Zambia is a country dominated by woodland, yet defined by water. Essentially the northern drainage basin of the Zambezi River system, three great rivers carve their way through the Zambian landscape. The Zambezi River itself starts in the extreme northwestern corner, curving southwards, then east to the sea. The Kafue, and then the Luangwa, join it from the north. It is the woodland itself, though, that defines the type and variety of birdlife found here. A carpet of Miombo covers the country; Brachystegia woodland stuffed full of wonderful birds. In the north, in the higher rainfall areas, a sprinkling of groundwater forest, known locally as Mushitu, break the monotony. In the south and west, we approach the borders of Angola and Namibia, and their influence can be felt. The soils change to a typical Kalahari sand, and the trees change with it. Rhodesian Teak, and patches of Mopane appear, and surface water is hard to come by in the dry season. In the east of the country is the Luangwa valley, the driest, and hottest part of Zambia. Mopane woodland almost fills the valley, extending like a tongue northeast towards the Nyika Plateau. Over 2000m high, capped with a sea of rolling grassland which surrounds islands of montane forest, the Nyika is a magical world with magic birds. Nearly 40 species enter the Zambian list in this area alone.

In between the woodland; rivers, floodplains, swamps, dambos. Zambia is definitely a wet country. The best known major wetland, the Bengweulu swamps, are home to a small population of Shoebills. With the Great Lakes region suffering so much turmoil in recent years, this may be the best place to see this extraordinary bird. Lochinvar is another well-known spot, and the Kafue flats in general are a paradise for wetland birders. Lochinvar, and its mirror image, Blue Lagoon, regularly host tens of thousands of waders, as well as large populations of other waterbirds

The rich variety of habitats in Zambia is reflected in its incredibly rich variety of birds. Wonderful Miombo specialists such as Böhm's Flycatcher, Bar-winged Weaver and Red-and-Blue Sunbird are widespread. Species more suited to West African forests appear in Mwinilunga district, Bates' Sunbird and Grey-winged Robin, Honeyguide Greenbul and Blue-breasted Kingfisher. Mountain lovers from East Africa have established a toehold on the Nyika and Mafinga mountains, Sharpe's Akalat and Bar-tailed Trogon, Mountain Marsh Widow and Black-lored Cisticola. Great Lakes specials which one would normally expect to find around Lake Victoria, appear at Mweru Wantipu, in Luapula province: Papyrus Yellow Warbler and Slender-billed Weaver, Yellow-backed Weaver and White-winged Warbler.

Zambia has 120 or so species not found south of the Zambezi, and while it does not have the large number of endemics of SA or Tanzania, it does offer a great opportunity to have a look at some of our rarer species;

Shelley’s Sunbird is a common Miombo species, as is Böhm’s Bee-eater in the Copperbelt. Olive-headed Weaver, restricted to small areas of woodland in Mozambique, can be found with a little effort on the eastern side of the country. Ross’s Loerie, known to most of us only through illustrations in field guides, is a common and widespread bird north of Lusaka. It’s true that some of these can be seen elsewhere, but many birds that are tough to track down in Southern Africa are relatively easy to find in Zambia. Black-cheeked lovebirds, Africa's most restricted Parrot species, occurs 4 hours drive north of Victoria Falls and we go rafting instead!


Bird List

Compiled by Paul Bourdin

The terms refer to relative abundance within suitable habitat. C = Common, U = Uncommon, R = Rare

Refers to where one is likely to see a particular bird:
W = Widespread, L = Localised.

These are qualified by various letter codes; North, South, East and West represented by n, s, e, w. These are combined in the usual fashion ( Northeast = ne).
In addition: c = Central, M = Mwinilunga, EH = Eastern Highlands.

R = Resident
A = Afro-tropical Migrant
P = Palearctic Migrant
V = Vagrant
PP = Partial/Possible Migrant - Covers movements other than traditional migration (eg postbreeding dispersal) as well as seasonal local movements.
CC = Of Conservation Concern - Birds considered by Birdlife International to be globally threatened, plus two resident species (Great Crested Grebe and Common Bittern) which are threatened within Zambia.

The abundance, distribution and status of many species in Zambia is unclear, and may change in the future. The above is meant to be a guide only. For more information on Zambian birds please refer to; A Field Guide to Zambian Birds not found in Southern Africa by Dylan Aspinwall and Carl Beel.

Download the Microsoft Excel version of the Zambia Bird List.