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Birds of Namibia

There are 16 Families in the Order Ciconiiformes. They are:

  • Family Podicipedidae: Grebes
  • Family Phaethontidae: Tropicbirds
  • Family Sulidae: Boobies, Gannets
  • Family Anhingidae: Anhingas
  • Family Phalacrocoracidae: Cormorants
  • Family Ardeidae: Herons, Bitterns, Egrets
  • Family Scopidae: Hamerkop
  • Family Phoenicopteridae: Flamingos
  • Family Threskiornithidae: Ibises, Spoonbill
  • Family Pelecanidae: Pelicans
  • Family Ciconiidae: Storks
  • Family Spheniscidae: Penguins
  • Family Hydrobatidae: Storm-Petrels
  • Family Diomedeidae: Albatrosses
  • Family Procellariidae: Petrels, Shearwaters


Grebes are small to medium-sized diving birds. Features include short, rounded bodies, with long and slim necks, whilst their heads are often crested and the bills 'dagger-like'. Their legs are set far back on the body, which enables them to feed on fish by propelling themselves under the water. The downside to this characteristic is that grebes stand and move on the ground with some difficulty. Grebes eat their own feathers to wrap fish bones in, so the bones can be regurgitated latter in pellets. Floating nests are built on aquatic plants and females lay between 2 and 8 whitish eggs. There are 3 members of this family found in Namibia. They are:


Tropicbirds are medium-sized, tropical seabirds with characteristic long, central tail streamers. Plumage colouration is predominately white, although the streamers of male are longer than those of the female. Other features include a slightly decurved robust bill with serrated edges, long and slender wings and a feathered gular pouch. These birds rarely soar or glide but do fly higher over the sea than most other seabirds, hence the name taken from Phaeton, the son of the Greek god of the sun Phoebus, referring indirectly to tropical distribution, following the path of the sun. There is only 1 member of this family found off the waters of Namibia. It is the:


Boobies and gannets are streamlined seabirds adapted for plunge-diving. Features include a 'dagger-like' bill with serated edges, slightly decurved in shape. The neck is long and sinuous and their wings are slender, positioned far back on the body. The tail is a distinctive wedge-shaped, the legs short with 4 webbed toes. Although this species are capable of diving to a depth of over 30m, most dives are around 10m, not only feeding off live fish, but also scavenging at fishing vessels. Breeding takes place on predator-free islands and cliffs, with females laying between 1 and 4 eggs.

Morus is Greek for 'foolish or stupid' referring to the ease of capture at colonies due to their tame and confiding nature. Sula is attributed to the Icelandic phrase for a 'foolish person', or Gaelic for 'sharp-sighted' or the Greek for 'to rob and plunder'. There are 4 members of this species found off the coastal waters off Namibia. They are:


Darters are fairly large, diving water birds, inhabiting still to slow-moving freshwater bodies associated with warmer weather. Although they resemble cormorants they stalk and spear prey underwater. Features include long and 'dagger-like' bills, a small head and a long and slender neck. Their short and stout legs are set well-back on the body which makes for awkward and clumsy walking once on land. The head is small, the neck long and slender and the wings and tail long and broad, which are adapted for soaring.

Another fitting characteristic of darters is their fully wettable plumage which results in low buoyancy, allowing for long dives in shallow water. Heat loss restricts time spent under water, although their flight feathers are waterproof, allowing for flight even after long periods in the water. Anhinga is an Amazonian dialect for 'water turkey'. There is just the 1 species from this family.


Cormorants prey under water, propelling themselves using their 4 toed, fully-webbed feet. Identification of these small to large water birds revolves mainly around their mostly black plumage, strong and laterally compressed bills, long necks and fairly small wings, that are held closely together when under water. As their legs are set fairly well back on the body, it allows them to stand erect all be it with an awkward gait.

Other features of cormorants is their preference to fly in 'V' lines to conserve energy, usually within 50km from land as they roost ashore. Foraging can last for dives of around 5min, reaching depths of 100m although a dive lasting 1min to a depth of 20m is more common. Their plumage retains sufficient air against the skin to slow the heat loss process, as their feathers are moderately wettable to reduce buoyancy. Enjoying the heat of the sun after foraging is common.

Breeding is often in the company of other water birds. A typical nest could be built on a tree, in cliffs, on the ground or on an open platform or tower. Females lay between 1 and 7 eggs, usually 3 or 4, incubated by both male and female. Phalacrocorax is Latin for cormorant, which in turn was taken from the Greek 'bald raven'.


Herons, bitterns and egrets are small to large wading birds with long legs, long necks and slender bodies. Usually their bills are long and straight, broad and deep in others. Toes are long and slender with a reduced hind toe. Other features include broad wings and short tails. Food consists mainly of aquatic animals including fish, molluscs and crustaceans. Reptiles, birds and small mammals are also taken.

Most herons and egrets forage during the day. Night-herons are both crepuscular and nocturnal. To hunt this species either stand and wait for prey, or walk and run in shallow water, often using their toes to disturb muddy water to flush out prey. Black herons will create an umbrella with their wings to open up their visibility range to catch prey whilst other species use bait for fishing.

Nests are usually built by the female using the male to collect materials, with the nest consisting of a small platform of sticks placed in trees, reedbeds or bushes, over water or in predator-free ground locations. Females lay between 3 and 7 white to greenish brown eggs, incubated by both male and female. Egretta is the Latin for an 'egret or small heron' taken from the French 'aigrette'. Ardea is taken from the Latin word for 'heron' and Ardeola for 'small heron'. There are 18 members of this family found in Namibia. They are:


A Hamerkop is a medium-sized water bird with a dark brown plumage and a head that sports a thick crest on the nape. Other features include fairly short legs with a reduced but free hind toe. Their wings are long and broad with a reasonably long tail. Scopus is a Latin word meaning 'a broom' or a 'brush' referring to the crest. The Greek meaning equates to 'search, examine or consider'. There is only the species of this family. It is the:

  • Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)


Flamingos are large, slim, long-legged wading birds with a number of similar features to ducks and storks, although their genetic data strongly suggests their closest relatives are ibises and spoonbills. Their plumages are rosy pink, red and white with black flight feathers. Other characteristics include a pink tail, short and rounded, a specialist bill for filter-feeding through bottom mud or surface water and a goose-like honking voice.

Foraging can involve submerging the head and bill, sweeping the head side to side to pump water through a unique filtering system called, lamellae, using their fleshy tongue. Another technique is to pivot on the spot to create 'foraging circles'. A third method would be to stir sediments with the feet, or swim using their partly webbed toes. Phoenicopterus is a Greek meaning for 'bright red or scarlet wing'. Ruber is Latin for 'red' and minor for 'small'. There are 2 members of this family found in Namibia. They are:


Ibises and spoonbills are medium-sized to large waders with characteristic long legs, bills and necks. Both species have broad and rounded wings, short tails and fly with their legs and necks extended. There are 4 members of this family found in Namibia. They are:


Pelicans are enormous water birds with very long bills. Although the plumage is predominately white, with pink or a yellow flush in breeding plumage, bare parts change colour dramatically during courtship. Other major features include a broad upper mandible with a hooked tip and a flexible lower mandible with a greatly expandable gular pouch used to catch fish. This pouch has elastic qualities, returning to its original size and dimensions after being stretched frequently when feeding. The short and stout legs are set far back on the body and the large feet, which have 4 webbed toes, are used for swimming. Long and broad wings and a short, rounded tail complete the identification process. There are 2 members of this family found in Namibia. They are:


Storks are very large long-legged birds, known for their aquatic habitats. Plumages are generally blackish brown, white, with some black, or mostly black with some white. Other distinguishing features include fairly short, unwebbed toes, broad and long wings, fairly short tails and a poOrange Rivery developed voice. Fish and other aquatic animals dominate their diet, foraged mostly in wetlands. Stalking is the main modus operandi, although touching in muddy water is also used. A large stick nest on cliffs or in trees offers the perfect location for females to lay 3 to 5 white eggs. There are 8 members of this family found in Namibia. They are:


Penguins are medium-sized to large, flightless seabirds. Their characteristic small, uniform feathers, cover almost the entire body. This enables them the luxury of near-neutral buoyancy because these feathers can trap very small amounts of air. Other features include wings that have been reduced to 'flippers' adapted for underwater movement and a tail whose stiff feathers assist when walking on land.

Penguins have 1 to 3 fairly long, fully-webbed toes. Their enforced upright stance and wobbly walking movements are due to awkwardly placed tarsi. However, penguins overcome this disability by tobogganing on their bellies over snow and ice, accelerating by pushing flippers and feet to propel them faster over land. Swimming is aided by using their head and feet with the tail able to steer a penguin on the desired course.

Penguins eat live prey after an underwater chase. An aide to feeding are reverse pointing horny papillae which assist penguins grasp their prey. Dives can be up to 18min in duration, reaching 480m in depth. Nests are on the ground or in burrows with only 1 or 2 white eggs laid and incubated by both male and female. There is just the 1 species from this family found along the coast of Namibia. It is the:


Storm-petrels are small, pelagic seabirds with characteristic tube-noses. Plumages are mostly dark brown with the rump and underparts changeable whites. Other features include shorter and broader wings compared to other petrels, fairly long legs (often used for pattering or 'walking' on the water), 1 to 3 webbed toes and whistled calls. There are 4 members of this species found on the coast or in the coastal waters of Namibia. They are.


Albatrosses are large pelagic seabirds with nostrils in tubes on the side of the bill. Their tails and wings are a blackish brown colour and the head and body mainly white, with the exception of the sooty albatross. Features that distinguish this family from other seabirds include their long and thin wings, which enable them to glide and soar with ease. They have 1 to 3 fully-webbed long toes and their feet are mainly used for swimming. Thalassarche is Greek for 'ruler of the sea'. There are 5 members of this family found in Namibia, all non-breeders:


Petrels and shearwaters are small to large pelagic seabirds with noticeable nostrils joined on top of the bill. Their wings are long and slender which increases their diving capabilities. Other qualities include a fairly short tail and legs that are set far back on the body with 1 to 3 webbed toes on each foot.

Foraging can be performed over long distances using a combination of techniques including dipping, filtering, plunge-diving or pursuit-diving. A wide range of marine animals are taken when employing these methods. Offshore islands provide predator-free breeding colony sites. There are 10 members of this family found around the coastal waters of Namibia. They are:

Fish River Lodge Hikes

5, 3 or 2 Days - hiking trails in the Fish River Canyon. Hikers carry a day pack and additional luggage is transported to the overnight stops

Mundulea Walking Trails

3 or 4 Days - Absolutely brilliant! One of the best experiences in Namibia

Tok Tokkie Hiking Trail

3 Days - Excellent guided walking trail on the NamibRand private reserve (near Sossusvlei)

Namib Mountain Trail

A day hike between two lodges on the very edge of the Namib Desert

Rostock Ritz Hiking

The Rostock Ritz Lodge north of Sossusvlei (en-route to Swakopmund) has a variety of guided and un-guided hikes ranging in duration from an hour to an entire day

Tsondab Valley Scenic Reserve Hiking

A lodge on the edge of the Namib Desert which offers exceptional hiking & walking

Namibia Safaris