The best birding in the immediate Victoria Falls area is along the Zambezi River upstream from the Falls and in the rain forest section of the Victoria Falls National Park.
© Bradfield's hornbill is a special of the Victoria Falls area
Photo: Brett Hilton-Barber
Birdlife SA believes there are 470 species to be seen in the Victoria Falls area, including some rarities found in few other places in the world. The river is an avian highway cutting through the savanna woodlands on either side of the watercourse.
There are a number of experienced birding guides who are available for hire - or you can bird on your own. For serious birders looking to add "lifers" to their lists, the Victoria Falls area specialties are illustrated here.
Vulture Feeding Programme
Each day at 1pm the Buffalo Bar at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge in Zimbabwe offers a free vulture feeding display. Meat is put out just below the decks of the bar and hotel and you can witness the incredible spectacle of hundreds of vultures and other birds of prey descending on this free picnic while you sit and enjoy your own lunch or drink.
Plan to arrive early to get a good viewpoint, as the circling vultures appear like clockwork at around 12.45pm. Once the meat is put out, the birds rapidly descend to the ground and join in the feeding frenzy. The main birds are white-backed vultures, marabou storks and yellow-billed kites (in summer). Warthogs also often dart out of the undergrowth to get a piece of the action.
Exceptional Birding in Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls is one of the best birding locations in southern Africa because of the Zambezi River. The area has been identified by Bird Life International as an important birding area and is a wonderful location for both beginners and experienced birders. The best way to see the most birds is to contract one of the specialist operators who will customise an outing according to local and seasonal conditions.
The Zambezi River is the lifeblood of the Victoria Falls birding environment, and its proximity to the relatively dry veld on either side provides a diversity of habitats and an interesting mix of species.
The best birding time is during the summer rainy season, when there is a profusion of insect life and all the migrant birds are in residence. Swallows and warblers are the most prolific Eurasian migrants while a range of cuckoos migrate to the area from central Africa. Because of the rise in the water table some ground-nesting species leave the area during the wet season.
There is less active bird life in the winter when the visitors have departed, but this is compensated for by an increase in resident raptor activity. Many of the larger eagles engage in courtship displays during early winter and breed during the dry season when trees have shed their leaves and prey on the ground is easier to spot.
Common birds along the river include the squadrons of Cape cormorants that fly low over the water, African darters and little egrets. Away from the river, look out for the variety of hornbill species, the fork-tailed drongo and the white-browed sparrow weaver, which is responsible for the conspicuous, round grass nests in the dry woodlands around Victoria Falls. The most commonly-seen large bird is the marabou stork.
Best Places to Stay above the Falls
A best selection of lodge and hotel accommodation on the Zambian side, above the Falls.
Birds and Habitats
On the Zambezi look out for:
African fish-eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)
Distinctive raptor with white head and chest, chestnut underparts and dark back; piercing cry; perches on trees overlooking large expanses of water and swoops down to catch fish just below the water surface and then returns to its perch - or sandbank - to eat its prey.
In the rain forest look out for:
African paradise-flycatcher (Terpsiphone viridis)
Small, very active flycatcher with orange-chestnut upperparts, dark head and blue-grey underparts; distinctively long tail during summer breeding season.
In the woodland away from the river look out for :
Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudata)
Colourful resident with lilac throat, blue underparts and tail feathers and black bill; perches conspicuously on road-sides hawking insects; distinctive rolling flight and harsh call.
In the gorges, look out for:
Verreauxs' (Black) Eagle(Aquila verreauxii)
Large, black eagle with distinctive white v-shape on its back. Breeds in the gorges and feeds mostly on dassies.Brett Hilton-Barber and Lee R. Berger. Copyright © 2010 Prime Origins.
Illustrations: Chip Snaddon