Etosha National Park is a safari destination par excellence, particularly during the winter months, from May to September when water scarcity causes game species to congregate around the waterholes.
Summer (November through to April) is the best time for bird watchers to visit the park, when migrant birds from all over join the fray to swell the avian population to over 340 species. During this time, the park is home to the smallest southern African bird, the Cape penduline tit, the world’s largest bird, the ostrich, the Kori bustard which is the largest flying bird on earth and the rare blue crane.
Flamingos are the best known of the visiting species, with great numbers of them descending on Fischer’s Pan during January and February to breed, although they have been known to start nesting as early as November at Etosha. About 27 000 breeding pairs have been recorded here after good rains, building their nests on distant islands in the pan, where they lay a single egg.
Both male and female birds may be observed in attendance for the 30-day incubation period. In between feeding they spend most of their time belly-deep in the water, with their bill upside down, to filter small brine shrimps, diatoms and molluscs from the mud. Lesser and greater flamingos are both seen here. Interestingly, flamingos will not breed unless surrounded by large numbers of their peers, and there is enough food to go around.
The watery recesses of Etosha Pan are a major attraction for other water birds and waders too, with large numbers of white pelicans joining the breeding frenzy at Fischer’s Pan. Crested grebes put on a riveting display with their dramatic mating dances, crests aloft like sails as they face off against their competitors, while saddle billed storks drift overhead in their unique hunchbacked style and high-stepping yellow billed storks hunt in the shallows.
Chestnut-banded and Caspian plovers, handsome wattled cranes and grey crowned cranes are often spotted from the Etosha lookout, but in the absence of many hides in Etosha, the best sightings are often recorded from within your own vehicle. As in the case of game watching, the most successful tactic is to find a watery place, park your car and patiently survey the landscape for some time in search of activity.
Halali is the place to go for owls, such as the African scops-owl and southern white-faced scops-owl. The absence of braai facilities at this stop is more than made up for by the presence of white-crested helmet-shrikes, southern white-crowned Shrike, Violet Wood-Hoopoe and Rüppell’s Parrot.
The plains are alive with colourful specimens such as the iconic European bee-eaters, crimson-breasted shrikes and lilac breasted rollers, flashing their brilliance among the branches as well as less extravagant species. Among the latter you will find dusky and spike-heeled larks, lesser grey shrikes, scaly-feathered finches, Kalahari scrub-robins, chestnut-backed sparrow larks who make up for their lack of colour with interesting vocalisations and antics such as the great clouds formed by quelea on the move.
Birds of Prey
Keep your eyes open for vultures and other raptors circling overhead which may signify all the drama of a kill nearby. Etosha National Park boasts healthy populations of 35 different species of raptor including the rare hooded vulture and cape vulture. Bateleurs, tawny and martial eagles, goshawks, hawk eagles, goshawks, red-necked falcons, greater kestrels, peregrine falcons and secretary birds are more commonly seen.
The list of birding experiences goes on and on, and no one with a good pair of binoculars, a comprehensive bird book, a little patience and a decent zoom lens should return from a trip to Etosha National Park empty handed. Book your ticket to Windhoek and discover Etosha’s amazing birds for yourself.