The reserve bird list boasts over 400 species

Birding at Zebra Hills

Manyoni means “place of the birds” and our reserve truly lives up to its name. As at September 2020, 415 species have been recorded on our reserve and the birding is truly spectacular. Johan and Wonderboy, two of our senior rangers, are also top class birding guides and would be thrilled to focus on birding during your game drives. Click here for Manyoni’s full birdlist or here to view an African Birdlife magazine article about birding during Lockdown on the reserve.

Topping the list

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Some of the most sought after Manyoni birds are the classic sand forest specialities that include the highly localized trio of Pink-throated Twinspot, Neergaard’s Sunbird and Rudd’s Apalis, eye-catching Gorgeous Bushshrike, Eastern Nicator, African Broadbill and Eastern Bearded Scrub-Robin. Very rare KZN species on the reserve are Hooded Vulture, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Ovambo Sparrowhawk, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Monotonous and Dusky Lark and Red-headed Weaver. Our rarities have included a long-staying Golden Pipit, Greater Whitethroat, Cutthroat Finch, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Green Sandpiper, Pennant-winged Nightjar and maybe you will find the next one…..

Riverine Woodlands

We recommend spending quality time along the reserve’s riverine woodlands searching for numerous frugivorous species that flock here to feed on the abundance of fruiting figs. These include cryptic African Green Pigeons, the brilliant Purple-crested Turaco, White-eared and Black-collared Barbet and their smaller cousin the Red-fronted Tinkerbird, noisy Trumpeter and Crowned Hornbills, Black-headed and the migrant Eurasian Golden Oriole, and busy flocks of Black-bellied and Violet-backed Starlings. Other species that also prefer these moister forests include African Broadbill, Scaly-throated and Lesser Honeyguide, the sought-after Narina Trogon, raucous Broad-billed Roller (summer only), Brown-hooded, Woodland and the gorgeous African Pygmy Kingfisher and the most southern breeding population of Grey-headed Kingfisher, cackling family groups of Green Woodhoopoe, Black-backed Puffback, Southern Boubou, Square-tailed Drongo, Blue-mantled and African Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied and Sombre Greenbul, Terrestrial Brownbul, Black Saw-wing, Red-faced Cisticola, Yellow-breasted Apalis, White-browed and Red-capped Robin-chats (both accomplished songsters), Collared, Grey and Purple-banded Sunbird, Spectacled and Forest Weaver, Green Twinspot and Grey Waxbill.

African Green Pigeon by Adam Riley
Cuckooshrike - Black Female with Caterpillar by Adam Riley
Violet-backed Starling by Adam Riley


Waterbirds include pairs of Egyptian Goose that dominate most waterholes, the unique Hamerkop, Woolly-necked Stork, the secretive Striated Heron and more conspicuous Grey Heron, migrant Common and Wood Sandpipers, Three-banded Plover, African Wattled Lapwing, family groups of Water Thickknee and Black Crake. Thirsty Red-eyed, Ring-necked, Laughing and Emerald-spotted Wood Dove are regular waterhole visitors and noisy Village, Lesser Masked and Southern Masked Weavers nest in vegetation hanging over the waterholes. Less frequent visitors to our waterholes include Dwarf Bittern, Squacco Heron, African Crake, Greater Painted-Snipe, Saddle-billed Stork and various other waterfowl and waders.

Open Grasslands

The reserve’s more open grasslands are home to a healthy population of the world’s largest bird, the Common Ostrich, as well as a good number of Black-bellied Bustard. Other species that occur in this habitat include Common Buttonquail, Crowned and Senegal Lapwing, Temminck’s Courser (during dry years), Shelley’s Francolin, Black Coucal and Corncrake (in longer, moister grasslands during summer), Little and European Bee-eater, Rufous-naped and Flappet Lark, Red-breasted Swallow, Croaking Cisticola, Neddicky, Red-billed Quelea which sometimes flock and breed in the reserve in the millions, White-winged Widowbird, Yellow-throated Longclaw, African and Plain-backed Pipit, Orange-breasted Waxbill and African Quailfinch.

Savannahs and Bushveld

The Acacia savannahs or bushveld habitat have their own subset of species which prefer this slightly drier habitat and these include Grey Go-away-bird, Red-faced Mousebird, the multi-coloured Lilac-breasted Roller, African Hoopoe, Common Scimitarbill, Southern Yellow-billed and Red-billed Hornbill, Acacia Pied and Crested Barbet, Greater Honeyguide, Brown-backed Honeybird, Striped Kingfisher, Golden-tailed, Cardinal and Bearded Woodpecker, Chinspot Batis, flocks of White-crested Helmetshrike, Grey-headed and Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Brown-crowned and Black-crowned Tchagra, Brubru, Black Cuckooshrike, migrant Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrike, the miniscule Grey Penduline Tit, Sabota and the rare Dusky Lark, Long-billed Crombec, migrant Icterine and Willow Warbler, ubiquitous Rattling Cisticola, the scarce Stierling’s Wren-warbler, Yellow-bellied and Burnt-necked Eremomela, noisy flocks of Arrow-marked Babbler, abundant Cape Glossy Starling, Red-billed Oxpecker which frequent the larger mammalian fauna, Groundscraper and the near-endemic Kurrichane Thrush, the handsome White-throated Robin-chat (another near-endemic), White-browed Scrub-Robin, Pale and Grey Tit Flycatcher, Scarlet-chested and White-bellied Sunbird, Yellow-throated Petronia, the little known Bushveld Pipit, Yellow-fronted Canary and last but not least, Golden-breasted Bunting. Bronze-winged Courser can be seen at night as well as many species of owls and nightjars.

Eastern Bearded Scrub-robin by Adam Riley
Verreaux's Eagle-owl by Adam Riley


The high density of raptors bears testimony to the health of Manyoni’s environment. Endangered vultures are regularly encountered with large numbers of White-backed Vultures continually surveying the reserve. Lappet-faced have bred and we sometimes encounter Cape, Hooded and White-headed. Pairs of the mighty African Crowned Eagle nest along the Msunduzi river. Africa’s largest eagle, the Martial, is regularly encountered as is Tawny Eagle and Bateleur. Brown Snake Eagle is common and Wahlberg’s Eagles breed in good numbers during the summer months. African Hawk, Long-crested, Black-breasted Snake, African Fsh and Lesser Spotted (summer only) Eagles are regular but Steppe and Ayres’ Hawk Eagles are rare. Stately Secretarybirds breed on the reserve. 

Other regularly encountered raptors include Black-shouldered and Yellow-billed (summer only) Kite, African Cuckoo Hawk, African Harrier-Hawk, Lizard Buzzard, Gabar, African and Dark Chanting Goshawk, Little and Black Sparrowhawk, Shikra, Common and Jackal Buzzard, Eurasian Hobby and Amur Falcon in summer and both Lanner and Peregrine Falcon have been known to breed. Rarer raptors that have been seen on the reserve are Western Osprey, Palmnut Vulture, European Honey Buzzard, Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Ovambo Sparrowhawk and Sooty Falcon.

Owls are also a wonderful feature of our avifauna with Spotted Eagle, Verreaux’s Eagle, African Scops, Marsh, Western Barn, Southern White-faced and African Grass Owl and Pearl-spotted and African Barred Owlets being recorded.

Other birds

During the southern summer, numerous cuckoo species are vocal through the reserve so keep an eye and ear out for Great Spotted, Levaillant’s, Jacobin, Red-chested, Black, African, Klaas’s, Diederik and the stunning African Emerald. Colourful seedeaters are also a feature of the area including Green-winged Pytilia, Red-billed, African and Jameson’s Firefinch, Blue, Common and Grey Waxbill, African Quail Finch and the incredible Pink-throated Twinspot. Village, Purple and Dusky Indigobirds and Pin-tailed and Acacia Paradise Whydahs attain their breeding plumage late in the summer and are nest parasites on the after-mentioned seedeaters.

zululand zenith

It was the penultimate day of five weeks of the strict lockdown in South Africa. I was pushing the open safari Landcruiser as fast as I could down the muddy main road through the Manyoni Private Game Reserve. My two-year-old daughter’s hat blew off and I slammed on the brakes in frustration, reluctantly reversing to retrieve it. A herd of elephant crossed the road ahead but I managed to slip past them, much to my relief and the kids’ disappointment. I had to get to the northern boundary asap! Quailfinches flying up off the roadside didn’t slow me down; we shot past a perched Bateleur; Pink-throated Twinspots and Rudd’s Apalises vied unsuccessfully for my attention from roadside bushes; and we sped past a Hooded Vulture, a provincial rarity, with barely a sideways glance. After what felt like an eternity, I spotted another game-viewer parked on the roadside and held my breath, hoping my nemesis was still there.

Johan Potgieter, manager and senior ranger at Zebra Hills Lodge, was gesticulating excitedly and a flash of white caught my attention as it briefly burst into view and then dropped into thick grass. I had made it just in time and the taste of success was so satisfying after my many failed attempts. What a beaut that Cattle Egret was! Cattle Egret?! What on earth could make a Cattle Egret sighting so dramatic? Well, it was my 259th lockdown bird and until then I had consistently dipped it.


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