Birds in Zambia
Zambia is rich in bird life, or avifauna – 753 different species have been recorded, with more sightings and species being added each year.
Although the Country’s vegetation is dominated by a single biome – Miombo Woodland – our landlocked location is home to numerous bird species found in both East and Southern Africa, with a large number of migratory birds coming from the Northern hemisphere during our rainy season.
Of the 753 species, over 600 are residents, or Afrotropical migrants which breed here. Approximately 100 species are non-breeding migrants and the remainder are non-breeding Afriotropical migrants and vagrants.
Zambia has one only true endemic species – the Chaplin’s, or Zambian, Barbet (Lybius chaplini). The Black-cheeked Lovebird (Agapornis nigrigenis) is a near-endemic species as it can sometimes be found in neighbouring countries.
Birdlife International has listed 22 globally threatened species that occur in Zambia: eleven are classified as vulnerable and nine as near-threatened. Two are classified as ‘data-deficient’.
Blue Swallow (Hirundo atrocaerulea)
Black-cheeked Lovebird (Agapornis nigrigenis)
Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres)
Corncrake (Crex crex)
Greater Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga)
Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotus)
Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni)
Madagascar Pond Heron (Ardeola idae)
Papyrus Yellow Warbler (Chloropeta gracilirostris)
Slaty Egret (Egretta vinaceigula)
Wattled Crane (Bugeranus carunculatus)
Black-winged Pratincole (Glareola nordmanni)
Chaplin’s Barbet (Lybius chaplini)
Churring Cisticola (Cisticola njombe)
Great Snipe (Gallinago media)
Grimwood’s Longclaw (Macronyx grimwoodi)
Lesser Flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor)
Madagascar Squacco Heron (Ardeola idae)
Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus)
Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex)
Birds and their Habitats
As miombo is the commonest type of woodland in Zambia then it is perhaps not surprising that the Country has a greater variety of miombo birds than any of its neighbours. Many of these birds join mixed-species bird parties – which may contain up to 20 different species of mainly territorial insectivorous birds. These bird parties travel slowly through the woodlands, with its members changing as they enter and leave an individual’s own territory.
Typically you can find the more conspicuous Fork-tailed Drongo or Arnot’s Chat. You might also spot barbets, honeyguides, woodpeckers, pipits, weavers, cuckoo shrikes, seed-eaters, eremomelas, Scimitarbill, Hoopoe, Miombo Barred Warbler, hyliotas, flycatchers, Chinspot Batis, tits, Spotted Creeper, orioles, Brubru, Southern Puffback, Grey-headed Bush Shrike, Violet backed Starling, Yellow-throated Petronia and Cabanis’s Bunting.
Miombo is also home to more independent birds, such as sunbirds, Pale-billed Hornbill, Central Bearded Scrub Robin and Trilling Cisticola.
Grassy dambos, which drain the woodland areas contain different species, such as quail, flufftails, Striped Crake, Fulleborn’s and Rosy-throated Longclaw, Black-chinned Quailfinch, Locust-Finch, and many species of cisticola.
Although only a small part of the Country houses forests, these are rich in different varieties of birds. These can be seen in at the edge of forests, in thickets or in dense woodlands and on the vegetation of termite mounds. Some of the bird species that can be found are Schalow’s Turaco, Lady Ross’s Turaco, Blue spotted Wood Dove, Emerald Cuckoo, Speckled Mousebird, Narina Trogon, Brown-headed Kingfisher, Black-backed Barbet, Yellow breasted Apalis, Dusky Flycatcher, Collared Sunbird, Brown and Blue-billed Firefinches, Black-tailed Grey Waxbill and Black-faced Canary.
In northern Zambia, patches of wet evergreen forests, called Mushitu, are home to Ross’s Turaco, Bocage’s Akalat, Laura’s Woodland-Warbler, and Margaret’s Batis.
Along the riverbanks you can find African Finfoot, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Pel’s Fishing-owl, and Boehm’s Bee-eaters along with herons and kingfishers. African Pitta live in the more low lying deciduous thickets.
Swamps & Floodplains
Bangweulu, the Busanga Swamps, the Kafue Flats and the Barotse Floodplains are just some of the major wetlands in Zambia. Both Lochinvar and Blue Lagoon National Parks have been declared Ramsar sites – which are internationally important wetland areas. These wetlands contain numerous bird species. Bangweulu is famous for the Shoebill Stork and you can often find Wattled Crane in Kafue National Park.
In shallow open waters you can spot waterbirds such as White-breasted and Reed Cormorant, White and Pink-backed Pelican, Goliath Heron, Yellow and Open-billed Stork, African Spoonbill, Whiskered and White-winged Black Terns and Pied Kingfisher. In the deeper waters on Lake Tanganyika you will find flocks of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.
During the dry season when water levels are falling, on the water’s muddy edge, you can see sandpipers, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Ringed, Three-banded and Blacksmith Plovers, Greenshank and Little Stint.
Shallow flooded vegetation is vibrant with a variety of numerous bird species, with Common Squacco and Rufous-bellied Heron, Yellow-billed Egret, Saddle-billed Stork, Sacred & Glossy Ibis, Fulvous and White-faced Whistling Duck, Spur-winged Goose, Knob-billed and Yellow-billed Duck, Red-billed and Hottentot Teal, Southern Crowned Crane, Painted and Ethiopian Snipe, Black-winged Stilt, Long-toed Plover, Malachite Kingfisher and Sedge Warbler.
At the edge of the wetlands sit the floodplains. Here you can find species such as the Secretary Bird, Wattled Crane, Denham’s Bustard, Montagu’s Harrier, Red-billed Francolin, Common Pratincole, Marsh Owl, Natal Nightjar, White-cheeked and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Rufous-naped Lark, White-throated Swallow, Richard’s Pipit, White-rumped Babbler, Quail Finch as well as numerous storks and plovers.
Many large waterbirds breed or roost in tall swamps, whilst more permanent occupants found are Shoebill, Purple Heron, African Marsh Harrier, Purple Gallinule, Common Moorhen, Coppery-tailed Coucal, Swamp Boubou, Southern Brown-throated Weaver, African Masked Weaver and Red-shouldered Whydah.
In the north the papyrus swamps are home to Greater Swamp Warbler, Swamp Flycatcher and Papyrus Yellow Warbler. The latter are considered vulnerable as they are only found at the mouth of the Luapula River, where it enters Lake Mweru.
In rockier areas, such as the escarpments of the Luangwa and Zambezi Valleys, you will find more localised birds such as Shelley’s Francolin, Freckled Rock Nightjar, Striped Pipit, Familiar Chat and Rock-loving Cisticola.
To the south-east, in areas where there are larger boulders, live Boulder Chat and Cape Bunting. Whilst on the harder to access extensive rock exposures, you can find Black Stork, Augur Buzzard, Black Eagle, Taita and Peregrine Falcons, Mottled, African Black & Little Swifts, African Rock Martin, Mocking Chat, White-necked Raven and Red-winged Starling.
Whilst on Safari
When game viewing you will come across the birds that are dependent on the larger wildlife species such as Red-billed Oxpeckers.
Hooded, White-backed, Lappet-faced and White-headed vultures can be seen crowded around a carnivore’s abandoned kill, along with Marabou Stork. Cattle Egret and Wattled Starling are often found feeding around wildlife. Yellow Wagtail and Groundscraper Thrush are attracted to the trampled ground left behind by larger antelope.
In your Garden
Suburban gardens are home to a wide variety of birds. Seed eaters, that have easy access to water, include weavers, whydahs, firefinches, waxbills, mannikins, indigobirds, widows and canaries.
Nectar-bearing flowers attract sunbirds, whilst dense shrubberies provides suitable habitat for Heuglin’s Robin and Tropical Boubou. Garden fruit trees also attract Red-faced Mousebird and Schalow’s Turaco.
Why not find out more?
Did you know that a shoebill’s closest living relative is the pelican or that they have feet like a dinosaur?
Although shoesbills can only be found in few countries in Africa, they have a huge worldwide fan club and even have their own dedicated website.
Find out more fun facts about this unique species by visiting Shoebillbird.org.