Few countries in the world can rival the birdlife Cape Town has to offer and with more than 610 different species having been recorded in the area, 60 of which are endemic to the Western Cape, this is truly no exaggeration! Yes, Cape Town is blessed and it’s a travesty that so few Capetonians appreciate this fact. It’s owing to the Cape’s diverse landscapes and unique vegetation that we are home to so many different bird species, many of which aren’t found anywhere else. So, look up from your morning coffee, your grid-locked traffic jam, or your child’s play park bench; look out the window of your home, office, or classroom and survey the trees and skies for that aspect of life that makes Cape Town one of the most special places in the world!
Cape Town’s Unparalleled Birdlife
In just one day, a brief traverse of our city can easily yield sightings of more than 100 different species of birds, from stately pelicans that glide on daytime thermals to the rust-coloured Rock Kestrels that patrol the sky, looking for field mice. A hike up Table Mountain, with its Fynbos carpet of hardy green bushes, blackened, fire-tortured shrubs, silver-leafed trees, and colourful proteas, is sure to yield sightings of iridescent sunbirds and Cape Sugarbirds, the latter of which attract bird-watchers from all over the country to see.
Not too far out of the city, in the gently undulating fields of our farmlands, you’ll spot our country’s national bird, the Blue Crane, while bright yellow weaverbirds and crimson-coloured Red Bishops streak across the road in front of you.
Then there are our beaches, estuaries, rivers, and arid coastal regions. Even your own backyard is likely frequented by a dozen or more species of birds, from warbling robins to eagle owls.
The point is that here in Cape Town, there are birds everywhere and there is such a fascinating degree of difference between them that making a hobby out of bird-watching can be incredibly rewarding. Any outdoor experience, whether it’s a hike along the Cape peninsula or cup of coffee on the veranda of your backyard, can be transformed when you really start to take notice of birds.
Cape Town’s Best Bird-watching Spots
Table Mountain National Park
A combination of sandy shoreline, coastal fynbos, and rocky mountain, the Table Mountain National Park is the perfect spot to start your bird-watching career for its number and diversity of birds, as well as the fact that several of these species aren’t found anywhere else. Keep an eye out for Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Cape Siskin, and Protea Seedeater.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Kirstenbosch is an ode to the indigenous vegetation of the southwestern Cape and as such, is the perfect natural sanctuary for birds. A walk around its sweeping emerald lawns and network of pathways typically yield sightings of Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Bulbul, Forest Canary, and, if you’re lucky, the resident breeding pair of Spotted Eagle Owls!
West Coast National Park and Langebaan Lagoon
The semi-arid West Coast National Park and greater Langebaan Lagoon is home to an interesting assortment of resident water birds and migratory waders while its vast stretches of semi-arid coastal scrublands are a favourite of many species of raptors, including Black Harrier, Jackal Buzzards, Black-shouldered Kites, Yellow-billed Kites, and Pale Chanting Goshawks. The area also attracts birders for its impressive list of endemic bird species: Southern Black Korhaan, Lesser Double Collared Sunbird, and Grey-backed Cisticola.
Simon’s Town and Boulders Beach
Thanks to tireless conservation efforts, Boulder’s beach has remained a safe haven for a colony of African Penguins (nee Jackass Penguins for their donkey-like braying call). The birds themselves are quite used to humans so don’t be surprised to find yourself swimming next to one should you decide to brave the cold and take a dip. The coastal waters around Simon’s Town and Boulders beach are also home to a variety of ocean birds, such as White-breasted Cormorants, Cape Cormorants, Swift Terns, Hartlaub’s Gulls, and Kelp Gulls.
Strandfontein Sewage Works
Before you baulk at the idea of going to a sewage treatment plant to bird watch, know that you won’t actually be tramping about in effluence. The land and estuary surrounding the sewage works are highly fertile and so they support a plethora of bird species, including waterfowl, Hamerkop, Greater Flamingo, Great-crested Grebe, African Marsh Harrier, and Great White Pelicans. In fact, the Strandfontein sewage works are considered one of the top five birding spots in South Africa!
Cape Pelagic Birding Cruises
To take the rare opportunity to tick off birds you’ll likely never see here on terra firma, hop on a Cape Pelagic Birding Cruise, which will take you a few kilometres out to sea, where the fishing trawlers haul their catch. Here, pelagic birds such as Shy Albatrosses, Sub-Antarctic Skuas, Southern Giant Petrels, Great Shearwaters, and Arctic Terns patrol the open seas and opportunistically pester fishing boats for scraps.
Rondevlei Nature Reserve
The Rondevlei Nature Reserve consists of about two square kilometres of protected wetland and a large brackish lagoon and is a very popular destination for bird-watchers here in Cape Town. On a standard outing, you’ll likely spot the usual assortment of water birds and waders, but keep a sharp eye out for the more special African Spoonbills, White Storks, European Shovellers, Malachite Kingfishers, Ethiopian Snipes, and White-backed Mousebirds.
The Cape Bird Club
New bird-watchers can benefit enormously from joining an organisation such as the Cape Bird Club, which arranges guided visits and even weekend camps to areas that are rich in birdlife. As a new bird-watcher, there is nothing more educational nor enjoyable than hanging out with a group of people who know more about birds than you do and they’ll point out the different bird species and give you tips on how to identify them. The Cape Bird Club also arranges weekly educational seminars that help both ‘green’ and experienced “twitchers” better identify and understand bird behaviour, evolution, migration, and other such facets of ornithology. Joining a society such as this is a fantastic way to expand your knowledge and meet other people who are interested in birds, which, believe me, is not an easy thing to do.
For the Joy and Intrigue of it All
Cape Town is a destination known for its spectacular natural heritage. Its rocky and rugged peninsula, fertile coastal waters, intricate network of rivers, streams, and estuaries, and thick forests blanketing the leeward slopes of the mountains… all of these varied landscapes are home to a fascinating diversity of flora and fauna. And among these, is our incredible birdlife.
You do not need to be upward of 60 years old and have an affinity for khaki clothing to become a bird-watcher. You simply need to take an interest in the incessant birdlife going on around you and above your head. When you do that, you’ll find yourself becoming excited by spotting an unusual bird in your garden, hearing an owl calling at night, or seeing a flock of flamingos flying in formation above your head while you’re stuck in traffic. In Cape Town, there is birdlife everywhere, which means that there is joy and intrigue to be found everywhere.
…And who wouldn’t want a little more of that in their life?