The Kruger is a bird enthusiast’s paradise: With over 800 bird species in South Africa, there are more birds here than the entire North American continent! But when it comes to the birds of Kruger National Park most visitors, birdwatchers or not, are intrigued by the Big 6.
The Big 6 refers to six of the most sought-after birds which travellers to the Kruger National Park want to see, as opposed to the Big 5, which represents the five game species which were historically most prized as hunter’s trophies and now represent the animals that visitors to Kruger most want to see. The species are straightforward to recognize and easily identifiable, perfectly suited for even amateur birders. Due to human encroachment, habitat destruction, and other factors that have narrowed the range of the species, they are also mostly limited to Kruger and other protected areas.
The Big 6
The lappet-faced vulture, the Pel’s fishing owl, the martial eagle, the saddle-billed stork, the ground hornbill, and the kori bustard, collectively called the Big 6, are just a few of the birds of Kruger National Park. These magnificent birds are some of the biggest and most striking birds in the world, and you can find them all in the Kruger
Pel’s Fishing Owl
The Pel’s fishing owl, a stunning reddish-brown bird, is the ultimate Big 6 bird to see. Although it falls under the IUCN’s “least concern” category, it is typically the most difficult to locate. Rare and elusive, it often eludes skilled birders until revealing itself to observers unaware of the priceless gem they are seeing.
Another rare find, the lappet-faced vulture is one of the biggest scavengers in Africa. Reaching sizes of up to one metre tall, and a wingspan up to three metres wide, seeing this endangered species is a special sight. Besides their large size, they are easily identified by the fleshy folds of skin on their necks and their bald pink heads.
The multicoloured saddle-billed stork has a similarly large wingspan. In fact, it is the largest member of the stork family. If you’re fortunate, you could get a glimpse of it lurking in tiny ponds and streams in search of fish or frogs to feast on.
Southern Ground Hornbill
Another unique bird to watch out for is the southern ground hornbill, listed as vulnerable on the IUCN’s list of endangered species. It sometimes makes booming noises extremely early in the morning and sounds that bear a frightening resemblance to the grunts of a lion.
The martial eagle, the largest eagle in South Africa, is also classed as “vulnerable” despite being one of the Big 6’s most ferocious species. Its black head and wings, spotted white belly, make it easy to identify. It may swoop down and take off with animals as big as a young impala or goat. The open savannah is where you’re most likely to find them.
You’ll even have a chance of seeing the heaviest flying bird in the world, the Kori bustard. They can weigh as much as 19 kg. This terrestrial bird has a long neck, long foot that ends in three fingers, and light brown or grey-colored feathers.
When to Go Birdwatching
The peak birding season in South Africa is during the summer, when migratory species also pass through. Approximately 200 migrating bird species from Eurasia and other parts of Africa arrive between October and March. Most start flocking to the Kruger following the first summer rains, when there is an abundance of water and food. Birdwatchers take note: This is when you want to plan your trip if you hope to catch a glimpse of not only the Big 6, but many of the other birds of Kruger National Park.
Where to Stay
The Kruger offers a broad choice of luxury lodges, self-catering options, and camping sites to accommodate different price ranges. Private game reserves and luxury bush lodges close to the Kruger’s entrance are also available.