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Weavers are one of the earliest birds of Africa I have memories of--besides the obvious one--the Ostrich. I remember watching a special on African wildlife and seeing these birds flock to trees and building hanging basket nests. They were colorful, loud, and intriguing. Despite how common this species is, I am excited to see these gems.
Sugarbirds are the African equivalent to the new world hummingbirds. Only they are bigger, don’t flap at a high rate of speed, and in general are slower in their movements, making them easy to watch. This species is endemic to the Fynbos biome of the southern tip of the continent. Aside from its yellow undertail, its markings are reminiscent of a thrasher, but with a long tail like a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. It’s a wicked looking bird that should be an easy pick up in Cape Town.
My comment earlier about names hold true for this species, pronounced hammer-copf. Also known as the Hammerhead, Hammerhead Stork, and a host of other names its head shape is unique in the bird world. Its a rather drab bird by all accounts--but the unique head makes it a must see for anyone going to southern Africa--and it should be an easy pick up as well.
When you read the name I hope that was enough along with the picture to understand my reasoning for this species making the cut. In Peru it was the Lyre-tailed Nightjar--Africa’s epic bird of the night doesn’t have a wicked tail, but instead it has wicked wings. I don’t know if this is one I’ll actually get to see. They start arriving in southern Africa when we are there, and being nocturnal always makes for a tough get. But 3 night time safari drives may give me the luck needed!
For some reason I have a thing for birds with long or unique tails. They give the bird lots of character and being so unique when most birds have short tails they have some mystique about them that draws me in. The Pin-tailed Wydah is one of those. Other Wydah birds also have unique tails, but the thin streamers this species projects, along with its stark black-and-white pattern and red bill really give it a unique look. And yes I know this species can be found in several parks and towns in California and also Florida (all introduced)--seeing the real thing in the wilds of Africa seems like a better experience.
If you’ve ever watched a National Geographic special, or anything related to the wildlife of Sub-Saharan Africa, you’ve likely seen an oxpecker. This ubiquitous family is the one seen hanging onto and riding larger mammals picking at the bugs they carry. The more common Red-billed Oxpecker is similarly patterned, but I chose the less common cousin as a must-get. Another remnant in my memories as a youth watching videos of the wildlife on the savannah. It’s not an overly stunning creature, but the bills are pretty cool looking, and the fact they hitch a ride on others animals to feed make them a worthwhile chase.
I showed my wife this bird recently, and her comment was, “it’s just a pigeon...” Okay yes, it is a pigeon--but it’s not just any pigeon, its GREEN! How many green pigeons have you seen? When I came to this species in the field guide the first time I just stared at it for a moment and thought to myself, “that’s a cool pigeon.” Enough said.
Remember my comment a few birds back about long-tailed birds having some mystique that drew me to them? Well this might be the most intriguing. It’s Red-winged Blackbird meets, horse mane. Do I really have to make a case for this bird being on the list? What it would be like to see a few of these dragging their epic tails in flight across a field. Fingers crossed!
This was an easy decision to make the top 25 list.. It’s half bird of bird of prey and half long-legged wader or crane. Visually speaking at least. This bird dances around the savannah looking for prey. It is rare, it is a truly unique species, and although it is grouped with other diurnal raptors within Accipitriformes, it is also in its own family Sagittariidae. It’s just a really cool bird all around.
Often regarded as the world's heaviest flying bird, tipping the scale at up to 44 lbs, this species is the poster child for the family--often seen in Zoos around America--where I first saw one when I was younger. It’s a classic species associated with semi-arid Africa, and although considered rare in most places, they are still fairly common in national parks and protected reserves.
When I was 15 and first laid eyes on an Elegant Trogon in Cave Creek Canyon in southeast Arizona I was hooked on these tropical specialties. Common throughout the tropics worldwide, this species is mostly associated with Central and South America, and and southeast Asia. But there are 3 species in Africa, including one in southern Africa which was a surprise to me. This lone wolf in the southern part of the continent was a must have on my top 25, and my fondness for trogons only added to appeal. If I get lucky and add this species to my life list, it will be the 3rd continent I’ve had a trogon on.
Somehow the first couple times I looked through the book this species evaded me. But I was looking at some trip lists from folks in Kruger National Park when I saw this species name pop up. The “Cut-throat”! That’s a name--I envisioned a bird with a red throat but it wasn’t till I googled it and saw that the bird really stood out, like its throat had been sliced with a blade and let bleed. The name was apt, and I knew this was a bird I wanted to see. It isn’t common anywhere that I will be, but it does get reported from time to time so I can always hope.
These 15 birds are ones that I find remarkable, but there are 10 more that top out my list of the birds I want to see more than any other on my trip to southern Africa this fall. I'll share those in the near future--some may surprise you, some may not seem all that spectacular, but for me they are all top notch!