Most people look for large mammals in the African savanna, but the songbird life is equally impressive. Many of the species are simply beautiful to look at, with stunningly colourful groups such as starlings and sunbirds.
Once considered part of the true Shrike family, they are now classified as a distinct and not closely related family. This group includes about 50 species, and they are all found in Africa. Many species are colourful and some have interesting breeding displays.
Laniarius major, 'Tropical Boubou'.
Puffbacks are so called because during courtship, the males fluff up a hump of lighter fluffy feathers on their lower back.
Dryoscopus cubla, 'Black-backed Puffback'. Found in various open habitats in eastern and southern Africa.
Laniarius erythrogaster, 'Black-headed Gonolek'. Striking black and red bird. The call is often a performed (antiphonal) duet between male and female; as the male does a double note whistle, the female does a scratchy rasp at exactly the same time. Found in savanna, as well as wetter shrubland and edges of freshwater inundated grasslands. Found patchily in eastern, and central Africa.
This family has seen recent taxonomic shuffles. Until recently is was endemic to Madagascar, but it now includes other groups found in Africa and Asia.
Prionops plumatus, 'White-crested Helmetshrike'. A striking and strange looking bird, with a yellow eye patch and 'morning hair' silver crest. Often seen in noisey groups. Found in dry forest and savanna woodlands throughout most of tropical Africa.
Ptilostomus afer, 'Piacpiac'. Black bird with large down-curved bill, dull red eyes, and long tail. Found across equatorial region of Africa. However, it does not live in the rainforest, but in open areas, especially where there is cattle, often atop buffalo like an oxpecker.
Prinia subflava, 'Tawny-flanked Prinia'.
Zosterops virens, 'Cape White-eye'.
Babblers often hang out in noisy 'gangs'.
'Arrow-marked Babbler' Turdoides. The bright-eyed adult on the left, the darker eyed juvenile on the right.
There are lots of birds that will perch on larger mammals, but there is one group that specialises in it: the 'Oxpeckers'. They feed mostly on ticks, which is handy for the host mammal, as these tiny arachnids are ectoparasites. It has long been assumed Oxpeckers and their mammal rides were a good example of mutualism, where both species in the relationship benefited; but it is now considered a parasitic relationship; the birds usually eat the tick after they have fed on the mammal (when they are fat and full of nutritous yummy blood), and studies have shown no correlation between the presence of Oxpeckers and less ectoparasites. Additionally, the birds have been observed eating into the wounds of their host animals. The ultimate hanger-on-ers. However, there have been observations of Oxpeckers giving warnings to their Rhino rides when predatory humans are approaching.
Buphagus africanus, 'Yellow-billed Oxpecker'.
One of the most stunning groups of birds in the African bush. Luckily, many of these starlings are easily seen around lodges and camps.
Lamprotornis corruscus, 'Ruppell's Long-tailed Starling'. Large and striking. Common and seems comfortable near roads and lodges.
Cinnyricinclus leucogaster, 'Violet-backed Starling'. One of the most striking birds of the African savanna.
Lamprotornis regius, 'Golden-breasted/Royal Starling'. Long tail. Found in open habitats in eastern and north-eastern Africa.
Melaenornis edolioides, 'Northern Black Flycatcher'. Completely coal black in colour. Looks a bit like a Drongo, but much less active: often perches quite still. Found in open habitats (including around human habitats) across tropical east and west Africa.
Cossypha heuglini, 'White-browed Robin-chat'. Found in thicket and riverine habitats in wetter woodlands, including gardens, in wider eastern Africa.
Empidornis semipartitus, 'Silverbird'. Striking coloured bird. Often stops still on open perches. Found in dry forest and savanna woodland only in the Rift Valley region of East Africa.
Sunbirds are small fast birds with thin curved bills. The males are usually colourful, often iridescent. While they will feed on insects and fruit, they are mostly adapted to taking nectar from flowers. They are the Asian and African counterparts to the Honeyeaters of Australasia and the hummingbirds of the Americas; they are smaller and more delicate than the former, but generally slightly larger than the latter. Sunbirds are found throughout the Old World tropics, from Africa through Asia to Australia. Within that range they are found in various habitats, including visiting tropical gardens. The highest number of species occurs is in sub-Saharan Africa.
Nectarinia kilimensis, 'Bronze Sunbird'.
Cinnyris venusta, 'Variable Sunbird'.
Chalcomitra senegalensis, 'Scarlet-chested Sunbird'.
Vidua macroura, 'Pin-tailed Wydah'.
A large family which includes the Indian Ocean island Fody, and once included the urban 'House Sparrow'; however it is dominated by the African weavers. They are usually small birds, often colourful, with a conical bill. The many species in the family called 'weavers' build woven hanging nests. Most species in this family are seed-eating birds. They are usually found in open country in sub-Saharan Africa, although there are a few species in Asia.
One of the most distinctive groups of African birds, easily noticed due to their flocks and their colonies of hanging nests. Many species include combinations of black and yellow in their colouration.
Ploceus cucullatus , 'Village Weaver'. Widespread, found in open habitats across sub-Saharan Africa, including around villages, and introduced to some Indian Ocean islands and Caribbean.
Sporopipes frontalis, 'Speckle-fronted Weaver'. A small sparrow like bird. Easily overlooked, but distinct when closely observed. Found in savanna/open woodland across tropical eastern and western Africa.
Quelea quelea, 'Red-billed Quelea'. Usually seen in large flocks, and often claimed to be the most numerous bird in the world.
The breeding males of Widowbirds have long black tails.
Euplectes ardens, 'Red-collared Widowbird'.
Euplectes albonotatus, 'White-winged Widowbird'.
Estrilid Finches are not related to the 'true finches', sparrows or buntings. They are mostly found in the tropical parts of the Old World, with two main radiations in Australia and Africa, particularly in the latter region, where they are most diverse.
Uraeginthus bengalus , 'Red-cheeked Cordonbleu'. Small bright blue bird, with males having maroon patch on face. Found in open habitats, including around human habitats, across tropical western and eastern Africa.
Lagonosticta senegala, 'Red-billed Firefinch'.
Spermestes bicolor, 'Black and white Mannikin'. Found in savanna and forest in southern, eastern and western Africa.
Passer griseus, 'Northern Grey-headed Sparrow'.
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