The Big Five Birds of Babanango Game Reserve

If you consider yourself an avid bird watcher, then Babanango Game Reserve will be the closest thing you’ll find to paradise. With over 300 bird species calling the reserve home, Babanango boasts some of the best of KZN wildlife. Each species plays an integral role in the reserve’s ecosystem, but five species catch our eye (and our hearts) in particular. We present the unofficial “Big Five Birds” of Babanango Game Reserve.

The African Fish Eagle

In Babanango, the majestic African Fish Eagle reigns as a formidable bird of prey. With a wingspan reaching 2 meters and a weight of up to 3.5 kilograms, its presence commands attention among all other specials of KZN wildlife. Distinguished by its striking plumage, featuring a white head, neck, and tail, contrasted against a brown and black body, its appearance and distinctive territorial nature make it a captivating sight. Both males and females share a similar appearance, with females slightly more prominent.

Juveniles display a brown body, gradually transitioning to the iconic adult plumage over four years. They can be found near large bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, and estuaries, where they can hunt for fish. Their haunting, high-pitched cry is often described as one of the most recognisable sounds in the African wilderness and is symbolic of many African landscapes.

Southern Ground Hornbill

A large and charismatic bird, the Southern Ground Hornbill is the largest hornbill species in the world. Recognised by their black plumage, vivid facial colouring, and distinctive red throat patch for males and dark violet matches on females, they inhabit grasslands, savannahs and woodlands.

Equipped with long stout legs, the species can be seen strolling along the ground in a group formation, foraging for insects, snails and small reptiles with their strong bills.

Southern Ground Hornbills exhibit strong family bonds and use five different calls for a range of occasions, including courtship, to alarm the group and mark territory.

Secretary Bird

The melodic cry of the secretary bird can be heard echoing across the expanse of the reserve. The distinctive raptor, which stands nearly four feet tall, roams the landscapes of sub-Saharan Africa’s savannas and grasslands.

We use the word “roam” because of its curious preference to move on foot rather than fly. The secretary bird’s long legs, black crest, and whitish-grey feathered body are easy to spot. Their distinctive hunting technique sets them apart, stomping on their prey with powerful kicks rather than using their talons and preying on small rodents, amphibians, snakes, and lizards.

Courtships take place any time of year, with the pair working together to build a large nest, which is used for many years. One to three pale-green eggs are laid, with both parents involved in incubation duties and hatching after around 50 days.

Lilac Breasted Roller

A picture of beauty, the Lilac-breasted Roller can be found in savannahs and open woodlands. Their lilac-purple and turquoise plumage is hard to miss, particularly during courtship, where they can be seen putting on impressive acrobatic displays in the quest to find a mate, including side-to-side rolling, from which we derive their name.

Their diet consists of grasshoppers, beetles, and occasionally lizards, hunting from higher vantage points where they can spot their prey moving about on the ground.

For smaller prey, they will swoop in and swallow it. If larger, they will beat them against a perch to subdue them. Rollers find a partner for life, with females laying between two and four eggs during the breeding season, with both partners taking it in turn to incubate the eggs. These birds are highly territorial, with one of a pair flying in a rolling pattern as a territorial display against intruders or to distract nest predators.

Southern Bald Ibis

The Southern Bald Ibis, affectionally nick-named the “Old man,” is distinguished by its unique bald head, wrinkled skin on its face and neck and dark green plumage with iridescent streaks of green, violet, and bronze.

This species can be spotted in semi-desert and mountainous regions, often in large colonies of between 50 and 100 birds! Their nests are made mostly of sticks and grass, built on flat ground or cliffs. Hunting together as a flock, they feed on insects, small reptiles, rodents, and small birds.

The birds have one partner at a time and lay two or three eggs, sharing parenting responsibilities during the incubation period of 21 days and feeding via regurgitation for ten days after hatching.

Babanango Game Reserve is a haven for bird enthusiasts, offering a breathtaking array of species contributing to the rich tapestry of KZN wildlife. Our unofficial “Big Five Birds” showcased here, from the majestic African Fish Eagle to the charming Southern Bald Ibis, embody the diverse and vibrant avian life thriving within the reserve.

Image Credits:

  • African Fish Eagle – getty-images-OZv_Hi1_bGQ-unsplash.jpg
  • Hornbill – glen-carrie-XrrqdLCe5ak-unsplash.jpg
  • Lilac Breasted Roller  
    A) matt-bango-zSIQJXybVDI-unsplash.jpg
    B) laya-clode-yvU_V6o3nCw-unsplash.jpg