Bird Life

Tanzania’s mammal populations are impressive, both in their diversity and in their robustness, but for avid birders, safari might be even more exciting. Over 1,100 bird species have been spotted in Tanzania (either living there or passing through on migration), making it an ideal destination for bird-watchers to catch a glimpse of some favorite species in their natural habitats.

While you’re there, keep a lookout for:

Ostrich

Occasionally growing to over nine feet in height, and weighing in at as much as 320 pounds, an ostrich roaming the African plains is much more impressive than your feather duster.

The largest living species of bird, ostriches can live up to 45 years. Keep an eye out for a pair running across the plains, their preferred habitat. But don’t blink; ostriches can run at speeds of up to 43 miles per hour!

Grey Crowned Crane

With its majestic gold head plumage, forceful, stamping walk (used to flush out insects), and booming call that inflates its red throat sac to truly imposing proportions, the grey crowned crane is regal from its gaudy top to its graceful toes. Even its mating display—a complicated blend of jumping, dancing, and bowing—brings to mind a royal courtier.

The national bird of Uganda, the grey crowned crane is also a common sight throughout Tanzania, particularly in the Ngorongoro Crater, where its loud call can be heard echoing through the trees.

Kori Bustard

This large, plains-dwelling bird holds a somewhat dubious distinction: it’s thought to be the heaviest living animal capable of flight. With males sometimes growing to nearly five feet tall, the kori bustard is often found following herds of grazers, picking through the grasses in their wake for whatever food it can find.

Though it can fly short distances, these birds prefer to stay on the ground. This makes them more vulnerable to predators (including larger cats—at upwards of 40 pounds, they provide a solid meal), which might explain why they tend to be shy and wary, crouching or running at the first sign of danger.

Lesser Flamingo

Perching on one leg in the shallows of a lake, its plumage even more shockingly pink against the backdrop of the water, the lesser flamingo is one of the most easily recognizable (and depending on the surroundings, easy-to-see) bird species in Tanzania.

A subspecies of flamingo found primarily in Africa, the lesser flamingo is considered a near-threatened species, due to a scarcity of breeding sites, many of which are being threatened by human activity. Smaller, and with a blacker bill than the greater flamingo, the bird still shares the distinctive pink plumage due to algae in its diet that contains photosynthetic pigments. 

Hoopoe

Named onomatopoeically for the whooping sound of its call, the hoopoe’s bright orange crown of feathers is its most distinctive feature, though its strange, undulating flight, reminiscent of a butterfly, is also exciting for any birder to observe in action.

Armed with a heavily-muscled head, the hoopoe can open its bill while digging in the soil, allowing it to better search out insect meals. Though it’s not nearly as large and imposing as some of its bird brethren in East Africa, the hoopoe has gotten a lot of attention through the ages; in Aristophanes’ Ancient Greek comedy The Birds, the hoopoe reigns as the birds’ king, and in 2008, Israel chose the hoopoe as its national bird. 

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