Bird Island Nature Reserve, off the Western Cape coast, features the world’s most accessible breeding colony of Cape gannets. As something of a local hangout for the area’s pelagic birds, the island is also home to roosting terns, cormorants, gulls and a colony of African penguins.

Did you know?

Gannets can dive at speeds of 100km per hour when catching fish.

Bird Island Nature Reserve, just off shore of Lambert's Bay on the Cape's West Coast, houses a massive breeding colony of Cape gannets – one of only six such colonies in the world.

Thousands of these birds, as well as Cape cormorants, breed and roost on the island which is connected to the mainland by a breakwater, providing rare public access to these seabird colonies.

The reserve features a modern bird hide that provides you with an insider's view of the colony, allowing you to discreetly watch the birds nesting, feeding and socialising. There's a lot of the latter, which reaches fever pitch with all the excited vocalising that goes on!

The hide also provides the unique opportunity to view the mating ritual of the gannets, which takes place between April and September each year. Educational material at the hide provides additional information on the birds and their habits, while the well-marked interpretation route provides further information on the island and its other inhabitants.

Bird Island was once also home to a thriving African penguin colony. Gannet dung or guano – a highly prized ingredient used in fertilisers – was collected in abundance on the island from 1888 to 1990. During this time penguin eggs were also collected, which all but wiped out the resident colony.

Conservationists have erected artificial structures on the island to encourage the penguins to breed once again and today the colony numbers have increased substantially. A trip to the penguin pool to watch these characters at play is a must.

Other frequent island visitors include Cape fur seals, which can be seen on the rocks and frolicking in the water along the edge of the island.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Tel: +27 (0)21 483 0000

Muisbosskerm Restaurant
Tel: +27 (0) 27 432 1017
Fax: +27 (0) 27 432 1017

How to get here

Fly direct from any of South Africa’s major cities to Cape Town International Airport. If you’re driving, from Durban take the N2 to Cape Town and from Johannesburg, the N1 to Cape Town. From Cape Town take the N7 motorway north to Clanwilliam and then the off-ramp east to Lambert’s Bay.

Best time to visit

Between April and September to view the Cape gannet’s intriguing mating ritual. Please note, entrance to Bird Island Nature Reserve may be prohibited if rough seas make crossing the breakwater too dangerous.

Around the area

West Coast National Park; stargazing at nearby Clanwilliam.

Tours to do

Bird Island Nature Reserve self-guided tour; a West Coast wild flower tour.

Length of stay

You won't need more than a half-day to fully explore the reserve.

What to pack

Always pack sunscreen and a hat. Binoculars, camera, sturdy walking shoes are also recommended.

What to eat

Lambert’s Bay is famed for its fresh seafood, especially crayfish. Book in at the legendary Muisbosskerm Restaurant for the ultimate open-air seafood experience.

What's happening

The West Coast wild flower season occurs around August and September each year; the annual West Coast Lagoon Festival takes place at Langebaan (south of Bird Island) in March.

Best buys

Locally produced West Coast arts and crafts from the Bird Island curio shop.