Safaris & stories
Africa Geographic
Wildlife . People . Travel
Shenton Safaris

Big ones, smalls ones. Colourful ones, dulls ones. Furry ones, feathery ones. Ones that fly, ones that swim. The list goes on and on when it comes to our feathered friends.

There are approximately double the amount of bird species living in Africa than there are mammal species. Despite this, birds don’t seem to hold the same appeal for many people and we think that’s a downright shame. Perhaps we can blame this on the fact that most people just really don’t know a whole lot about birds to begin with. After all, we didn’t exactly grow up watching ‘The Bird King’. However, the more we know about something, the more we can appreciate it. Africa is home to a plethora of beautiful birds, but from our experience, the weirder looking the bird is, the more fascinating it is.

So to help you out on your next safari, here is some information to help you better identify and appreciate a few of Journey’s Discovering Africa’s favourite funny-looking, but ferocious, African birds of prey:

Southern ground hornbill
Southern Ground Horn Bill

The southern ground-hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) is a gigantic bird. Growing up to 130cm in height and reaching up to 6kg in weight, it is the largest hornbill species in the world. The males are easily recognisable from their striking red wattle (throat pouch) that contrasts with their black plumage. Preferring grasslands, woodlands and savannahs, southern ground-hornbills can be found in most regions of southern Africa. Formerly widespread, their numbers are now few and they are sadly on the endangered species list

Southern Ground Horn Bill

They have very strong legs and spend most of the day walking along the ground looking for food, hence where their name comes from. Using their sharp bills to stab their prey, the southern ground-hornbills diet mainly consists of reptiles, frogs, birds, snakes and large insects.

Interesting fact: Southern ground-hornbills are monogamous and will stay with their mate for the 30 – 40 years of their lives.

Secretary bird

With its long legs and tail, crest and orange face, the secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) is without a doubt one of the most charismatic and recognisable birds of prey in Africa. It can be found across a variety of habitats in sub-Saharan Africa but the species is currently classified as Vulnerable. Preferring to stay on the ground rather than fly, secretary birds can walk up to 32km (20 miles) per day in search of food.

secretary bird
Secretary bird ©Patrick Shah

Their favourite food is snakes and, using their strong toes and large wings, they will beat the snake on the ground and then toss it into the air several times to stun it, before finally devouring their meal. Quite a sight to behold, indeed! In addition to snakes, the secretary bird will also eat lizards, grasshoppers, and small mammals or birds.

Interesting fact: Secretary birds get their name from their crest of long feathers that look like the quill pens that 19th century office workers used to tuck behind their ears.

Marabou stork
marabou stork
Marabou Stork ©Noel Reynolds.

With its featherless, fleshy head and long bone-coloured bill, the marabou stork is arguably the most ghastly looking of all living birds and definitely not the type of stork you’d want delivering your baby to you. Reaching up to 1.5m in height, with a wingspan said to extend over 3m wide, the marabou stork is absolutely massive and may well be the largest bird on the planet.

Marabou Stork next to two Bateleur Eagles
Marabou stork next to two bateleur eagles ©Patrick Shah

Marabou storks are found in aquatic and open, semi-arid areas and feed mainly on carrion and scraps, but have also been known to eat other birds and small mammals. They are particularly lazy birds and spend much of their time standing around, and panting when it gets too hot.

Interesting fact: Marabou storks are attracted to grass fires and will march in front of the advancing fire, opportunistically grabbing animals that are fleeing, earning them the title of being ‘undertaker birds’. They have even been known to lash out and attack children that get too close.

It seems the saying “never pick a fight with an ugly person, they’ve got nothing to lose” applies to birds too! While these birds may not be that easy on the eye, their diversity and unique qualities makes them each equally interesting in their own right.

For a chance to see these birds in the wild for yourself, get in touch with us and we’ll help you start planning your safari.

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Journeys Discovering Africa

We believe in creating your perfect African safari – whether paddling a dugout canoe in the Okavango, tracking mountain gorillas or experiencing the Great Migration. We will work with you to craft your ideal trip, offering a customised service to ensure your safari is truly a Journey Discovering Africa.