Everything You Can Expect When Bird-Watching in Botswana
With areas of grassland, dry woodland, swamps and wetlands, the rich and varied environments of Botswana are a paradise for birds – and therefore keen birders too! From rare and sought after species like Pel’s Fishing owl, the Cuckoo Hawk and Slaty Egret, to the sheer variety of game and other wildlife that share this special place, birding in Botswana is an experience like no other.
Pel’s Fishing Owl
The vibrant tourist economy in Botswana means that a holiday built around birding delivers so much more than just a unique wildlife experience. The local cultures and traditions, and the impressive range of accommodations to choose from mean that you can easily tailor your holiday around the experiences you wish to include. Visiting the Okavango Delta, renowned the world over as one of the best safari spots on the planet, is a must for bird lovers and nature enthusiasts in general.
A favorite activity among visitors is taking a unique trip through the marshes via a traditional mokoro, or dug-out canoe. The quietness of this form of travel means that bird lovers are in for a real treat, as the opportunity to hear the calls of rare species becomes easy! The White-backed Night-Heron is one species to look out for, as well as snake eagles, Jacanas, Long-toed Lapwings, skimmers, Cisticolas, and the Coppery-tailed Coucal with its distinctive bubbling call.
One of the best times of the year to visit the Okavango Delta is during the annual ‘barbel run’ between June and August when the floodwaters arrive from Angola and the Sharptooth Catfish have their breeding season, creating an important food source for the birds here. Popular parks for birdwatchers in the delta include Shakawe and the Panhandle, Moremi Game Reserve, and Chobe National Park.
Coppery-tailed Coucal | Long-toed Lapwing
Did you know?
The largest flocks of a single bird species found on the planet are located in Botswana! The Red-billed Quelea gathers here in flocks that can number several million individuals!
Other record-breakers, like the world’s heaviest flying bird, the Kori Bustard, and the largest bird of all, the ostrich, are also found here.
In total, Botswana boasts some 580 species of bird, a testament to the vibrant and diverse ecology of the country. Alongside them are all the favorite game and mammals that an African safari promises, including elephant, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and hippo, as well as predators like leopard, cheetah and the African Wild Dog, and elusive antelope such as the shy Sitatunga.
The extremely rare Sitatunga antelope
In the drier eastern regions of the country, you can look forward to encountering Cape Vulture, Short-clawed Lark, Boulder Chat, Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Olive-tree Warbler and raptors such as the Pallid Harrier and Dickinson’s Kestrel. Some of the best places to spot these species include the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Khutse Game Reserve, and the Makgadikgadi Pans.
Dickinson’s Kestrel | Pallid Harrier
Needless to say, stunning photographic opportunities abound, and visitors often enjoy creating a tick-list of birds that they hope to encounter during their stay!
While almost all land reserved for wildlife is owned by the government, the Northern Tuli Game Reserve which borders South Africa and Zimbabwe, is privately owned and offers premier safari experiences. It is notable for its stands of ancient Baobab trees, some of which may be over 2000 years old! For birders, it is a good place to spot pairs of Verreaux’s Eagle as well as general species.
While the vast majority of tours take place from the safety of a vehicle, there are areas of Chobe National Park where visitors are allowed to walk around freely, so this is popular with photographers who like to time their time in getting the best shot.
Best time to visit
The peak birding season in Botswana is the summer months between November and March. During this time, many migrant species from the northern hemisphere arrive to take advantage of the increased food supply brought on by the summer rains. It’s also the time when the local species tend to engage in breeding activities, and it’s fairly common for an experienced bird watcher to observe over 100 different species in a day!
Between June and August, however, the floodwaters from Angola arrive, creating another spectacle for birdwatchers – so it’s really possible to enjoy the region’s birdlife and all the other attractions all year round!