I’m a big fan of city birding. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy getting away from it all out in some remote forest or desert, but a good city can combine some excellent birding and outstanding diving, drinking, dining and sightseeing. Of these great cities Cape Town is fast becoming one of my favourite birding spots in the the world. Perched near the spot were the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, it combines an utterly outstanding location with excellent wine country, a fabulous historic centre and a location dab in the centre of a endemic hotspot. What follows is a quick intro to some of the highlights you can find around the city.


Cape Town’s outstanding botanical gardens have been written about on this site before. They are one of the finest gardens in the world, nestled in a stunning location at the foot of Table Mountain (and that mountain’s associated national park). The oustanding displays of endemic flowers (the region is home to it’s own floristic kingdom) attract a huge number of birds. On my recent visit I managed to see specialties like Spotted Eagle Owls, Swee Waxbills, Cape Sugarbirds, Malachite Sunbirds and Cape Francolins. The gardens are so bird rich books have been written about what can be seen in them. An essential visit that can be squeezed into the briefest of visits, and the stunning gardens and views will entertain even the least birdy of companions!

Spotted Eagle OwlSpotted Eagle Owl

Cape of Good Hope

I’m not certain why the Cape of Good Hope is the cape everyone talks about, it isn’t the southernmost point in Africa (that goes to Cape Agulhas, 150 kilometres to the south east). It is apparently the meeting point of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, but how this is so isn’t clear to me. I looked and couldn’t see a line, but maybe you need to be an oceanographer to work such things out. It is a good place to come down to from the city and look for Ostrich, Cape Gannets, Cape Cormorants, Cape Sparrows, Cape Buntings, Cape Sugarbirds, Cape Grassbirds and presumably lots of other birds with cape in the name. It’s also a good place to pick up some African game if you’re on a quick trip, I saw Bontebok and Eland, two types of antelope, as well as Chamca Baboons, and if you’re lucky you can find Mountain Zebra here too.

fynbosFynbos flowers are highlight of the cape

Boulders Beach

People go to Boulder’s Beach for one reason… penguins! It’s the easiest place in the world to see wild penguins (well, except for the parking in summer), namely African Penguins. That said, you can also pick up Swift Terns, African Oystercatchers and a few other things, so it’s worth a longer look. But mostly, just drink in the penguins!

Boulder's BeachBoulder’s Beach

African PenguinAfrican Penguin!


At 10,000 Birds we’re big fans of visiting poo ponds (or sewage works) to pick up birds and Cape Town has a cracking set in Strandfontein. It’s the place to learn your African waterbirds, particularly ducks. I’ve seen Cape Teal, Red-billed Teal, Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Shoveller, Maccoa Duck, Southern Pochard, Egyptian Goose and Spur-winged Goose here. You can also get Black-necked Grebe here (Eared Grebe to Americans) and if for some reason you don’t want to see Greater Flamingos in a drainage ditch in the rest of the city you can see them here instead. Cape Bulbul, Cape Weavers, and Cape Wagtail are all common here if you feel you need even more birds with cape in the name.  Cape Mongoose are also easy to see. The network of roads through the ponds are open to the public and easily birded from a car.

Greater FlamingoGreater Flamingos

Cattle EgretCattle Egret in spring flowers


Rondevlei Nature Reserve

Rondevlei is a small wetland reserve that actually adjoins to Standfontein, but instead of birding from a car there are trails and hides. The deep reedbeds and pools hide many species, including some hard-to-see hippos! It’s a nice spot that I’ve picked up a few lifers in including African Snipe, Water Thick-knee, Booted Eagle and (amazingly I had never connected with this before) African Swamp Hen.

Black-headed HeronBlack-headed Herons are an African speciality

little grebeLittle Grebe from a hide

But wait…. there’s more!

There’s more great stuff just a bit further out. And I’ll be writing about that next time. In the meantime, why aren’t you off there already?

Written by Duncan
Duncan Wright is a Wellington-based ornithologist working on the evolution of New Zealand's birds. He's previously poked albatrosses with sticks in Hawaii, provided target practice for gulls in California, chased monkeys up and down hills Uganda, wrestled sharks in the Bahamas and played God with grasshopper genetics in Namibia. He came into studying birds rather later in life, and could quit any time he wants to.