By Chris Ovens
At Sibuya Game Reserve, we are very fortunate with our prolific birdlife! With nearly 400 bird species calling our Reserve in the Eastern Cape home, we are privileged to have some of South Africa’s Top 10 Birds visiting us here during the year.
After Mark Anderson, CEO of Birdlife South Africa, a respected Ornithologist, passionate bird and wildlife photographer and conservationist announced his ‘top 10 ‘must-see’ birds in South Africa’ we decided we should have a list for you too! So here are our top 10 ‘must see’ birds when visiting Sibuya Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape.
This large Palaearctic-migrant from Northern Europe visits Sibuya Game Reserve around September to May for a nice summer holiday. They love hanging out around rivers, estuaries and dams, so Sibuya is a prime destination for them to come and visit.
We have recorded several Western Osprey on the Kariega River before, and some of our staff have had the opportunity to see them catching their prey, which is an enthralling sight to watch. Ospreys are nearly entirely fish-eaters, unlike their counterparts, the African Fish Eagle, who have been known to take a wide range of prey including Water-birds and even small Mammals.
Try and spot them when on the boat cruise along the winding Estuary as you arrive at Sibuya. It’s quite a way to begin your stay with us!
African Fish Eagle
The iconic call of Africa echoes down the River as our resident breeding pair of Fish Eagles head off for their morning hunt. They pair for life and have been recorded living for up to 40 years! These impressive birds, with a wingspan of 2 – 2.4m, dominate the River and have been known to bully other birds out of their hard-earned meals. Although cheeky, this behaviour is fairly common in birds of prey and is known as kleptoparasitism. Saying that, they are just as good at hunting for themselves, catching fish over 2kg in size or even taking large Water-fowl, small Mammals and even carrion home for dinner.
Juveniles are slow developers and only reach sexual maturity at 4 – 5 years of age. This is when they get their true colours and their voice also breaks as they stop sounding like squeaky toys and become the famous ‘voice of the river’.
Be sure to keep an eye out for them while enjoying a coffee at Fish Eagle Deck on your morning game drive.
These small fighter pilots (they are only 17 – 27cm in size!) hunt along the forest roads and walkways to the lodges! So, keep a look out during the morning and at lunch time while walking around Camp.
They are extremely territorial which means we will usually see the same bird in an area for a whole season. Their agility and precision gives them a 70% success rate in hunting small birds (Doves and Sparrows), Lizards and even Bats – which is an incredible sight to watch, if you ever get the chance.
This stealthy hunter can stand dead-still on the edge of the River, waiting for a large fish to come in close. With a quick lunge and straightening of the neck – dinner is served! Did you know, Goliath Herons are able to swallow a fish up to 1kg in weight?
These Herons are often robbed of their meal by the quick and stealthy African Fish Eagle. This fight is always amazing to watch, as the two birds, both with 2m plus wingspans, fight over the Heron’s hard-earned meal.
We have a resident Goliath Heron, who the Rangers affectionately call Gary, who can be a great attraction for guests on Sibuya’s amazing Boat Cruises. Have you ever seen one of these beautiful birds before?
Often a flash of blue and a ripple in the water is all you see as this striking blue and orange bird darts around. Although similar in colouring, this Kingfisher is not to be confused with its cousin, the Malachite Kingfisher (which is also found at our Reserve)
This threatened Half-collared Kingfisher species relies on vegetation over-hanging water to sniper its prey. The valley thicket that comes right down onto the Estuary and the forested streams makes Sibuya a paradise for this bird and several breeding pairs are found here.
A fact that we find our guests love is that, unlike most birds, Kingfishers have round eggs to save space as most breed in little holes in banks and space is tight. Interesting, hey? We keep a sharp look out along the River banks and we do our best to point out these beautiful birds to you when we see one.
This magnificent green and red bird can be seen all year round at Sibuya, contrary to its name suggesting that it is only found in Knysna. Did you know that this family of birds was recently re-named from ‘Louries’ to ‘Turaco’ due to the brilliant Turacoverdin and Turacin pigment that give the feathers their bright green and red colour.
This beautiful bird can often be seen hopping around the fruiting trees at the Lodge or coming to the bird-bath for a drink in the Camps.
There’s an old African story about how, when they were created, they were first in line for their colours but last in line for their call. Their call, loud and proud, can be distinctively heard from kilometres away and has been likened to a rasping coughing sound.
Long Crested Eagle
The identity of this bird is in its name – the long crest. The unusually long feathers at the crown of their head blow in the wind, making this a very easily identifiable bird when perched.
They sit proud over-looking open areas on the forest fringes. Feeding on small Mammals and Reptiles, which they swoop on from a perch, give them a brilliant silhouette against the setting or rising sun.
This has to be one of the most requested ‘must see’ birds we have at Sibuya Game Reserve. The Narina Trogan is an incredible bird to add to your list while you are visiting us.
These striking yet secretive birds are often heard but not seen as they live in the thick canopy, in the thickets and forest around Sibuya. Keep your eyes peeled as, unless they are sitting facing you, they are incredibly difficult to see as they are so well-camouflaged.
However, a morning walk to Bush Lodge waterfall normally yields a glimpse, if you are lucky.
African Pygmy Kingfisher
This is the second Kingfisher to make our ‘must see’ list! Being the smallest Kingfisher in Southern Africa, this beautiful little bird sits at 12 – 13cm tall.
This “Kingfisher” has missed the point of its namesake, as it feeds mostly on insects and small reptiles! These birds are Central-African migrants and join us at Sibuya for the summer insect explosion.
Nesting in holes in riverbanks or even the sides of an abandoned Aardvark hole, they can be seen feeding their chicks on a high protein diet that allows them to fledge in 18 days from hatching!
It is said that this bird has been named after a ‘secretary’ because of a few factors. Back when the Europeans arrived in Africa, these birds resembled the male secretaries of the time – with their long tail coats and the feathers on the bird’s head looking like the goose-quill pens secretaries would put behind their ears. A fun fact about this bird is that they have the longest tail of any South African bird species, reaching up to 75cm long!
They stride along the Sibuya plains looking for Snakes and small Mammals, but a Grasshopper wouldn’t be turned down either. With pin-pointing accuracy, they kick their prey to death, which is a great spectacle to watch, especially when they come across a Cape Cobra!
Keep a look out for these incredible birds when staying at Sibuya Game Reserve. Don’t forget to let your Guide know that you’re an avid birder, or if you have any other interests. We always love to make your experience memorable. So, see you soon!