List of birds of Southern Africa

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This is a list of the bird species recorded in Southern Africa. Southern Africa is defined as Africa south of a line between the Kunene and Zambezi rivers, encompassing Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, mainland South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland and southern and central Mozambique, as well as oceanic waters within 200 nautical miles (370 km) of the coast, covering approximately 3.5 million square kilometres.


Traditional boundaries[edit]

In Layard's 1867 treatise on the regional avifauna, he arbitrarily defined "South Africa" as the region south of 28° South. Sharpe's 1884 revision of Layard's work extended the boundary to the Cuanza and Zambezi rivers, believing that the latter is a natural avifaunal limit. Stark and Sclater, possibly influenced by national boundaries determined at the Berlin Conference, substituted the Cuanza with the Kunene River for the first of their volumes, which appeared in 1900. The latter definition became entrenched with many ornithological publications following suit.[1]

Regional habitats[edit]

Southern Africa consists of eight major habitats: the Karoo, moist savannah, arid savannah, the Namib Desert, lowland forest, fynbos, grassland and montane forest.[citation needed]


This list's taxonomic treatment (designation and sequence of orders, families and species) and nomenclature (common and scientific names) follow the conventions of Austin Roberts' Birds of Southern Africa 7th edition. The family accounts of the respective headers, and the species counts per family, reflect this taxonomy. Introduced, accidental, and extirpated species are included in the total species counts for Southern Africa.

The following tags have been used to highlight several categories, but not all species fall into one of these categories. Those that do not are commonly occurring native species.

  • Accidental: - a species that rarely or accidentally occurs in the Southern Africa
  • Endemic: - a species endemic to Southern Africa
  • Extirpated: - a species that no longer occurs in Southern Africa though populations exist elsewhere
  • Introduced: - a species introduced to Southern Africa as a direct or indirect consequence of human actions
  • Data deficient: - a species with uncertain status due to lack of research or available information


Order: Sphenisciformes   Family: Spheniscidae

The number of penguin species is a matter of debate. Depending on the authority, biodiversity varies between 17 and 20 living species. Four species occur in Southern Africa, though only one is resident or a breeder.


Order: Podicipediformes   Family: Podicipedidae

Grebes are small to medium-large freshwater diving birds. They have lobed toes and are excellent swimmers and divers. However, they have their feet placed far back on the body, making them quite ungainly on land. There are 20 species worldwide and three species occur in Southern Africa.


Order: Procellariiformes   Family: Diomedeidae

The albatrosses comprise between 13 and 24 species (the number of species is still a matter of some debate, 21 being the most commonly accepted number) in 4 genera. The four genera are the great albatrosses (Diomedea), the mollymawks (Thalassarche), the North Pacific albatrosses (Phoebastria), and the sooty albatrosses or sooties (Phoebetria). Of the four genera, the North Pacific albatrosses are considered a sister taxon to the great albatrosses, while the sooty albatrosses are considered closer to the mollymawks.

Shearwaters and petrels[edit]

Order: Procellariiformes   Family: Procellariidae

The Procellariids are the main group of medium-sized "true petrels", characterised by united nostrils with medium septum and a long outer functional primary.

Storm petrels[edit]

Order: Procellariiformes   Family: Hydrobatidae

The storm petrel, a relative of the petrel, is the smallest seabird. It feeds on planktonic crustaceans and small fish from the surface, typically while hovering. Its flight is fluttering and sometimes bat-like.

Diving petrels[edit]

Order: Procellariiformes   Family: Pelecanoididae


Order: Phaethontiformes   Family: Phaethontidae

Tropicbirds are slender white birds of tropical oceans, with exceptionally long central tail feathers. Their long wings have black markings, as does the head.

Boobies and gannets[edit]

Order: Suliformes   Family: Sulidae

The sulids comprise the gannets and boobies with only boobies occurring in Southern Africa. Both groups are medium-large coastal seabirds that plunge-dive for fish.

Genus Sula[edit]

Genus Morus[edit]


Order: Suliformes   Family: Phalacrocoracidae

Phalacrocoracidae is a family of medium to large coastal, fish-eating seabirds that includes cormorants and shags. Plumage colouration is varied with the majority having mainly dark plumage, some species being black-and-white and a few being quite colourful.


Order: Suliformes   Family: Anhingidae

There are four living species, one of which is near-threatened. The darters are often called "snake-birds" because of their long thin neck, which gives a snake-like appearance when they swim with their bodies submerged.


Order: Suliformes   Family: Fregatidae

Frigatebirds are large seabirds usually found over tropical oceans. They are large, black or black-and-white, with long wings and deeply forked tails. The males have coloured inflatable throat pouches. They do not swim or walk and cannot take off from a flat surface. Having the largest wingspan-to-body-weight ratio of any bird, they are essentially aerial, able to stay aloft for more than a week.


Order: Pelecaniformes   Family: Pelecanidae

Pelicans are very large water birds with a distinctive pouch under their beak. Like other birds in the order Pelecaniformes, they have four webbed toes.

Herons, egrets, and bitterns[edit]

Order: Pelecaniformes   Family: Ardeidae

The family Ardeidae contains the bitterns, herons and egrets. Herons and egrets are medium to large wading birds with long necks and legs. Bitterns tend to be shorter necked and more secretive. Members of Ardeidae fly with their necks retracted, unlike other long-necked birds such as storks, ibises and spoonbills.




Ibises and spoonbills[edit]

Order: Pelecaniformes   Family: Threskiornithidae

Threskiornithidae is a family of large terrestrial and wading birds that includes the ibises and spoonbills. They have long, broad wings with 11 primary and about 20 secondary feathers. They are strong fliers and, rather surprisingly, given their size and weight, very capable soarers.


Order: Pelecaniformes   Family: Scopidae


Order: Ciconiiformes   Family: Ciconiidae

Storks have no syrinx and are mute, giving no bird call; bill-clattering is an important mode of communication at the nest. Many species are migratory. Most storks eat frogs, fish, insects, earthworms, and small birds or mammals.


Order: Phoenicopteriformes   Family: Phoenicopteridae

Flamingoes are gregarious wading birds, usually 3 to 5 feet (0.9 to 1.5 m) tall, found in both the Western and Eastern Hemispheres. Flamingos filter-feed on shellfish and algae. Their oddly shaped beaks are specially adapted to separate mud and silt from the food they consume and, uniquely, are used upside-down.

Ducks, geese and swans[edit]

Order: Anseriformes   Family: Anatidae

Anatidae includes the ducks and most duck-like waterfowl, such as geese and swans. These birds are adapted to an aquatic existence, with webbed feet, bills that are flattened to some extent, and oily feathers that readily shed water.


Order: Accipitriformes   Family: Pandionidae

Hawks to Old World vultures[edit]

Order: Accipitriformes   Family: Accipitridae

Accipitridae is a family of birds of prey, which includes hawks, eagles, kites, harriers, snake eagles, goshawks, sparrowhawks, buzzards and old world vultures. These birds have very large powerful hooked beaks for tearing flesh from their prey, strong legs, powerful talons and keen eyesight.

Subfamily: Aegypiinae[edit]

Subfamily: Buteoninae[edit]

Subfamily: Circaetinae[edit]

Subfamily: Perninae[edit]

Subfamily: Circinae[edit]

Subfamily: Milvinae[edit]

Subfamily: Elaninae[edit]

Subfamily: Accipitrinae[edit]


Order: Accipitriformes   Family: Sagittariidae

The secretarybird is an extraordinary bird of prey. Endemic to Africa, this mostly terrestrial bird is usually found in the open grasslands and savannahs of sub-Sahara Africa.

Falcons, hobbies, and kestrels[edit]

Order: Falconiformes   Family: Falconidae

Falconidae is a family of diurnal birds of prey. They differ from hawks, eagles and kites in that they kill with their beaks instead of their talons. There are 62 species worldwide and 16 in Southern Africa.




Quails to peafowl[edit]

Order: Galliformes   Family: Phasianidae

The Phasianidae are a family of terrestrial birds that consists of quails, partridges, snowcocks, francolins, spurfowls, tragopans, monals, pheasants, peafowls and jungle fowls. In general, they are plump (though they vary in size) and have broad, relatively short wings. There are 156 species worldwide and 17 in Southern Africa.







Order: Struthioniformes   Family: Struthionidae

The ostrich is the only living species of its family, Struthionidae, and its genus, Struthio. It is distinctive in its appearance, with a long neck and legs and the ability to run at speeds of about 65 km/h (40 mph).


Order: Galliformes   Family: Numididae

Guineafowls are a group of African seed-eating, ground-nesting birds resembling partridges, but with featherless heads and spangled grey plumage. There are six species worldwide and two in Southern Africa.

Rails to gallinules[edit]

Order: Gruiformes   Family: Rallidae

Rallidae is a large family of small to medium-sized birds that includes the rails, crakes, moorhens, coots, flufftails and gallinules. The most typical family members occupy dense vegetation in damp environments near lakes, swamps or rivers. In general they are shy and secretive birds, making them difficult to observe. Most species have strong legs and long toes well adapted to soft uneven surfaces. They tend to have short, rounded wings and to be weak fliers. There are 143 species worldwide and 19 in Southern Africa.








Order: Gruiformes   Family: Heliornithidae

The finfoots are a small family of tropical birds with webbed lobes on their feet similar to those of grebes and coots. There are three species and one occurs in Southern Africa.


Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Turnicidae

The buttonquails or hemipodes are a small family of birds that resemble, but are unrelated to, true quails.


Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Jacanidae

The jacanas are a group of tropical waders in the family Jacanidae. They are found worldwide within the tropical zone. They are identifiable by their huge feet and claws that enable them to walk on floating vegetation in the shallow lakes that are their preferred habitat. There eight species worldwide and two in Southern Africa.


Order: Gruiformes   Family: Gruidae

Cranes are large, long-legged and long-necked birds of the order Gruiformes, and family Gruidae. There are 15 living species of cranes worldwide and three in Southern Africa.

Bustards and korhaans[edit]

The northern black korhaan is a widespread endemic species

Order: Otidiformes   Family: Otididae

Bustards and korhaans are large terrestrial birds mainly associated with dry open country and steppes in the Old World. They make up the family Otididae (formerly known as Otidae). Bustards and korhaans are omnivorous and nest on the ground. They walk steadily on strong legs and big toes, pecking for food as they go. They have long broad wings with "fingered" wingtips and striking patterns in flight. Many have interesting mating displays. There are 27 species worldwide, 11 in Southern Africa.


Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Dromadidae

The crab-plover, Dromas ardeola is a bird related to the waders, but is sufficiently distinctive to be a family unto itself Dromadidae. Its relationship within the Charadriiformes is unclear, some writers have them in close to the thick-knees, or the pratincoles, or even closer to the auks and gulls. It is the only member of the genus Dromas.


Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Haematopodidae

The oystercatchers are large, obvious and noisy plover-like birds, with strong bills used for smashing or prising open molluscs. There are 11 species worldwide and two in Southern Africa.

Stilts and avocets[edit]

Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Recurvirostridae

Recurvirostridae is a family of large wading birds that includes avocets and stilts. Avocets have long legs and long up-curved bills. Stilts have extremely long legs and long, thin, straight bills. There are nine species worldwide, two in Southern Africa.

Plovers and lapwings[edit]

Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Charadriidae

The family Charadriidae includes the plovers, dotterels and lapwings. They are small to medium-sized birds with compact bodies, short, thick necks and long, usually pointed, wings. They are found in open country worldwide, mostly in habitats near water. There are 66 species worldwide, 21 in Southern Africa.

Sandpipers to phalaropes[edit]

Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Scolopacidae

Scolopacidae is a large diverse family of small to medium-sized shorebirds including the sandpipers, curlews, godwits, shanks, tattlers, woodcocks, snipes, dowitchers and phalaropes. The majority of these species eat small invertebrates picked out of the mud or soil. Different lengths of legs and bills enable multiple species to feed in the same habitat, particularly on the coast, without direct competition for food. There are 86 species worldwide, 37 in Southern Africa.

Shanks and tattlers (Genera: Xenus, Actitis, Tringa and Heteroscelus)

Calidrids and turnstones (Genera: Calidris, Aphriza, Eurynorhynchus, Limicola, Tryngites, Arenaria and Philomachus)

Snipe and woodcocks (Genera: Coenocorypha, Lymnocryptes, Gallinago and Scolopax)

Godwits (Genus: Limosa)

Curlews (Genus: Numenius)

Phalaropes (Genus Phalaropus)


Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Rostratulidae

Painted-snipes are three distinctive wader species placed together in their own family Rostratulidae. They are short-legged, long-billed birds similar in shape to the true snipes, but much more brightly coloured. There are three species of painted-snipe worldwide, one in Southern Africa.

Pratincoles and coursers[edit]

Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Glareolidae

Glareolidae is a family of birds in the wader suborder Charadri. There are 17 species worldwide, eight in Southern Africa.

The pratincoles have short legs, long pointed wings and long forked tails. They typically hunt their insect prey on the wing like swallows.

The coursers have long legs, short wings and long, pointed bills that curve downwards. They inhabit deserts and similar arid regions.


Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Burhinidae

The stone-curlews or thick-knees are a group of largely tropical waders in the family Burhinidae. They are found worldwide within the tropical zone, with some species also breeding in temperate Europe and Australia.

They are medium to large waders with strong black or yellow-black bills, large yellow eyes—which give them a reptilian appearance—and cryptic plumage. There are nine species worldwide and two of which occur in Southern Africa.

Skuas and jaegers[edit]

Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Stercorariidae

The family Stercorariidae are, in general, medium to large birds, typically with grey or brown plumage, often with white markings on the wings. They nest on the ground in temperate and arctic regions and are long-distance migrants. There are seven species worldwide and five in Southern Africa.


Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Chionididae

The sheathbills are the two species of birds in the genus Chionis in the family Chionididae. They are confined to Antarctic regions, and are the only Antarctic birds without webbed feet. There are two species worldwide, one in Southern Africa.

Gulls and kittiwakes[edit]

Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Laridae

Laridae is a family of medium to large seabirds, the gulls and kittiwakes. They are typically grey or white, often with black markings on the head or wings. They have stout, longish bills and webbed feet. There are 55 species worldwide, 13 in Southern Africa.


Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Rhynchopidae

The skimmers are a small family of tern-like birds in the order Charadriiformes. They have an elongated lower mandible that they use to feed while flying low over the water, skimming the water for small fish. There are three species worldwide, one in Southern Africa.

Terns and noddies[edit]

Order: Charadriiformes   Family: Sternidae

Terns and noddies are a group of generally medium to large seabirds typically with grey or white plumage, often with black markings on the head. Most terns hunt fish by diving but some pick insects off the surface of fresh water. Terns are generally long-lived birds, with several species known to live in excess of 30 years. There are 44 species worldwide, 22 in Southern Africa.


Order: Pteroclidiformes   Family: Pteroclididae

The sandgrouses are a group of 16 near passerine bird species in the order Pteroclidiformes. They are restricted to treeless open country in the Old World, such as plains and semi-deserts. Sandgrouse have small, pigeon like heads and necks, but sturdy compact bodies. They have long pointed wings and sometimes tails and a fast direct flight. Flocks fly to watering holes at dawn and dusk. There are 16 species worldwide, four in Southern Africa.

Pigeons and doves[edit]

Order: Columbiformes   Family: Columbidae

Pigeons and doves are stout-bodied birds with short necks and short slender bills with a fleshy cere.

African and New World parrots[edit]

Order: Psittaciformes   Family: Psittacidae.


Old World parrots[edit]

Order: Psittaciformes   Family: Psittaculidae.




Order: Cuculiformes   Family: Musophagidae

The turacos, plantain eaters and go-away birds make up the bird family Musophagidae (literally banana-eaters). In Southern Africa both turacos and go-away birds are commonly known as louries. Traditionally, this group has been placed in the cuckoo order Cuculiformes, but Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy raises this group to a full order Musophagiformes. There are 23 species worldwide, six in Southern Africa.


Order: Cuculiformes   Family: Cuculidae

The family Cuculidae includes cuckoos, coucals, roadrunners and anis. These birds are of variable size with slender bodies, long tails and strong legs. There are 138 species worldwide, 21 in Southern Africa.



Barn owls[edit]

Order: Strigiformes   Family: Tytonidae

Barn owls are medium to large owls with large heads and characteristic heart-shaped faces. They have long strong legs with powerful talons. There are 16 species worldwide, two in Southern Africa.

Typical owls[edit]

Order: Strigiformes   Family: Strigidae

The typical owls are small to large solitary nocturnal birds of prey. They have large forward-facing eyes and ears, a hawk-like beak and a conspicuous circle of feathers around each eye called a facial disk. There are 195 species worldwide and ten in Southern Africa.


Order: Caprimulgiformes   Family: Caprimulgidae

Nightjars are medium-sized nocturnal birds that usually nest on the ground. They have long wings, short legs and very short bills. Most have small feet, of little use for walking, and long pointed wings. Their soft plumage is cryptically coloured to resemble bark or leaves. There are 86 species worldwide, seven in Southern Africa.

Swifts and spinetails[edit]

Order: Apodiformes   Family: Apodidae

Swifts and spinetails are small birds which spend the majority of their lives flying. These birds have very short legs and never settle voluntarily on the ground, perching instead only on vertical surfaces. Many swifts have long swept-back wings which resemble a crescent or boomerang. There are 98 species worldwide, 13 in Southern Africa.




Order: Trogoniformes   Family: Trogonidae

The trogons and quetzals feed on insects and fruit, and their broad bills and weak legs reflect their diet and arboreal habits. Though fast fliers, they are reluctant to fly any distance. Trogons do not migrate. There are 39 species worldwide, one in Southern Africa.


Order: Passeriformes   Family: Pittidae

Pittas are medium-sized by passerine standards and are stocky, with strong, longish legs, very short tails and stout bills. Many are brightly coloured. There are 32 species worldwide, one in Southern Africa.


Order: Passeriformes   Family: Eurylaimidae

Broadbills are brightly coloured birds, which feed on fruit and also take insects in flycatcher fashion, snapping their broad bills. Their habitat is canopies of wet forests, so despite their colours, they are difficult to observe. There are 16 species worldwide, one in Southern Africa.


Order: Coliiformes   Family: Coliidae

Mousebirds are slender greyish or brown birds with soft, hairlike body feathers and very long thin tails. They are arboreal, and scurry through the leaves like rodents, searching for berries, fruit and buds. There are six species worldwide, three in Southern Africa.


Kingfishers are medium-sized birds with large heads, long, pointed bills, short legs and stubby tails. There are 94 species worldwide, ten in Southern Africa.

River kingfishers[edit]

Order: Coraciiformes   Family: Alcedinidae

Tree kingfishers[edit]

Order: Coraciiformes   Family: Halcyonidae

Water kingfishers[edit]

Order: Coraciiformes   Family: Cerylidae


Order: Coraciiformes   Family: Meropidae

Bee-eaters are gregarious; they form colonies by nesting in burrows tunnelled into the side of sandy banks, such as those that have collapsed on the edges of rivers. They generally produce two to nine white eggs per clutch—depending on species. They are widely distributed and common. As they live in colonies, large numbers of these holes are often seen together, white streaks from their accumulated droppings accentuating the entrances to the nests. Most of the species in the family are monogamous, and have biparental care of the young. There are 26 species worldwide, nine in Southern Africa.


Order: Coraciiformes   Family: Coraciidae

The rollers are an Old World family of near passerine birds. They resemble crows in size and build, but are more closely related to the kingfishers and bee-eaters. They share the colourful appearance of those groups, blues and browns predominating. The two inner front toes are connected, but not the outer one. There are 11 species worldwide, five in Southern Africa.


Order: Coraciiformes   Family: Bucerotidae

Monteiro's hornbill is a near-endemic that ranges to Angola.

Hornbills are a group of birds that have bills shaped like a cow's horn, but without a twist, sometimes with a casque on the upper mandible. Frequently, the bill is brightly coloured.


Order: Coraciiformes   Family: Upupidae

Wood hoopoes and scimitarbills[edit]

Order: Coraciiformes   Family: Phoeniculidae

Wood hoopoes have metallic plumage, often blue, green or purple, and lack an erectile crest. They are more gregarious than the hoopoe, and can often be seen in small groups. There are seven species worldwide, three in Southern Africa.


Order: Piciformes   Family: Indicatoridae

Most honeyguides are dull-coloured, though a few have bright yellow in their plumage. All have light outer tail feathers, which are white in all the African species. There are 17 species worldwide, six in Southern Africa.

Barbets and tinkerbirds[edit]

Order: Piciformes   Family: Lybiidae

The barbets and tinkerbirds are plump birds, with short necks and large heads. They get their name from the bristles that fringe their heavy bills. Most species are brightly coloured. Most species of barbet live in tropical forests, though several species of African barbet inhabit woodlands, scrub and even semi-arid environments. There are 84 species worldwide, ten in Southern Africa.

Woodpeckers and wrynecks[edit]

Order: Piciformes   Family: Picidae

Woodpeckers and wrynecks are small to medium-sized birds with chisel-like beaks, short legs, stiff tails and long tongues used for capturing insects. Some species have feet with two toes pointing forward and two backward, while several species have only three toes. Many woodpeckers have the habit of tapping noisily on tree trunks with their beaks.


Order: Passeriformes   Family: Alaudidae

Larks are small terrestrial birds with often extravagant songs and display flights. Most larks are fairly dull in appearance. They feed on insects and seeds. There are 94 species worldwide, 31 in Southern Africa.

Swallows and martins[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Hirundinidae

The family Hirundinidae is adapted to aerial feeding. They have a slender streamlined body, long pointed wings and a short bill with a wide gape. The feet are adapted to perching rather than walking, and the front toes are partially joined at the base. There are 75 species worldwide, 22 in Southern Africa.

Drongos and flycatchers[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Dicruridae

The family Dicruridae is a relatively recent grouping of a number of seemingly very different birds, mostly from the Southern Hemisphere, which are more closely related than they at first appear. There are 139 species worldwide, six in Southern Africa.

Subfamily: Dicrurinae[edit]

Subfamily: Monarchinae[edit]

Old World flycatchers[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Muscicapidae

Old World flycatchers are a large group of small passerine birds native to the Old World. They are mainly small arboreal insectivores. The appearance of these birds is highly varied, but they mostly have weak songs and harsh calls.


Order: Passeriformes   Family: Campephagidae

Cuckooshrikes are medium to small arboreal birds, generally long and slender. They are predominantly greyish with white and black. There are 84 species worldwide, three in Southern Africa.


Order: Passeriformes   Family: Oriolidae

Orioles are colourful Old World passerine birds in the family Oriolidae. They are not related to the New World orioles, which are icterids, family Icteridae. There are 25 species worldwide, four in Southern Africa.

Ravens and crows[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Corvidae

Ravens and crows are medium to large birds with strong feet and bills, rictal bristles and a single moult each year (most passerines moult twice). There are 120 species worldwide, four in Southern Africa.


Order: Passeriformes   Family: Paridae

The tits, chickadees and titmice, family Paridae, are a large family of small passerine birds, mainly small stocky woodland species with short stout bills. Some have crests. They are adaptable birds, with a mixed diet including seeds and insects. Many species live around human habitation and come readily to bird feeders for nuts or seeds, and can learn to take other foods. There are 59 species worldwide, five in Southern Africa.

Penduline tits[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Remizidae

There are 15 species worldwide, two in Southern Africa.

Spotted creeper[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Certhiidae

Subfamily: Salpornithinae


Order: Passeriformes   Family: Leiothrichidae

Bulbuls and nicators[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Pycnonotidae

Bulbuls and nicators are mostly frugivorous birds. Some are colourful with yellow, red or orange vents, cheeks, throats or supercilia, but most are drab, with uniform olive-brown to black plumage. Some have very distinct crests. Many of these species inhabit tree tops, while some are restricted to the undergrowth. Up to five purple-pink eggs are laid in an open tree nests and incubated by the female. There are 130 species worldwide, ten in Southern Africa.


Order: Passeriformes   Family: Turdidae

The thrushes are a group of passerine birds that occur mainly but not exclusively in the Old World. They are plump, soft plumaged, small to medium-sized insectivores or sometimes omnivores, often feeding on the ground. Many have attractive songs.

African warblers[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Macrosphenidae

Locustellid warblers[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Locustellidae

Old World warblers[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Sylviidae

The Old World warblers are of generally undistinguished appearance, but many have distinctive songs.

Acrocephalid warblers[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Acrocephalidae

Phylloscopid warblers[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Phylloscopidae

Hyliotid warblers[edit]

Fairy flycatchers[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Stenostiridae

Apalises, cisticolas and prinias[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Cisticolidae

Cisticolidae are generally very small birds of drab brown or grey appearance found in open country such as grassland or scrub. They are often difficult to see and many species are similar in appearance, so the song is often the best identification guide. These are insectivorous birds that nest low in vegetation. There are 110 species worldwide, 37 in Southern Africa.








Order: Passeriformes   Family: Zosteropidae

White-eyes are mostly of undistinguished appearance, the plumage above being generally either mouse-coloured or greenish-olive, but some species have a white or bright yellow throat, breast or lower parts, and several have buff flanks. They have rounded wings and strong legs. The size ranges up to 15 cm (6 in) in length. There are 97 species worldwide, three in Southern Africa.


The unique white-tailed shrike ranges to Angola

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Platysteiridae

Wattle-eyes get their name from the brightly coloured fleshy eye decorations found in most species in this group. These insect-eating birds are found in usually open forests or bush. They hunt by flycatching, or by taking prey from the ground like a shrike. There are 30 species worldwide, eight in Southern Africa.

Wagtails, longclaws and pipits[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Motacillidae

Motacillidae is a family of small passerine birds with medium to long tails. They include the wagtails, longclaws and pipits. They are slender, ground feeding insectivores of open country. They are ground nesters, laying up to six speckled eggs. There are 60 species worldwide, 25 in Southern Africa.





Order: Passeriformes   Family: Laniidae

A shrike is a passerine bird of the family Laniidae known for catching insects, small birds or mammals, and impaling their bodies on thorns. This helps them tear the flesh into small convenient fragments, and serves as a "larder" so that the shrike can return to feed later. A typical shrike's beak is hooked, like a bird of prey, reflecting its predatory nature. There are 32 species worldwide, six in Southern Africa.


Order: Passeriformes   Family: Prionopidae

The helmetshrikes are smallish passerine bird species. They were formerly classified with the true shrikes in the family Laniidae, but are now considered sufficiently distinctive to separate from that group as the family Prionopidae. There are 11 species worldwide, three in Southern Africa.

Bush-shrikes and tchagras[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Malaconotidae

The bush-shrikes, boubous and tchagras are smallish passerine bird species. They were formerly classed with the true shrikes in the family Laniidae, but are now considered sufficiently distinctive to separate from that group as the family Malaconotidae. There are 43 species worldwide, 16 in Southern Africa.

Starlings and oxpeckers[edit]

Order: Passeriformes. Family: Sturnidae (including Buphaginae, sometimes deemed a distinct family)

Pale-winged starling, a near-endemic to the region

Starlings and oxpeckers are small to medium-sized passerines with strong feet and pointed bills. Their flight is strong and direct and they are very gregarious. Their preferred habitat ranges from dry open to moist wooded country, and they may feed on insects, fruit or ticks. Plumage is typically dark with a metallic sheen.


Order: Passeriformes   Family: Promeropidae

The two species of sugarbird make up one of only two bird families restricted entirely to Southern Africa, the other being the rock-jumpers Chaetopidae. They are specialist nectar feeders, but also eat insects. They have dull streaky plumage and long tails. The songs are a jumble of metallic-sounding notes.


Order: Passeriformes   Family: Nectariniidae (which includes spiderhunters in Asia)

The sunbirds are very small passerine birds that feed largely on nectar, though they also take insects, especially when feeding young. Flight is fast and direct on their short wings. Most species can feed while hovering like a hummingbird, but they mostly perch. Strong sexual dimorphism is typical, with males brilliant and females drab. Approximately 131 species exist worldwide, 22 in Southern Africa.


The great sparrow is a near-endemic to the region

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Passeridae

Sparrows are small passerine birds. In general, sparrows tend to be small plump brownish or greyish birds with short tails and short powerful beaks. They are monogamous and build conspicuous nests. Sparrows are granivorous, but also consume small insects. There are 35 species worldwide, six in Southern Africa.

Weavers to widowbirds[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Ploceidae

Weavers, queleas, bishops and widowbirds are small, gregarious passerine birds related to finches. Most inhabit sub-Saharan Africa, though a few species occur in tropical Asia. Their rounded conical bills suit their granivorous diet. Males typically acquire striking summer plumages. Queleas, bishops and weavers are colonial nesters, and the latter group weaves conspicuous suspended nests. Widowbirds to the contrary are solitary, terrestrial nesters, but flock in winter. Of the 114 species worldwide, 27 exist in Southern Africa.

Whydahs and indigobirds[edit]

The indigobirds and whydahs, are small passerine birds native to Africa. These are finch-like species which usually have black or indigo predominating in their plumage. The whydahs have long or very long tails. All of the species are brood parasites, which lay their eggs in the nests of estrildid finches; most indigobirds use fire-finches as hosts, whereas the paradise whydahs chose pytilias. There are 19 species worldwide, eight in Southern Africa.

Estrildid finchs[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Estrildidae

The estrildid finches are small passerine birds of the Old World tropics and Australasia. They are gregarious and often colonial seed eaters with short thick but pointed bills. They are all similar in structure and habits, but have wide variation in plumage colours and patterns.

Fringilline finches and allies[edit]

Order: Passeriformes   Family: Fringillidae

Finches are seed-eating passerine birds, that are small to moderately large and have a strong beak, usually conical and in some species very large. All have twelve tail feathers and nine primaries. These birds have a bouncing flight with alternating bouts of flapping and gliding on closed wings, and most sing well. There are 137 species worldwide, 15 in Southern Africa.


Order: Passeriformes   Family: Emberizidae

Emberizidae is a large family of passerine birds. They are seed eaters with distinctively shaped bills. Those occurring in the Old World are mostly known as buntings. In North America, most of this species are called sparrows, though the latter are not all that closely related to Old World sparrows, which belong to the family Passeridae. Emberizid species typically show distinctive head patterns. Of 275 species worldwide, five occur in Southern Africa.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Davies, Greg B.P. (30 March 2010). Digest Number 2886, Pretoriabirds (Mailing list).  Missing or empty |title= (help);
  2. ^ Johnson JA, Richard T. Watson and David P. Mindell (2005). "Prioritizing species conservation: does the Cape Verde kite exist?" (PDF). Proc. R. Soc. B. 272 (1570): 1365–1371. doi:10.1098/rspb.2005.3098. PMC 1560339Freely accessible. PMID 16006325.  This mitochondrial study of Milvus kites, employing three genes, determined that the black kite (Milvus m. migrans) of the Eurasian clade differs significantly from the allopatric yellow-billed kite, where the latter could be further subdivided into two groups: those from Southern Africa and Madagascar differing from those in central, west and east Africa. These taxa are all distinct, though near-related as in the Eurasian clade. The study revealed besides that the two yellow-billed kite taxa could potentially be assigned species status. In such a three-way split the yellow-billed kite of Southern Africa would be named M. parasitus.