The Great Migration in the Serengeti is thrilling, but the migratory routes of birds in Africa are just as remarkable. Up to 4.5 billion birds fly south to chase food during the summer using flyways (familiar routes), instinct, landmarks and stars to guide them. While on safari in Southern or East Africa, you will get to meet some of these beautiful frequent flyers. From massive flocks of flamingos to tiny Russian raptors, join us as we explore magical bird migration routes and stopping sites you can experience on safari.
Route 1: The East African-Eurasian Flyway
This is the flight corridor for birds that travel south across the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert and harbours over 2,600 sites for migrating birds – many of which are in Tanzania. The wet season here between October and March provides a glut of insects and seeding plants, creating a bountiful food source for migratory birds like the Eurasian bee-eater, the common cuckoo, the pallid harrier, and the white stork.
While you huddle around waterholes to watch big mammals like lions and buffalo, congregations of birds will bustle about unfazed between them. You’ll also see them gathering in vast flocks to feed on grass seeds or insects.
Best GILTEDGE tour to experience this route: GILTEDGE’S Fly-In Safari of Northern Tanzania includes a stay at The Highlands Luxury Tented Camp in the Ngorongoro Crater, known for its migratory species like the Caspian lapwing and Montagu’s Harrier.
Route 2: The East-Atlantic Flyway
The route spans the chilly Arctic breeding grounds of shorebirds, gulls, and terns to the wintering locations in South Africa, Namibia, and Mozambique. Key rest stops along the way include the West Coast National Park in South Africa and the Walvis Bay Wetlands in Namibia, which is home to 90% of the global population of the endangered Darmara tern and a designated protected area for migratory birds.
Best GILTEDGE tour to experience this route: GILTEDGE’s Namibian Dream experience highlights the very best Namibia has to offer.
Route 3: The Great Rift Valley/Red Sea Flyway
This route links storks, pelicans and more from their breeding grounds in Europe and Asia to Southern Africa. However, millions of greater and lesser flamingos also semigrate through the Great Rift Valley between Kenya and Tanzania.
Witness these funky-looking pink-feathered birds at soda lakes like Lakes Nakuru, Bogoria, and Elmenteita in Kenya. From September to December, the lesser flamingos flock to Lake Natron in Tanzania to breed, with up to 75% of the population gathering at the lake. Experts have dubbed it ‘the greatest ornithological spectacle on Earth’.
Caught the birding bug? Three of the best stopping sites for migratory birds on these routes include:
The Okavango Delta
This UNESCO-protected delta is a stopover for migratory birds, like the colourful carmine bee-eater and African skimmer. From August to November, the carmine bee-eaters build burrows into dry riverbanks en masse before flying south to South Africa and then returning to the lush rainforests of equatorial Africa.
You’ll also enjoy the African skimmer, which flies in lines over calm waters, feeding by dipping its lower mandibles in the water. After a day of game viewing, watching these graceful birds fly along the delta’s channels while enjoying sundowners is a perfect way to relax.
Find the magic: On an Okavango Delta trip, there’s no better way to witness the clutter of rainbow-hued carmine bee-eaters than up close by gliding along the delta’s many waterways in a traditional dugout canoe, known as a mokoro.
The Zambezi River
The Zambezi River provides a lifeline for the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia. Its winding course creates a vibrant riverine ecosystem, attracting multiple kingfisher species. Migratory birds such as the red-backed shrike also flock to the river, consuming up to 50% of their body weight in insects before embarking on their journey back to their homes as far away as Russia.
Find the magic: When exploring Zambia, a canoe safari with a passionate and sharp-eyed guide is what you need to spot those ‘specials’. You’ll also capture stunning photos of flocks skimming the waterline against the backdrop of the African skyline.
The Kruger National Park
The Kruger National Park in South Africa is a sanctuary to more than 500 bird species, including migratory birds like the European bee-eater and the impressive Wahlberg’s eagle. Amur falcons fly from Russia and China, gathering in small flocks of up to 30 birds – which is quite a sight. They hold the record for the longest migratory crossing of any raptor, covering about 22,000 km.
Find the magic: The guided wilderness walking trails in the Sabi Sands and other privately owned Kruger reserves offer enjoyable birding experiences in Greater Kruger National Park.
Discover your inner birder! Contact GILTEDGE for the ultimate safari escape and migratory bird sightings.