Tanzania isn’t only famous for wild animals. It’s also a haven for many birders as the birdlife of Tanzania is diversely rich.
Question: What do a hippopotamus, a black rhino, and a bat-eared fox have in common? Two answers: first, they all can be found in Tanzania, and second, they’re all terrestrial animals. They’re land-based. Isn’t it true that landlocked creatures are the ones we commonly pin to our safari dreams?
Think about it: the African savannah is famous for images of that lioness stalking a gazelle, or herds of zebra galloping alongside a thousand wildebeest. But if our safari gaze only reaches as high as the horizon, we’re missing a huge part of the wildlife in Tanzania.
Yes, I’m talking about birds. I’m talking about the winged ones, those flying high in the sky, encircling us and migrating in angles and singing their sweet melodies. Birdlife in Tanzania is equally as fascinating as the wildlife you’ll find at ground level; you just have to remember to look up. Here are some pointers…
3 reasons why birding is best in Tanzania
1. It’s diverse
Let’s do some math: In Africa, 2,500 different bird species call this continent home. In Tanzania? There are more than 1,100 different species of bird. Now I barely passed algebra class but according to my calculations that’s nearly half of all African bird species in Tanzania alone. View Source
1. It’s unique
Forget the math. Here’s some new vocabulary: endemic. (View Source) If something is endemic that means it can only be found in a certain region or area. Now get this: in Tanzania alone there are 26 endemic species of birds. That’s more than two dozen avian creatures whose home is only Tanzania. (View Source)
1. It habitat rich
Some birds to look out for:
If you’re not a birder, worry not—Tanzania will turn you into one. But where to start? Where to look? Here’s a glance at some of our favorite winged ones:
From the 24 different species of bats that live on the slopes of Kilimanjaro to Serengeti’s ostrich, the largest living bird in the world, a trip to Tanzania offers access to some incredible bioregional variation, from savannah to subalpine, and with that brings bird variety.
- Bateleur (below): Related to the snake eagle, this strong bird of prey is black with a bright red beak, a clown-like nose hinting at its French origins, “street performer.”
- Secretary Bird: This is a favorite, a confident bird with flair poking from its head, much like a secretary with pens in his/her hair.
- Augur Buzzard: You’re bound to meet this opportunistic heavyweight in the Serengeti. Did you know the mascot for the Seattle Seahawks football team is based on this guy? (View Source)
Fischer’s Lovebird (below): Yes, love is real and so are lovebirds! These small, near-threatened parrots are native to Northern Tanzania. Their namesake comes from the fact that lovebirds are serially monogamous and pretty social creatures.
Lesser Flamingo: These world-famous creatures aren’t just lawn ornaments, they’re the real deal. At Lake Manyara and Lake Natron, you’ll find literally thousands of flamingoes nesting. And it’s true: the pink comes from astaxanthin, a chemical compound found in what they eat.
Superb Starling: Little bird, large range. These starlings are found throughout East Africa and have a superbly iridescent chest and back.
- Hamerkop (below): I’ll never forget first seeing this macho bird circling Lake Duluti outside Arusha (View Source). Whoa. Big and brown with a head like a, well, hammer, you won’t want to miss one of these.
- Kingfisher:Big beak, big personality. Look out for these favorites around water, hunting for small fish. There are a dozen different kinds of kingfisher in Tanzania alone.
The 5 best places to bird in Tanzania
- Lake Manyara – 400 species of birds recorded here.
- Lake Natron – The alkaline of this lake turns birds to stone! (View Source)
- Serengeti National Park – The crown jewel of wildlife. 500 species of birds and 5 species found nowhere else on the planet.
- Tarangire National Park – This staff-favorite park boasts 500 different bird species.
- Selous Game Reserve – If you’re headed south, this is your best bet
Tanzania crawls with world-class wildlife at every turn, but it’s skies are full of incredible birdlife, too. Talk to any birder and they’ll tell you: a trip to East Africa is like birding heaven. So please: don’t forget your binoculars.