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10 Birds to Spot while on Safari in Tanzania

Author: Selene Brophy - 11 April 2024

Last Update: 10 May 2024

Tanzania is an incredibly diverse country and offers a rewarding safari experience for avid birdwatchers. Home to over 1,100 bird species, this safari hotspot is also one of the top birding destinations in Africa. In this article we take a look at 10 birds you’re likely to spot on a bird safari in Tanzania.

Tanzania Bird Safari Hotspots

Apart from the well-known national parks, the country has several regions that are teeming with incredible bird species.

  • Usambara Mountains: These mountains are regarded as a biodiversity hotspot, home to endemic bird species and lush, ancient forests.
  • Kilimanjaro Region: The diverse habitats around Mount Kilimanjaro, from alpine deserts to rainforests, provide birders with opportunities to spot high-altitude species and a wide variety of avian life.
  • Mahale Mountains: Set along the shores of Lake Tanganyika, these mountains offer a rich mosaic of habitats, from montane forests to grasslands, attracting a splendid array of bird species, including some rare and endemic, making it an exceptional birding destination.

 

Birdwatching tours and guided trips are available for seasoned enthusiasts and beginners alike, with guides who are keen to share their knowledge of the different species and habitats. 

Beyond endemic and near-endemic species, Tanzania is also part of the East African flyway, which brings millions of migrant species through the country every year 

 

READ: Tanzania Through the Lens: 5 Must-Visit Safari Destinations

Ten birds to spot while on safari in Tanzania

From the African Fish Eagle  to the we’ll take a closer look at 10 birds you’re likely to spot on safari in Tanzania. 

  1. African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)

Instantly recognizable by its striking appearance, the African Fish Eagle has a distinctive white head and breast, with a contrasting dark brown body and wings. It has a prominent, yellow, hooked beak, and bright yellow eyes. This eagle is typically found near freshwater habitats such as lakes, rivers, marshes, and coastal lagoons, where there’s plenty of fish. 

African Fish Eagles are skilled hunters with keen eyesight, allowing them to spot prey from a considerable distance. Look out for their dramatic aerial displays as they swoop down to capture their prey. 

These eagles form monogamous pairs that mate for life. They build large stick nests in tall trees near bodies of water and will often reuse the same nest year after year. Females lay one to three eggs and both parents take turns incubating the eggs and caring for their young. 

African Fish Eagle.
African Fish Eagle swoops down over a river. Photo: Remi Boudousquie, Unsplash.
  1. Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus)

This bird is renowned for its vibrant plumage, which features a brilliant combination of colors. It has a lilac-colored throat and breast, a turquoise belly, and a cobalt-blue back.  You’ll find the Lilac-breasted Roller in a variety of open habitats, including savannas, woodlands, scrublands, and grasslands. They often perch on exposed branches and are known for their acrobatic flight displays, including aerial pursuits and swoops. These agile maneuvers help them catch insects in flight. 

While Lilac-breasted Rollers are solitary or found in pairs during the breeding season, you might see them gathering in their numbers at suitable feeding areas. They build cup-shaped nests in tree cavities or holes, where the female lays a clutch of two to four eggs. Parents share incubating and feeding duties once the eggs hatch. 

Lilac breasted roller | Photo credits: Changa Safari Camp
A Lilac Breasted Roller | Photo credits: Changa Safari Camp
  1. Superb Starling (Lamprotornis superbus)

Known for its vivid and iridescent plumage, the Superb Starling has a glossy back, head, and tail, with bright blue wings, and a distinctive orange-brown chest and belly. Its eyes are pale yellow and its bill is black. While males and females exhibit similar coloration, males typically have slightly brighter plumage. 

Superb Starlings are commonly found in a range of habitats, including open woodlands, savannas, scrublands, grasslands, and agricultural areas. They’re an adaptable species and thrive in both natural and human-altered landscapes. Often spotted in small to medium-sized flocks, they’re a sociable species that engages in aerial displays, especially during the breeding season.

From October to December, Superb Starlings form monogamous pairs, building cup-shaped nests in trees, shrubs, or man-made structures. The female lays a clutch of two to five eggs and both parents take turns incubating and caring for the chicks once they’ve hatched. Chicks fledge after about three weeks. 

Superb Starling bird.
Superb Starling spotted in a woodlands. Photo: Emmanuel Wambugu, Unsplash.
  1. Yellow-billed Hornbill (Tockus flavirostris)

This bird is characterized by its striking appearance, with mainly black and white plumage, a black body, wings, and tail, and white underparts and primary flight feathers. Its most notable feature is its large yellow bill, which is long, down-curved, and slightly flattened. Its eyes are pale yellow, while its legs and feet are grayish-black. 

The Yellow-billed Hornbill can be found in an array of habitats, including savannas, woodlands, scrublands, and thornveld, and can typically be spotted perched on tree branches or foraging on the ground. This species of hornbill is typically solitary or found in small family groups consisting of a breeding pair and their offspring. 

Yellow-billed Hornbills are cavity-nesters, using natural tree hollows or abandoned nest sites. They breed during the dry season from June to November. During this time, the female seals herself inside the nest cavity using mud, leaving only a narrow slit through which the male passes food. In a season, the female will lay a clutch of two to four eggs. After several weeks the female and chicks will be freed from the nest. 

Yellow bill hornbill.

Yellow bill hornbill perched in a tree. Photo: Jonathan Gensicke, Unsplash.

  1. Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum)

The Grey Crowned Crane is an iconic, striking species with a tall, slender body, long legs and neck. Its plumage is mainly gray, with a white upper neck and chest, and a black-and-white striped lower neck. Its defining feature is its crown of golden feathers. During courtship displays, the crown feathers are raised into a regal crest. Its bill is short and grayish-black, and its eyes are surrounded by a patch of bare red skin.

This species of crane can be found in a variety of wetland and grassland habitats, including marshes, savannas, wet meadows, and cultivated areas. It’s often found near rivers, lakes, and swamps, where there’s a reliable source of food and safe roosting places. While these cranes are typically found in pairs or small family groups, they can sometimes be observed in larger flocks at suitable feeding and roosting sites.

Grey Crowned Cranes are skilled dancers and engage in elaborate courtship displays, including leaping, bowing, and calling, to attract mates and strengthen pair bonds. They’re monogamous and form long-term pair bonds, building large, shallow nests on the ground, usually concealed by vegetation for protection. The female lays a clutch of two to four eggs and both parents are involved with incubating and feeding the chicks. 

A pair of grey crowned cranes.
A pair of Grey Crowned Cranes. Photo: David Clode, Unsplash.

 

  1. Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumenifer)

This large and distinctive bird species is instantly recognizable by its massive size and bare head and neck. Its plumage is predominantly white, with black fight feathers on its wings and tail. Its neck is long and scaly, with a pinkish or reddish hue, and lacks feathers apart from a sparse covering of down. The head is large and wrinkled, with a heavy bill that is long, broad, and slightly curved. 

The Marabou Stork favors a number of habitats, including wetlands, rivers, lakes, marshes, grasslands, and even urban areas. These storks are usually solitary or found in small groups, but can congregate in larger groups if the feeding and roosting sites support it. They spend much of their time foraging for food on the ground or in shallow water where they hunt for live prey such as fish, amphibians, reptiles, and insects.

This species of stork is a colonial breeder and may nest in large colonies, sometimes alongside other species of waterbirds. They build large stick nests in trees, cliffs, or man-made structures, where the female lays a clutch of two to three eggs. Both parents take turns incubating the chicks and caring for them once they’ve hatched. 

Marabou Stork
A Marabou Stork spotted at the river edge. Photo: Ricardo Ferro, Unsplash

 

  1. Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris)

The Helmeted Guineafowl has a plump body covered in dark gray feathers with white spots, giving it a speckled appearance. Its head is adorned with a bony casque or helmet-like structure, which is raised during displays or when the bird is alarmed. The face is mostly bare, with blue and red skin patches around the eyes and on the throat. The bill is short and stout and the legs are well adapted for running. 

You’ll find this bird in a variety of habitats, including savannas, grasslands, scrublands, and agricultural areas. They prefer open areas with scattered trees or shrubs where they can forage and seek shelter from predators. They’re typically found in small to medium-sized flocks, and they’re highly social creatures known for their loud calls and vocalizations. 

Helmeted Guineafowl are monogamous and form pairs during the breeding season from February to July. During this time they’ll build shallow ground nests concealed within vegetation. The female will lay a clutch of six to twelve eggs, and both parents will play their part incubating and caring for the chicks after hatching. 

Helmeted Guineafowl
Helmeted Guineafowl. Photo: Duncan McNab, Unsplash.

 

  1. African Jacana (Actophilornis africanus)

The African Jacana’s unique appearance and behavior make it easy to recognize. It has a relatively small body with long legs and toes, which allows it to walk on floating vegetation without sinking. Plumage is mainly brown and buff, with a black head, neck, and upper breast. Its wings are mostly black with white patches, and its underparts are white with black barring. During the breeding season, adult males develop striking chestnut-colored wings and an enlarged frontal shield on the forehead, which they use in territorial displays. 

The African Jacana inhabits a variety of wetland habitats, including marshes, swamps, shallow lakes, rivers, streams, and flooded grasslands. It favors areas with abundant floating vegetation, such as water lilies, reeds, and grasses, where there is plenty of food and suitable nesting space. They’re usually solitary or found in small family groups but have been known to form larger groups in habitats with adequate feeding and nesting sites. 

African Jacanas are polyandrous, with females mating with multiple males within their territory during the breeding season. They build shallow cup-shaped nests on floating vegetation, where the female lays a clutch of three to four eggs. The male takes the responsibility for incubating the eggs and caring for the chicks once they’ve hatched. While the chicks are able to swim and feed shortly after hatching, they remain dependent on their parents for several weeks. 

African Jacana.
African Jacana. Photo: Leon Pauleikhoff, Unsplash.
  1. White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus)

This large and powerful bird of prey is characterized by its imposing size, broad wings, and distinctive plumage. It has a predominantly dark brown body, with a white or creamy-white back and rump. Its head and neck are feathered and often appear pale, contrasting with the dark plumage of its body. The hooked bill is strong and well-adapted to tearing through tough flesh, while the strong legs and feed allow it to grasp and carry prey. 

White-backed Vultures prefer a variety of open habitats, including savannas, grasslands, woodlands, and scrublands. They’re often found in areas with abundant large mammal populations, such as national parks, game reserves, and places with extensive livestock farming. These vultures are highly social birds often seen in large groups, especially around carcasses or feeding sites. Primarily scavengers, they’re strong fliers and can soar effortlessly for long periods and over great distances in search of carrion.

This species of vulture is monogamous, and forms long-term pair bonds. It typically nests in colonies, with multiple pairs breeding in close proximity to each other. The nest is a large platform constructed of sticks and branches built in tall trees or on cliffs. The female lays a single egg, which both parents take turns incubating for around fifty to sixty days. Once hatched, the chick is fed regurgitated food by both parents and fledges after about three to four months. 

White Backed Vulture
White-backed Vulture spotted between savannah grasslands. Photo: Ria Truter, Unsplash.
  1. Southern Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri)

The Southern Ground Hornbill is one of the largest hornbill species, with adults measuring up to 51 inches and weighing up to 14 pounds. It has mainly black plumage, with white primary feathers on the wings, a red throat patch, and a bare patch of blue or violet skin around the eyes and throat. Its bill is long, strong, and slightly down-curved, with a bony casque on top. This protuberance is typically larger in males. 

Southern Ground Hornbills can usually be found in open habitats, such as savannas, grasslands, woodlands, and scrublands. They prefer areas with scattered trees or thorny bushes, which provide protected roosting and nesting sites. 

Primarily terrestrial, they spend much of their time walking and foraging on the ground. They’re highly social birds and typically travel in small family groups consisting of a breeding pair and their offspring. They communicate with loud, booming calls, which serve to maintain contact within the group and establish territory boundaries.

Southern Ground Hornbills are monogamous and form long-term pair bonds. They nest in natural cavities, such as hollow trees or rock crevices, where the female lays a clutch of one to three eggs. The parents take turns incubating the eggs and caring for the chicks once they hatch. Chicks fledge after about three to four months, but are dependent on their parents for several months after leaving the nest. 

Southern Ground Hornbill

A Southern Ground Hornbill spotted in a tree top. Photo: Glen Carrie, Unsplash.

Tanzania’s thriving birdlife and stunning natural beauty make it a haven for birders looking to tick a wide variety of species off their list. Speak to a Discover Africa expert today about planning a luxury, tailor-made bird watching safari in Tanzania. 


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Copyright © Discover Africa Safaris | 10 Birds to Spot while on Safari in Tanzania | Last Updated: 10 May 2024