Birding Safaris: the Okavango Delta

Birds On Safari Tommy Mansson Pom Pom Camp

A little bird told us that if you are interested in birding safaris, then the Okavango Delta is one of the best places to visit.


The Okavango Delta is at the top of many travellers’ lists as it is home to huge numbers of elephant, buffalo, lion, hippo, and almost every kind of antelope you can think of. But, the Delta offers so much more than Africa’s Big Five. The vast lush green wetland (15 000 km²) is a bird paradise. So, if you are looking for a birding safari then the Delta is your garden of Eden.

Birding Safaris: Botswana flood plains

Okavango Delta, a bird paradise


The Okavango Delta is a paradise for birders in search of water and water-associated birds. Over 500 species have been recorded in this wide range of habitats. Birdwatching in these open floodplains is generally easier and better than in rainforest regions where thick vegetation and high forest canopies seriously limit sightings.


The Okavango Delta is the perfect destination for a twitcher (a birdwatcher whose main aim is to collect sightings of rare birds). Although Botswana does not have any endemic species of birds, it is nonetheless one of Africa’s top locations for birding safaris because of its protection of a number of threatened and endangered species.


When to go on a Botswana birding safari


In terms of birding, there is no bad time of the year to visit Botswana, but the best time to see birds on safari in the Okavango Delta is during the summer months (November to March) when the migrants have arrived. In prime birding areas, such as the northern Chobe National Park/Kasane area, keen, energetic and experienced birders can record around 300 species in three or four days..

Botswana Birding Safaris: What to See

The Pel’s Fishing Owl

Birding SAfaris: Pels Fishing Owl

The Pel’s Fishing Owl. © M Oosthuizen

A sure favourite is the Pel’s fishing-owl. They are incredibly tough to find, but when you do spot one, it will definitely be a memory that will stay with you your whole life. What makes them so special you ask?


These owls are not like any other owls as they had to adapt to their wet environment. Unlike most owls, their legs and toes lack feathers, eliminating the disadvantage of heavy, wet feathers. The underside of the toes and feet are covered in spiky scales that help them grip their slippery prey, which consists mostly of fish but can also include young crocodiles and crabs. You will also hear them while sitting around your campfire as it is hard to ignore their bone-chilling calls that can be heard from up to 2 miles away.

The Southern Ground Hornbill

Don’t forget to look out for the peculiar looking turkey like bird known as southern ground-hornbills. In Africa, they are classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN, however, in South Africa they are classified as ‘endangered’ and on the Red List of Threatened Species as only about 1500 individuals live within the country.

Under one Botswana sky Pom Pom Camp guests was lucky enough to see a southern ground-hornbills on a recent safari, and entered this incredible picture into their magic of Botswana photo contest.

Birding SAfaris: Southern Ground Hornbill

The Southern Ground Hornbill. © Oliver Schapp

These owls are not like any other owls as they had to adapt to their wet environment. Unlike most owls, their legs and toes lack feathers, eliminating the disadvantage of heavy, wet feathers. The underside of the toes and feet are covered in spiky scales that help them grip their slippery prey, which consists mostly of fish but can also include young crocodiles and crabs. You will also hear them while sitting around your campfire as it is hard to ignore their bone-chilling calls that can be heard from up to 2 miles away.

The Lilac Breasted Roller

Birding SAfaris: Lilac Breasted Roller

The Lilac Breasted Roller. © Oliver Martin

Your birding safari in Botswana won’t be completed without spotting Botswana’s National bird. In fact, they are really hard to miss as they are probably one of the most beautiful birds. The Lilac-breasted Roller is a spectacularly coloured bird, with a lilac throat and breast and blue belly.

Other birds to look out for are cormorants, kingfishers, warblers, cisticolas, coucals and rails in the waterside vegetation. The open floodplains are the places to spot the stately egret, waders, storks and cranes.

Placeholder

© Ernie Geyser


Placeholder

© Joyce Edwards


Placeholder

© Gerald (Bomber) Kent


Placeholder

© Joyce Edwards


How to see birds on safari in the Okavango Delta


Any birdwatcher will know that the golden rule of birdwatching is silence. Fortunately, there are various ways to explore in the Okavango Delta without the noise of a car engine or motor boat. Your only option is not just a guided bird walk, but something way more exciting and true to Botswana. A Mokoro (dug-out canoe) ride an absolute ‘must do’ when visiting Botswana especially if you would like to get closer to the water birds.

birding Safaris: mokoro in Botswana

Under One Botswana Sky guests enjoying a Mokoro Ride on their birding safari.


4 Tips for spotting birds on safari

  • Connector.

    Silence is golden

    Not only will you hear the bird calls and follow them, but you won’t scare them away.

  • Connector.

    Go on a professional guided walk

    Always try and take a professional guide with you – it is like having your own walking, talking bird book.

  • Connector.

    Invest in decent binoculars.

    Observe the birds up close so that you can correctly identify them.

  • Connector.

    Do some research

    Do some research so that you know what birds to look out for, and where to look. Won’t really help looking for an ostrich in a tree, now will it?


birding safari: walking in Botswana

Under One Botswana Sky guests on a guided bird walk.


Where to stay for the best birding experience


In the Okavango Delta, your bird safari begins right outside your room, so choosing where you stay is key. We suggest the following camps, but feel free to chat to us for more options.

Royal tree lodge has marked walking trails so that guests can create their own adventure. Over 300 species of birds have been sighted in and around Royal Tree Lodge at peak season. Keen birders should be able to see at least 50 – 70 species in a day and have the opportunity to add new species to the lodge’s bird sighting list. The record thus far is 130 species in a 24-hour period!

Under One Botswana’s Gunns Camp is set under leafy palms and African Ebony to blend naturally with its unique surroundings. Gunn’s Camp achieves a fine balance of comfort without isolating guests from the sights and sounds of the wilderness and birdlife. The camp also offers full day Mokoro Excursions that includes a delicious picnic lunch which can be enjoyed on a Delta island after an exhilarating bush walk.

Sanctuary Baines camp is set in a grove of trees, rich in birdlife and surrounded by papyrus beds, so that guest can look for birds without leaving the comfort of the camp. Or you can opt for a stay on the Zambezi Queen where you can watch a fish eagle take flight – all from the comfort of your own luxurious bed in air-conditioned room.


It doesn’t matter whether you will be searching for birds on safari from the comfort of your luxurious room, your camp, a Mokoro or on foot, a birding trip to the Delta never disappoints.