Big 6 birds
Did you know?
Pel’s fishing owl eats fish, frogs, and the occasional baby Nile crocodile.
South Africa has more than 800 birds, a number that rivals the entire continent of North America’s bird count.
And here’s a fun list of Big 6 birds that would even intrigue non-birders. They’re easy to see (except for 1), spectacular and are all found in the Kruger National Park.
The lappet-faced vulture is the largest scavenger in Africa. From its scaled feet to the top of its bare pink head, it stands 1 metre tall. And its wingspan is truly enormous – up to 3 metres across, 2nd only to that of a wandering albatross.
Then there’s the colourful saddle-billed stork, which has a similarly impressive wingspan (2.7 metres). In fact, this bird is the giant of the stork family. If you're lucky (it's endangered, so not that common to see), you'll see it stalking in shallow streams and ponds, hunting for small fish and frogs.
The martial eagle, South Africa's biggest eagle, is a probably the most powerful of the Big 6. You’ll immediately recognise it by its dark head and wings, speckled white belly and imperious air. It can swoop down on animals as large as a medium-sized goat or baby impala and carry them away. Look for it in open savannah areas.
Then there’s the Kori bustard – said to be the world’s heaviest flying bird (although Europe’s great bustard gives it a run for its money). Specimens have been recorded as weighing 19 kilograms. It stalks about the veld like a cricket groundsman checking the wicket. Actually, it is hunting for unsuspecting lizards and small rodents.
The southern ground hornbill, also an endangered species, is another distinctive bird. It sometimes uses its impressive red wattles to make booming noises very early in the morning, as well as noises that sound disturbingly like lion grunts. This hornbill eats frogs, snails, lizards, snakes and the occasional small mammal.
Then there is the Holy Grail of Big 6 birding – Pel’s fishing owl, a beautiful, reddish-brown creature. Rare and secretive, it often eludes keen birders and perversely reveals itself to people who don’t know what a treasure they’re seeing.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
SANParks Central Reservations
Tel: +27 (0) 12 428 9111