Posted on the 12th January 2015

This is a weekly feature on some of the top bird-watching destinations in the Western Cape Province. The second destination featured is the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. More detail is available on the SANBI website at:

The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is internationally renowned for showcasing the Cape Floral Kingdom and a variety of other Southern African plant-types in all their splendour. Kirstenbosch lies along the eastern sections of the Table Mountain National Park and both form part of the Cape Floristic Region Protected Area and are recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Visitors' Centre offers retail outlets, a restaurant and coffee shop and most importantly an information desk. Ensure that a map, or one of the excellent guide books is purchased before entering, as the vastness of the gardens could become rather confusing for first-time visitors. Such maps will also assist keen birders to use the guidelines and recommendations provided below. Sections of the gardens are wheelchair-friendly and indicated on the maps. Visits to the Conservancy with its collection of succulent plants and the Centre for Home Gardening are highly recommended.

Swee Waxbills - Image by Richard Masson














The lower gardens around the Visitor Centre are excellent for birding. The birds in the garden have become fairly tame due to the large number of tourists. This often makes them approachable allows great photographic opportunities throughout the gardens. EGYPTIAN GOOSE, HADEDA IBIS, CAPE SPURFOWL and HELMETED QUINEAFOWL regularly frequent the lawns and SOUTHERN BOUBOU, KAROO PRINIA, CAPE ROBIN-CHAT, SOUTHERN DOUBLE-COLLARED and MALACHITE SUNBIRDS are common in the surrounding vegetation. Also be on the lookout for both COMMON and SWEE WAXBILLS in this area. Other common birds in the lower garden include several canaries, CAPE BULBUL, a variety of doves, SPECKLED MOUSEBIRD (and more recently WHITE-BACKED MOUSEBIRD) and CAPE WHITE-EYE. BAR-THROATED APALIS, BURCHELL'S COUCAL, KLAAS'S CUCKOO and LESSER HONEYGUIDE are more difficult to find here, but are usually present. During winter when the aloes are flowering, the mentioned sunbirds abound in the Mathews Rockery area. Also look out for AMETHYST SUNBIRD.

Karoo Prinia
Amethyst Sunbird - Image by Richard Masson









At the small marsh just below the old parking area and near the Botanical Society's offices RED and YELLOW BISHOPS, LEVAILLANT'S CISTICOLA, CAPE GRASSBIRD, LITTLE RUSH-WARBLER, LESSER SWAMP-WARBLER, OLIVE THRUSH and COMMON WAXBILL, are often found and present good photographic opportunities. BLACK SAW-WING is common during summer.
A walk up towards the Dell and beyond often allows sightings of other bird species. A pair of SPOTTED EAGLE-OWLS can often be seen in the area around the Dell. The Cycad Garden and the stands of proteas and ericas above it hold good numbers of two sought-after fynbos endemics, namely CAPE SUGARBIRD and ORANGE-BREASTED SUNBIRD. Note that CAPE SUGARBIRDS breed elsewhere during winter. The diversity of habitats in this section of the gardens host a wide selection of bird species and birders should remember to watch out for them whilst marvelling at the stupendous vegetation in the garden. Look out for the introduced COMMON CHAFFINCH in the area around the oak and cedar trees above the cycad garden. Many South African birders are keen to find this species.

Orange-breasted Sunbird
Cape Sugarbird












The huge diversity of species in the gardens can, amongst other things, be attributed to the many birds that are associated with its forest habitats. The most accessible areas for such species are the trees in and around the Dell and the Braille Trail that starts opposite the Fragrance Garden. Look out for BAR-THROATED APALIS, CAPE BATIS, FOREST CANARY, KLAAS'S CUCKOO and LEMON DOVE, the latter operating in the shady leaf litter. Also expect to find AFRICAN DUSKY FLYCATCHER, SOMBRE GREENBUL, LESSER HONEYGUIDE, AFRICAN PARADISE-FLYCATCHER (summer), AFRICAN OLIVE PIGEON and OLIVE THRUSH. These wooded areas also support SOUTHERN BOUBOU, BRIMSTONE CANARY, RED-CHESTED CUCKOO and BLACK SAW-WING (both in summer). OLIVE WOODPECKER is also found occationally. AFRICAN GOSHAWKS can often be heard calling high above the forest canopy, particularly during early mornings.

African Paradise-Flycatcher (Carin Malan)
African Dusky Flycatcher



















More energetic birders may decide to hike up towards Castle Buttress along either Skeleton Gorge or Nursery Ravine. These two trails form an interesting circle route taking hikers through various habitats. It is fairly strenuous and at least half a day should be allowed to complete it, while still appreciating the beauty and splendour of the gardens. The elusive KNYSNA WARBLER has been reported in this area and the best to look for it is in the bracken higher up towards the buttress during spring when it is most vocal. VERREAUX'S EAGLE can often be seen circling above the mountain. These higher reaches of the gardens can often produce BURCHELL'S COUCAL, CAPE SISKIN, ALPINE and AFRICAN BLACK SWIFTS and GROUND WOODPECKER.

Cape Siskin
Ground Woodpecker













Kirstenbosch also supports a variety of birds of prey: Resident raptors include FOREST BUZZARD, BOOTED and VERREAUX'S EAGLES, PEREGRINE FALCON, ROCK KESTREL and BLACK-SHOULDERED KITE. SPOTTED EAGLE-OWL is often seen roosting near the Dell. Hawks such as AFRICAN GOSHAWK, AFRICAN HARRIER-HAWK, BLACK and RUFOUS-CHESTED SPARROW-HAWKS are most likely to be seen early in the mornings. In summer expect to see YELLOW-BILLED KITE and STEPPE BUZZARD flying overhead.

Verreaux's Eagles - Image by Jessie Walton
African Goshawk














Some special birds found here irregularly in the past include CINNAMON-BREASTED BUNTING, EUROPEAN HONEY BUZZARD, AFRICAN BLACK DUCK, LESSER SPOTTED EAGLE, STRIPED FLUFFTAIL, BROWN-BACKED HONEYBIRD and PALMNUT VULTURE. The arboreal boardwalk, or 'boomslang', is the latest addition to birding delights at Kirstenbosch. Birders now have access to treetop views of species that often forage in the canopies of trees. Species that are regularly seen on the boardwalk include CAPE BATIS, FOREST CANARY, SOMBRE GREENBUL, AFRICAN OLIVE PIGEON, CAPE ROBIN-CHAT, OLIVE THRUSH, SWEE WAXBILL and CAPE WHITE-EYE. FOREST BUZZARD has also been recorded and birders anticipate that good numbers of birds of prey should be present during summer months.

Cape White-eye nest - Image by Richard Masson
Brown-backed Honeybird - Image by Carin Malan











Cape Spurfowl













Also consider taking 'THE HOP ON HOP OFF CITY BUS TOUR' on a mini Peninsula tour, as it stops at Kirstenbosch 15 times a day during summer and 12 times a day during winter. The bus arrives at 09h50 and thereafter every 20 minutes in summer and every 35 minutes in winter. Visit for prices, timetables and the reservation of tickets. Keep in mind that the bus connects with other birding spots such as World of Birds, Cape Town Gardens and so on.
DIRECTIONS: View on Google Maps
PHYSICAL ADDRESS: Rhodes Drive, Newlands, Cape Town, South Africa
PHONE: +27(0)21 799 8783
TICKET OFFICE: +27(0)21 799 8782
Operational Hours
Sep-Mar (Summer) Mon-Sun: 08h00-19h00
Apr-Aug (Winter) Mon-Sun: 08h00-18h00
Conservatory Mon-Sun: 09h00 -17h00

Southern Boubou
Cape Grassbird













More detailed information on other bird-watching opportunities in the greater Cape Town region is available at the following link:

Southern Double-collared Sunbird
Spotted Thick-knee











Young Spotted Eagle-Owls (Carin Malan)










PHOEBE BARNARD (posted: 2015-01-13 22:18:29)
Gorgeous photos, lovely article - thank you Anton and team!