endemic birds and red check list.

Listed below are 20 remarkable “endemics” of the 69 South African endemics that actually occur in all three countries (South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho).

  • Blue bustard (Eupodotis caerulescens) near-threatened
  • Buff-streaked chat (Campicoloides bifasciatus)
  • Bush blackcap (Sylvia nigricapillus) vulnerable
  • Chorister robin-chat (Cossypha dichroa)
  • Drakensberg prinia (Prinia hypoxantha)
  • Drakensberg Rockjumper (Chaetops aurantius) near-threatened
  • Drakensberg siskin (Crithagra symonsi)
  • Eastern long-billed lark (Certhilauda semitorquata)
  • Forest buzzard (Buteo trizonatus) near-threatened
  • Forest canary (Crithagra scotops)
  • Greater double-collared sunbird (Cinnyris afer)
  • Grey-winged francolin (Scleroptila africanus)
  • Ground woodpecker (Geocolaptes olivaceus) near-threatened
  • Knysna turaco (Tauraco corythaix)
  • Mountain pipit (Anthus hoeschi) near-threatened
  • Southern bald ibis (Geronticus calvus) vulnerable
  • Yellow-tufted pipit (Anthus crenatus)

Of the endemic birds of Southern Africa, there are 63 species are present in KwaZulu-Natal making this region a must on any birders’ wish list.

The province provides Southern Africa’s most diverse area for birding from forest, grassland, wetland, bushveld, mountains, estuarine, coastline and open ocean habitats. Dived in two sub-routes, the Southern KwaZulu-Natal Birding Route and the Zululand Birding Route.

The Southern KwaZulu-Natal Birding Route takes you from the golden beaches and lush forests of South Africa’s south coastline through the beautiful Lowveld 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, Eurasian Bittern, all three southern African Crane species, Bearded Vulture.

With more than 600 species recorded, the Zululand Birding Route are grouped into four regions, with five different birding areas. Each birding area has its own unique character and set of special bird species.

How does one compile a list of must see or the most iconic birds of Southern 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.


African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus)

The African penguin is endemic to coastal areas of southern Africa and is the only penguin species that occurs off the coast of Africa, and it is endemic to the coast of southern Africa, from Hollams Bird Island, near the central Namibian coast, to Algoa Bay off the coast of the Eastern Cape, South Africa. They occur mostly on islands along the coast, but there are two populations on the mainland in South Africa, at Betty’s Bay and Boulders Beach in the Cape Town area. It is the only penguin species that breeds in Africa.

It is a charismatic species that is known for its loud donkey-like braying noises, distinctive black and white plumage and large breeding colonies. It is a flightless bird that is well adapted to life at sea and land. The body is streamlined with modified wings that resemble flippers, which enable them to be efficient swimmers, and a thick coat with overlapping feathers that assists with waterproofing, wind resistance and insulation.

Each African penguin has a unique and distinct pattern of black spots on the white chest that can be used to distinguish individuals from one another. The African penguin has a black bill and shortened tail.Males and females have the same plumage, making it difficult to differentiate between sexes.

Black Harrier (Circus maurus)

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 endemic raptor with restricted distribution that is mainly centered in the fynbos and Karoo areas of the Western and Eastern Cape of South Africa.

This species prefers coastal and mountain fynbos, highland grasslands, Karoo sub-desert scrub and open plains with low shrubs and croplands. Harriers breed close to coastal and upland marshes, damp sites, near vleis or streams with tall shrubs or reeds. Black harriers are migratory birds and their annual movements cover the southern half of the land surface of South Africa (including Lesotho) however, there is great individual variability. The majority of these birds undertake an unusual west–east migration.

It is believed that the Black Harrier has lost about 50% of its preferred habitat over the last century due to habitat transformation because of agricultural activities and 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.

Cape Sugarbird (Promerops cafer)

One of only two sugarbirds found in South Africa, they can be found only in two provinces of South Africa (Western and Eastern Cape). Cape sugarbird inhabits mountain slopes in the fynbos biome. It occasionally visits 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 (under tail) and a long flowing tail. The bill is long and decurved. They are specialist nectar feeders, feeding mostly off Proteaceae. Its long, sharp beak is used to reach the nectar of a variety of species of protea with its long brush-tipped tongue. The staple diet of this sugarbird is nectar; however, it will also eat spiders and insects

Knysna Lourie (Tauraco corythaix)

The Knysna turaco (Tauraco corythaix), or, in South Africa, Knysna lourie, is a large turaco, one of a group of African musophagidae birds. It is a resident breeder in the mature evergreen forests of southern and eastern South Africa, and Swaziland. The Knysna Lourie is found only in South Africa and particularly in the Knysna area of the Garden Route. The Knysna Loerie are also resident on the coast of the Eastern Cape and in KwaZulu-Natal.

The Knysna Loerie has a tall, elegant, rounded crested, which is tipped white. The primary wing flight feathers are bright red – which can be seen when the bird is in flight. Usually seen flying between forest trees and hopping with agility in trees and along branches. Turacos are one of only 2 species of birds to possess true red and green colours. The turacos red (turacin) and green (turacoverdin) colours contain copper. The colours you see in most bird species is a reflection produced by the feathers. It has a loud kow-kow-kow-kow call.

Orange-breasted Sunbird (Anthobaphes violacea)

The orange-breasted sunbird is the only member of the bird genus Anthobaphes; however, it is sometimes placed in the genus Nectarinia. 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 green head. The female and juvenile are 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.

Namaqua Sandgrouse (Pterocles namaqua)

The Namaqua sandgrouse, is a species of ground-dwelling bird in the sandgrouse family. It is found in arid regions of south-western Africa. It is common in the Kalahari Desert, the Nama Karoo (in central and western South Africa), and in parts of the Western Cape.

It is nothing short of gorgeous, with vivid markings and a stout stature that gives them character. At the base of the neck are two bold stripes; one white and one dark brown. It is the only sandgrouse in South Africa with a long and pointed tail. They are well-known for their characteristic call, which sounds remarkably like the word “kelkiewyn” , the Afrikaans name for them, meaning “glass of wine”.

The Namaqua Sandgrouse is a tough character that thrives in harsh conditions. It favours deserts and other arid areas. In order to survive, this bird needs only seeds, some gravel, and easy access to some sort of fresh water source. They can fly more than 50 km between roosting areas, feeding grounds and water sources, the presence of open waterholes (not cattle troughs) is essential for their presence in an area.

Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius)

The secretarybird or secretary bird 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 bird of prey is named for the crest of long feathers at the back of its head that resemble quill pens that 19th century clerks stuck in their wigs. Unlike the other birds of prey, the Secretary Bird has very long legs and tail feathers. Its plumage is light gray, except for the black wing tips, tail, and thighs. Its face is covered in red and yellow skin. Although it can fly, the secretary bird prefers to move around on foot and can cover 30 km a day, earning it the title ‘Africa’s marching eagle’. Secretary birds use 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.

Southern Black Korhaan (Afrotis afra)

The southern black korhaan, also known as the black bustard, is a species of bird in the bustard family, Otididae. This small bustard is endemic to Southern African only found in found in southwestern South Africa, from Namaqualand, south to Cape Town and east to Makhanda and nowhere else in the world.

The Southern Black Korhaan has a height of 53 cms and weighs around 700 gms. The head is coloured brown while the bill is coloured red and has a white coloured throat, yellow legs and a brown coloured back, with brown eyes.The male Afrotis afra has physical features that are slightly different from the female bird. It feeds on insects, small reptiles and plant material, foraging on the ground and picking up food items with its bill. It is polygynous, meaning that the male mates with multiple females, who do all the incubation and caring of the chicks.


Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus)

The Cape Parrot only occurs in South Africa and is closely associated with yellowwood forests. The current 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.

The Cape Parrot prefers Afromontane Southern Misbelt forests, of which is made up of a majority of yellowwood trees in these forests. This bird species’ whole lifestyle is centred 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 nomad, moving between forest patches and occasionally making long foraging trips to coastal forests and/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 parrot species in South Africa. A medium to large parrot approximately 251–349 mm in length, and weighs approximately 260–329 g. The feathers on the head, throat and neck are olive yellow to golden brown, while the body and the wings are dark green. The thighs and outer edges of the wings are orange-red and the tail and flight feathers are bottle-green to black.

Crowned Eagle (Stephanoaetus coronatus)

African crowned eagles were once restricted to the wilderness. But their habitat is disappearing. Now they are even spotted in South African cities. South Africa’s Kwazulu-Natal province has the highest crowned eagle density in the world. These birds are regularly spotted close to roads and live in the large city of Durban.

The crowned eagle, also known as the African crowned eagle or the crowned hawk-eagle is found in sub-Saharan Africa; in Southern Africa it is restricted to eastern areas. Its preferred habitats are principally riparian woodlands and various forests.

Due to a relatively high level of habitat adaptability, it was until recently considered to be faring well by the standards of large, forest-dependent raptors. However, today it is generally thought that it is decreasing far more than was previously perceived due to the almost epidemic destruction of native tropical African forests. It is now listed by the IUCN as near threatened.

These beautiful hunters can prey on antelope more than seven times their own bodyweight!

Denham’s bustard (Neotis denhami)

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, previously known as Stanley’s bustard is the second heaviest flying bird, after the Kori Bustard in the bustard family.The question everyone asks is “Why ‘Bustard’”? By pronunciation it’s the same as ”bastard” but with a different spelling and meaning. “Bustard” is a name adopted from the French name “bistard”, itself derived from the Latin avis tarda and meaning ‘slow bird’ referring to their deliberate gait.

It breeds in 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.

Drakensberg Rockjumper (Chaetops aurantius)

The Drakensberg Rockjumper is a medium-sized insectivorous passerine bird endemic to the alpine grasslands and rock outcrops of the Drakensberg Mountains of southeastern South Africa and Lesotho.This ground-nesting species forages on rocky slopes and scree and is frequently found perching on rocks.

It is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and can be seen in the undulating slopes of Kamberg, and the 4×4-only Sani Pass which follows a series of switchbacks uphill to a remote Lesotho border.Here, the tussocky grass, mossy boulders and clumped heather of the Alpine zone which also the easiest place to see this high altitude endemic bird as well as the Drakensberg mountain pipit.

Gurney’s Sugarbird (Promerops gurneyi)

Gurney’s sugarbird is a species of bird in the family Promerodpidae and this beautiful endemic is smaller than its cousin, the cape sugarbird, and has a rufous breast and crown. The sugarbird is one of a family, of only two species, the Gurney’s Sugarbird and the Cape Sugarbird. This family is restricted to Southern Africa.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

They are found in South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique,Swaziland and Zimbabwe. With a great spot for this species being Giants 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. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests, dry savanna, and Mediterranean-type shrubby vegetation nest.

It is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Orange Ground Thrush (Geokichla gurneyi)

The Karkloof is an exceptional, unspoilt area in the north of the Natal Midlands, filled with mistbelt grasslands, wetlands and huge tracts of mistbelt forest. Benvie Garden in the Kaarkloof is possibly the best place in the world to find and photograph this special bird.

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 due to habitat loss. The Orange Thrush prefers areas in the forest where little vegetation occurred at 1,0-1,5 m and where a good layer of leaf litter was present. It is a large, brown-backed, orange-breasted thrush with bold white wingbars, an olive crown, black bar below the eye, and a broken white eye ring. rufous-orange lores and underparts, with white mid-belly to undertail-coverts. Generally shy and scarce.

The IUCN Red List has listed the species as least concerning because it has a large range and its population is not declining quickly enough for it to be considered vulnerable.

Southern Bald Ibis (Geronticus calvus)

South Africa forms the core of this species’ range, with breeding strongholds occurring in KwaZulu-Natal (Drakensberg), Free State and Mpumalanga. The Southern Bald Ibis is known as a “lifer” in the birding circles of South Africa.

The southern bald ibis is a large bird found in open grassland or semi-desert in the mountains with a total breeding population of approximately 4600 birds. These birds are cliff-nesters and breed in the open areas of mountain faces, as well as river gorges and sometimes around waterfalls.

The southern bald ibis is currently listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species however, there is no immediate threat of the species going extinct but is listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Ground Woodpecker (Geocolaptes olivaceus)

The ground woodpecker is one of only three ground-dwelling woodpeckers in the world and it’s South 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 Swaziland.

It is an olive-grey bird with a pinkish-red belly and rump and cream-barred wings and are the largest woodpecker to be seen in South Africa. Its far carrying ‘dwerr’ call has become synonymous with the rolling, treeless landscapes.

Sightings of the Ground Woodpecker have yet to be recorded outside of Southern Africa. A locally common, endemic species of rocky, hilly slopes in fynbos, Karoo and grassland. Their diet is highly specialized on ants, ant broods and alates; termites (Isoptera), beetles and other insects, and mites.