Migratory Birds in South Africa

South Africa is a popular tourist destination, attracting visitors from around the world to enjoy the country’s spectacular wildlife, scenery and culture. Humans are not the only visitors attracted to South Africa by its natural bounty. Every year thousands of birds migrate to this beautiful country on the southern tip of the African continent to enjoy the spring and summer months. The majority of migrating bird species are insect-eaters and/or seed eaters that need to seek out available food sources and will often travel in large flocks over thousands of kilometers to meet their needs.

Research by National Geographic reveals that up to 4.5 billion birds, representing around 185 species, fly from Europe and Asia in the north to southern Africa and back every year. Interestingly, although they follow the same migration routes every year without fail, the route to their summer destination in the south may differ from the trip back home. Birds that migrate to South Africa include the colourful Greater Striped Swallow, Amur Falcon, White-rumped Swift, White Stork, Pygmy Kingfisher, Yellow-billed Kite, Lesser Kestrel, Honey Buzzard, Woodland Kingfisher, Red-chested Cuckoo, and European Bee-eater.

The insect-eating Amur Falcon (Falco amurensis) breeds in northern China and south-eastern Siberia, migrating to southern Africa to escape the harsh winters of its home habitat. The Amur Falcon travels one of the longest migration routes of all bird species. White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) breed in Europe and Asia and migrate to southern Africa via the Middle East to enjoy an African summer, while the Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) breeds in central Asia, wintering in central and southern Africa.

The Greater Striped Swallow (Cecropis cucullata) remains on the African continent, wintering in southern Zaire, Tanzania and northern Angola, and spending the summer months in South Africa, southern Zimbabwe and Namibia, during which time it will breed and raise its young. While it prefers dry open country and grassland, it is unafraid of humans and is often found in the vicinity of human settlements. It is a colourful bird with chestnut crown, nape and sides of the head, dark blue upper parts and a pale orange-coloured rump.

While enjoying the diverse wildlife in the country’s reserves, keep a lookout for these migratory birds that travel great distances to visit sunny South Africa.