Paradise for bird watchers


The avian life of Africa: a guide to bird watching in the Okavango Delta.


The Okavango Delta, an oasis in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert, is a bird watcher’s paradise. With over 400 species of birds found throughout the delta, it is a living sanctuary where the diverse avian life of Africa acts out an aerial ballet for the lucky visitors. From waders to predators, the bird population of the Okavango Delta is remarkable. The Okavanga Delta Wetland Bird Survey is an indicator of how healthy the Delta is. The data shows a thriving avian population that encompasses an array of bird types, with Jacana, Egyptian geese, African open bill storks, pied kingfishers, Squacco heron and little bee eaters.

One of the more colourful members of the avian collective is the lilac-breasted roller. The male of this brightly-marked species is known for its aerobatic courtship ritual, where it will fly up and dive down in the hope of securing a mate. Once a nest has been established, the smaller bird will fiercely defend its eggs against predators.

Of the waders, three species are standouts. The grey crowned crane, garlanded with stiff golden feathers on its head, is one of the brighter birds that visitors can see walking through the shallow waters, while the Hamerkop lives up to its name with a hammer-shaped head which moves back and forward as it jerkily walks along the banks of the delta. The African sacred ibis is perhaps the most recognisable to bird enthusiasts. Associated with the Egyptian god Thoth, the wader has been revered by African civilisations for thousands of years.

Pel's fishing owl can be seen in the trees of the Okavango Delta in the daytime, lazily surveying the slow-moving waters. The owl comes alive as the sun sets, hunting nocturnally for fish, frogs and small lizards, occasionally taking juvenile Nile crocodiles.

Perhaps the ruler of the skies over the delta is the African fish eagle. Similar in look to its relative, the American bald eagle, it is a powerful raptor with sharp talons and hooked beak. The female is larger than the male and weighs on average around 3.5 kilograms. Its distinctive cry embodies the spirit of Africa.

When visiting the Okavango Delta, be prepared to see abundant, colourful birdlife. In the sky and on the water, the avian population of the delta form an intrinsic part of the remarkable ecosystem

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