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My Favorite Birds in the Timbavati

WRITTEN BY

Geoff Haslam

LAST UPDATED

September 15, 2021

There are over 350 species of bird in the Timbavati. All so beautiful and interesting in their own way. But I have to confess, having the good fortune to view these birds on a regular basis, there are a few that stand out for me.Given its proximity, you can also spot these birds in the Klaserie as well. Why not see how many of these birds you can spot on your safari visit?

African Skimmers

The African Skimmers are sought after birds as they are mostly found in the Okavango Delta. We have been spoiled as every year we have a pair that comes south to the Timbavati to breed. These special birds are classified as endangered. They have suffered habitat loss, exploitation and disturbance. Construction of Lake Kariba resulted in loss of important breeding sites both up and downstream of the dam wall. They prefer large river systems and lakes of the Okavango Delta with unvegetated sandbanks where they build their nests. They then skim over the water looking for small fish. This is one of the rarer birds we see in the Timbavati and each year we always cross our fingers hoping that they will return the following year.

Lappet-faced vulture

The Lappet-faced vulture is our largest and most dominant vulture. When looking up in the sky you can always tell that it’s a vulture just by the sheer size of their wings. This is a massive bird with an incredible wingspan of 2.8m which makes it the biggest vulture in South Africa. It’s not often that we get to see them. But recently we saw one close to an elephant carcass just waiting for its turn to go and feed. These guys don’t mind being a little patient as they can eat the skin, tendons and ligaments that are too tough for other vultures. They very seldom eat the meat. Just like all vultures within South Africa, this bird is currently listed as vulnerable. Again due to loss of habitat and susceptibility to being poisoned by farmers. That’s why it is so important that wildlife sanctuaries like the Timbavati, and the Greater Kruger Park exist.

Greater Painted Snipe

The Greater Painted Snipeis beautiful just like most other birds but its the breeding behaviour that makes them stand out from the rest. These are polyandrous birds. With 1 female mating with up to 4 males in one season. The males are the ones that will sit on the nest to incubate the eggs and thereafter take care of the young. You will find these birds in most waterside habitats, where there’s exposed mud among the vegetation, either alone or in pairs.

Ground Hornbills

Ground Hornbills look like some sort of prehistoric bird, but one that stills roam the earth today. But we have been lucky to have multiple sightings at all of our lodges of these magnificent birds. They are generally an uncommon resident and are listed as vulnerable in South Africa with a big concern about their falling numbers. Due to habitat loss you usually only find these vunerable birds in the larger reserves such as the Timbavati or Klaserie in the Greater Kruger. Or in protected and uninhabitated remote areas. They also get persecuted for breaking house and car windows when hammering at their own reflections in territorial aggression.

Brown-headed Parrot

The Brown-headed Parrot is always amazing to see in the wild as most people have the perception as a parrot being in a cage. Or in places like the Amazon rainforest. They are uncommon in South Africa except in the Kruger National Park. You can find these birds easily when the combretum trees start to flower as that’s one of their main sources of diets. However they can also drink nectar from other flowering trees.

White-crested Helmet Shrike

The White Crested Helmet Shrike has very beautiful eyes, with an impressive yellow eye-wattle that resembles a flower. The interesting thing about these birds is that they live in group structures, moving almost as one unit through the bush. They are what we call ‘’cooperative breeders’’. This means that, instead of just the parents looking after the hatchlings, these birds have a team helping them. This ensured that all new-born chicks will survive.

African spoonbills

Spoonbills are water birds and very interesting to observe as their bill’s shape makes me think they could come from “Alice in Wonderland”. They wade through the water with a bill that looks like an odd-looking spoon. Their bill will be wholly or partly submerged and sweeps from side to side, snapping prey. They sometimes submerge their heads to probe the mud on the river banks.

Lilac Breasted Roller

And lastly the Lilac Breasted Roller is probably one of the most beautifully-coloured birds in the bush. Its name Roller comes from their impressive aerial display which can be on show at any time of year. The male flies up high to about 20m-50m and then tips forward and dives down with its wings closed. They then roll from side to side in the latter part of the descent. All of this effort is just to get the attention for a suitable female.

The Lilac Breasted Roller is a common resident of the Timbavati and often allows for some amazing photography opportunities. As they can remain motionless for prolonged periods, often perched on dead branches. Giving our guests the time to get that PERFECT shot.

Tips for Birding in the Timbavati

  • Bring a pair of good-quality binoculars. This is vital for all game-viewing and not just birding in the Timbavati. Your guide will have a pair to lend you but you don’t want to have to wait whilst binoculars are shared around. 
  • Bring one of the well-known bird books on Birds of Southern Africa. Or download the app on your phone (though its quite pricey.)
  • To be honest, we find the bird books are easier to navigate than most apps. And that’s important when you may only have a short time to view the bird and identify it.
  • Again your Simbavati ranger will have a bird book, but it is good to have your own and not have to wait as the book is shared around the vehicle. It also allows you time to read around the subject to identify similar birds and their distinguishing features.
  • Birding in the Timbavati is generally more rewarding in the Summer months with the migratory birds coming from the northern Hemisphere. But you can see many favourite birds all year round.

As I mentioned, many of the birds in the Timbavati and Klaserie areas suffer from habitat loss. It is important to keep in mind that we are visiting these animals’ homes, so it is up to us to protect them. To ensure their survival so the next generation of bird lovers will also have the opportunity to experience these wonderful creatures in their natural habitat.

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