Preparing for an African Birding Safari

By Sarah Gold September 7, 2021

As many safari travellers have discovered, the African game reserves that house the alluring Big Five (and countless other majestic animal species) are also frequented by a staggering profusion of birds. In fact, a growing number of safari-goers are choosing to make birding a focus of their Micato itineraries.

bird and elephant
To nab great bird photos on safari, consider shifting your focus! (Photo by Micato Guest Olivia Bratton)

You won’t need much bird-watching expertise to spot gorgeous avian species like sunbirds, weavers, fish eagles, lovebirds, hornbills, and ostriches on safari; happily, these abound in parks all over southern and East Africa (including A-list destinations like Kruger, Masai Mara, Serengeti, and Chobe). But if you want to maximize your chances of seeing distinctive African birds on your trip—and fully appreciate them when you do—consider taking these preparatory steps.

Bone up on the bird species you’re likely to see. Once you’ve planned your African safari itinerary, take some time to research the birds that inhabit the various African parks you’ll be visiting. Many of the major reserves offer bird lists on their websites (like this one from the Mara Conservancy). You can also purchase a detailed, illustrated guidebook to birds of the region, like this one from Princeton University Press, or this one from Sasol. Even skimming through one of these resources will give you information about various birds’ seasonal behavior and feeding habits, so you’ll have a sense of where to spot them (bustards, for instance, nest and peck on the ground; kingfishers perch on overhanging riverbank branches). You can also identify any species that you particularly want to see; your Micato Safari Director and Driver-Guides will do their best to make sure you succeed.

Optimize your viewing kit. While every Micato guest is provided with a high-quality set of Nikon binoculars to use for the duration of their safari, you may decide you’d rather purchase your own pair to bring. There are all sorts of options you can choose, depending on your proficiency and price point; this buyers’ guide from The Audubon Society is a good place to start looking. Most birders, however, prefer 8×42-sized models—which, despite being relatively lightweight, allow birds to appear 8 times closer, and offer a wide field of view through their 42-mm lenses.

If you’d rather scope out African birds (as well as leopards, monkeys, or chameleons hiding among tree branches) with the help of a telephoto lens, you’ll also find a variety of wildlife-friendly choices, ranging from pricey DSLR lenses to kits meant to use with your smartphone. Regardless of your preference, the closer a lens lets you zoom in, the better. That typically means at least 400mm for a camera lens, or 10x for a smartphone.

(Re)acquaint yourself with the rules of ethical birding. All over the world, mindful birders observe a similar code of ethics—one which prioritizes the safety and comfort of birds over humans’ desire to see and photograph them. On safari, you’ll find that these ethical principles are largely the same for birds as they are for other African wildlife (and human) residents: Approach respectfully and attentively; maintain a courteous distance to avoid interfering with activities and routines; leave the native habitat undisturbed and unharmed.

Since spotting small, quick-moving birds on safari is quite a bit more challenging than, say, spying a Cape buffalo or elephant, however, it can be easy to forget that you should never make noises to attract them, or to chase after them. Luckily, your expert Micato Safari Director and Driver-Guides will be there to remind you—and help you check off every African bird on your list.

Interested in planning an African birding safari of your own? Let the Safari experts at Micato help you get started by contacting them today.

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