Searching for birds is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when planning that first safari to Africa. However, soon after touching down in the wilderness areas of the continent, it becomes quite obvious that birds are by far the most ubiquitous of all species out here, aside from the insect realm. With their abundance comes a kaleidoscope of amazing colours and an assortment of shapes and sizes to be seen. Stopping briefly for a few moments to observe and appreciate the bird life around you could open up a whole new world for you.
Here are seven reasons I feel birding could transform your safari experience and give you a much deeper connection to the wilderness.
1. The Sheer Beauty
Many of the bird species found on Londolozi have striking colours that you may not see back at home, wherever that may be. For nothing other than a pure appreciation of the wonders of nature, be sure to take some time to look at a Lilac-Breasted Roller or one of the Bee-eaters or Starlings in the beautiful sunlight. Every year at the beginning of the summer months, a whole range of migrants arrive from far and wide, having spent time away from Londolozi during the winter months here. Some of these migrants venture as far afield as Eastern Europe. These special birds add beauty and colour to the landscape. Catching one of them through the eye of your binoculars or the lens of your camera can be a special highlight on one of your game drives.
2. Lead You to a Carcass
Some birds can lead you to kills, which will sometimes find you the predator. Everyone knows that vultures are on the lookout for a carcass. Watching where vultures are dropping to the ground may indicate where an animal has died or been killed by a predator. But it’s not just about the vultures. The Bateleur and Tawny Eagle often fly much lower than vultures and can also be regarded as scavenging birds. Because of their low flying habits, they are often the birds who find kills first. Thus taking the time to investigate an area where both these birds are perched may lead you to find the elusive predator and its carcass.
3. Alarm Calls to Help Find a Predator
Birds will often let off an alarm call at the presence of a predator. Whether the predator is a snake, a mongoose, an owl, or a leopard, it’s always very interesting to watch how birds react to the presence of a threat. By grouping together, causing a racket, and drawing attention to the particular predator, more often than not the little bird comes out on top.
4. Stopping for Birds Allows One to Appreciate the Sounds of the Bush.
By stopping to watch and photograph birds, one is able to appreciate the beautiful sounds of nature as well as listen out for other animals that may be alarm calling at a predator. Switching off the vehicle’s engine and appreciating the sounds of nature is a refreshing part of being on safari. Often, a quick sighting of a woodpecker or a quick attempt at photographing a bee-eater will cause one to turn the engine off just long enough to realise that a herd of impala is alarming frantically just over the hill from you, inaudible over the sound of the engine. Many times, we have found the lion or leopard were searching for because we had taken the time to stop and appreciate the birds around us.
5. Certain Bird Calls May Save Your Life
Understanding certain bird calls can potentially ‘save your life’. When walking in the bush, the sound of oxpeckers is one particular bird that would alert us to the possible presence of a potentially dangerous animal. I guess it could be equivalent to a burglar alarm in an urban area. You stop dead in your tracks and carefully scan the area, as oxpeckers are known to spend time on the backs of animals like buffalo and rhino, which are two species you do not want to startle at close quarters when walking in the bush.
6. Appreciating Birds Relationships With Other Animals
Some birds have incredible relationships with particular animals. Watch closely next time you see a herd of zebras, rhinos or elephants and notice that not only do they have many oxpeckers feeding on the ticks on their bodies, but also an array of birds following them, benefiting from flying insects being flushed out of the long grass as the animals walk. Examples of this may be Fork-tailed Drongos or Egrets following them, occasionally Bee-eaters and Hornbills do the same.
Not to mention the complex interactions between dwarf mongooses and fork-tailed drongos too. Where they follow the mongooses around and then try to scavenge a little morsel or two when they can, and in some instances sound an alarm to send the mongooses scurrying for safety only so the Drongo can swoop in at the perfect moment and steal a free meal dropped by the mongooses as they flee.
7. Amazing Photographic Opportunities
Birds can provide some amazing photographic opportunities, as they very seldom sit around for long periods doing nothing. They are attractive animals with such intricate details about them they create the perfect subjects.
So next time you are out in the wilderness and it interests you, take some time to stop and appreciate our feathered counterparts. These are just some of the many reasons, we as a ranging team could put together to convince you to spend some time with the number of striking birds we find here.