Kori bustards are said to be the largest flying birds in the world. You’ll often see them in the Kalahari or the Karoo – they prefer semi-arid areas (though you may well see them in places like the Kruger National Park too). So large are they that smaller birds sometimes ride on their backs.

Did you know?

Male kori bustards competing for a female will stand chest to chest, and push one another around.

The Kori bustard has something in common with the bumblebee, in that it is clearly not made for flight, yet it flies.

Weighing in at a fairly hefty average of 18 kilograms, Kori bustards are said to be the largest flying birds in the world. Not surprisingly though, they’re seldom keen to take wing. When alarmed, they’d rather puff themselves up to appear even larger than they are, bark like dogs or run from danger.

Their days (apart from a rest in the shade for a few hours during the heat of the day) are spent pacing the veld, looking for high-protein food like grasshoppers, mice, lizards, seeds and occasionally, other small birds. They’ve also been seen eating gum from acacia trees, which is why the Afrikaans name for this bird is gompou (literally ‘gum peacock’).

They’re mostly found in the dry centre of South Africa, in the Kalahari and Karoo. But you might also see them in lusher parts of the country, such as in the Kruger National Park.

Sometimes you may be lucky enough to see colourful bee-eaters hitching a ride on their backs, grabbing any insects flushed by their large feet. Kori bustards are often found walking among herds of zebras or antelope for that reason.

Of course, birds this size attracted the attention of the first explorers in South Africa. They found them comparatively easy to catch and quite delicious. You can still find recipes in some of the older books – one was recorded as being cooked with brandy on Cranemere farm in the Karoo in a Dutch oven, and served to arch-colonialist Cecil John Rhodes. History does not record what he thought of the repast.

These days, mercifully, they’re protected, so they are free to stalk majestically about the veld.

They look particularly majestic when seeking mates. Then the males will fluff out their neck feathers, inflate their throats to four times its normal size, raise their crests, fan their tails and droop their wings. Every now and then they’ll pause and boom out a greeting to any females in earshot in a deep voice.

Irresistible, really.

Travel tips & Planning info

How to get here

Once you venture off the main tarred roads of the Kalahari and the Karoo, you stand a good chance of seeing Kori bustards. They can also be seen in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and in the Kruger National Park, among other places.

Best time to visit

If you’d like to see the alluring mating dance of the male kori bustard, you'll need to be in kori bustard territory in September and early October. After that, the nesting season starts up until February.

That said, Kori bustards can be seen most times of the year.

Get around

You’re quite likely to see kori bustards from the comfort of your own vehicle or on an organised game drive.

What to pack

Whenever you’re travelling through the Karoo or Kalahari, bear in mind that petrol stations can be fairly far apart. Always have water or other liquid with you. You’ll need binoculars when birdwatching (even for such a massive bird as the kori bustard). Don’t forget your camera.

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