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Winged Jewels of Nkhata Bay: Discovering 22 Spectacular Birds

Nkhata Bay is a small town on the shores of Lake Malawi in Malawi. It is home to many birds, from tiny hummingbirds to giant eagles. With its lush forests and wetlands, Nkhata Bay provides an ideal habitat for many species of birds.

The town is a popular destination for bird watchers, as it offers an excellent opportunity to observe various birds in their natural environment. Visitors can enjoy spotting colorful parrots, kingfishers, plovers, and other species.

The area is also home to many migratory species, making it ideal for birders to observe seasonal changes in species abundance.

From the small finch to the majestic eagle, Nkhata Bay offers a wide variety of birds and a unique opportunity to experience the beauty of nature.

22 Birds to Watch in Nkhata Bay

Nkhata Bay is a small town on the shores of Lake Malawi, one of the world’s largest and most biodiverse freshwater lakes. The city is a popular destination for travelers who want to enjoy the scenic views, the friendly atmosphere, and the region’s rich culture.

Here are 22 birds to watch in Nkhata Bay.

1. Great Cormorant


The great cormorant is a large seabird of the cormorant family with a wide range of habitats worldwide.

In the Northern Hemisphere, it was formerly known as the great black cormorant; in Australia, it is known as the black cormorant; and in India, it is referred to as the large cormorant.

In New Zealand, the great cormorant is known as the black shag or kawau. It is a large bird with predominantly black plumage, a long tail, and a long neck. Its wingspan can reach up to 5 feet and are powerful fliers.

They are usually found near saltwater areas and can dive to depths of up to 30 feet to catch fish. Great cormorants can be seen individually or in flocks of up to hundreds of birds. They are social animals and often build nests together in colonies on rocky cliffs or in trees.

They also nest on artificial structures such as piers and bridges. In addition to fish, the great cormorant will also eat crustaceans, amphibians, and even small birds.

They are opportunistic feeders and can be seen stealing food from other birds, such as seagulls. The great cormorant is an essential species in many ecosystems around the world. As a top predator, it helps to keep fish populations in balance.

It is also an important species for ecotourism, as many people come to observe and photograph these majestic birds.

SpeciesP. carbo

2. African Openbill

The African Openbill is a species of stork that is part of the Ciconiidae family. It is most commonly found in Sub-Saharan Africa and the western regions of Madagascar.

The species is generally considered abundant in its area, but its distribution is not entirely even across the range. This means that it can be found in some areas more than others.

This species can be seen in various habitats, such as wetland areas, open grasslands, and woodlands. The African Openbill is usually seen in small flocks, foraging for food in shallow waters.

It feeds on aquatic invertebrates such as snails, using its specialized bill to pick up. In addition, this species is also known to feed on carrion and, sometimes, small vertebrates such as rodents and reptiles.

SpeciesA. lamelligerus

3. Kingfisher


Kingfishers are a family of birds called Alcedinidae, which belong to Coraciiformes. They come in a variety of sizes and colors and can be found all over the world. In particular, they are most commonly seen in the tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Oceania.

However, some species of kingfishers have been spotted in Europe as well. Kingfishers are known for their bright, colorful feathers, which vary from species to species. They are also known for their keen eyesight, which allows them to spot prey from a distance.

In addition to these physical traits, kingfishers are renowned for their distinctive calls, which can be heard up to several kilometers away.


4. Pied Kingfisher


The pied kingfisher is a species of water kingfisher that is found in Africa and Asia. It was initially described by the famous Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1758. The species is recognizable by its black and white plumage and long, slim bill.

It has five distinct subspecies that differ in size, coloration, and distribution range. The African subspecies is the largest, measuring about 24 cm long and weighing up to 56 g. The Asian subspecies are smaller, averaging around 20 cm in length and 40 g in weight.

The pied kingfisher is an opportunistic feeder that mainly eats fish but also takes other aquatic invertebrates, amphibians, and small reptiles. It is a solitary species, usually seen hunting alone, but it may form small flocks when not breeding.

It often perches on rocks and trees near water, where it dives for prey.

It nests in burrows dug into the banks of rivers and streams and lays 3-5 eggs. The pied kingfisher is a species of conservation concern due to habitat degradation and pollution of its aquatic habitats.

Conservation efforts are needed to ensure the species’ survival in the wild.

SpeciesC. rudis

5. Little Egret

The little egret is a beautiful bird species in the heron family Ardeidae. It has a unique appearance, with its white feathers and a slender black beak.

Its long black legs stand out in contrast to its white body, and its western race also has a distinguishing feature of having yellow feet. As an aquatic bird, the little egret is well adapted to living near water.

It can be found in shallow water and on land, feeding on a diverse range of tiny creatures. This makes it an essential part of its ecosystem, as it helps keep the population of certain species balanced.

Furthermore, its graceful appearance is a sight, mainly in flight.

SpeciesE. garzetta

6. Bar-tailed Trogon

The bar-tailed trogon is a species of bird belonging to the family Trogonidae. It is found in central African countries and is a resident bird there, meaning it does not migrate. The bar-tailed trogon has various diets but mainly feeds on insects and fruits.

The bird is known to inhabit humid forests, open woodlands, and wooded grasslands. It is usually found in the canopy and lower levels of the vegetation.

The bar-tailed trogon is a brightly colored bird overall, with males having a distinctive black and white pattern on their wings. The bird is also known to be quite vocal, making distinct loud calls.

The bar-tailed trogon is an integral part of the African ecosystem, as it helps control insect populations and disperse the seeds of the fruits it eats.

SpeciesA. vittatum

7. Laughing Dove

The laughing dove (Spilopelia senegalensis) is a small, colorful pigeon native to Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Western Australia. It is identified by its reddish-pink body and iridescent blue-green wings. It typically grows to be between 10-12 inches in length.

This bird is a resident breeder, meaning it will return to the same location year after year to mate and nest. In Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, the laughing dove is common in urban and rural areas.

In Western Australia, however, the dove is an introduced species. It was released from Perth Zoo in 1898 and has since become established in the wild. The bird is considered a pest in some parts of the region, competing with native species for food and habitat.

The laughing dove is a sociable bird often seen in groups of up to ten birds. They feed mainly on seeds and grains, foraging in short grass or on the ground.

Their nests are typically built in low bushes or small trees made from twigs and other plant material. The laughing dove is a beautiful and unique bird and is an integral part of the ecosystems it occupies.

It plays a vital role in maintaining balance within its environment, and its presence is a reminder of the fragility of the natural world.

SpeciesS. senegalensis

8. Helmeted Guineafowl


The helmeted guineafowl is an iconic bird species belonging to the Numididae family. It is the only species in the Numida genus and is native to Africa, primarily south of the Sahara.

This bird has been introduced to many other parts of the world, primarily as a domesticated bird. The West Indies, North America, Colombia, Brazil, Australia, and Europe have all seen the introduction of this bird as a domesticated species.

The helmeted guineafowl is the most well-known member of the guineafowl family. It is known for its distinctive, helmet-like crest and loud vocal calls. In the wild, this bird is often seen in small flocks, foraging for food on the ground.

The diet of this species mainly consists of seeds, insects, and other small invertebrates. Domesticated guineafowl are often kept as livestock, with their meat and eggs eaten by humans. These birds are also popular as pets due to their easy-going nature.

They are usually quite hardy and can live up to 15 years in captivity. The helmeted guineafowl is an essential species in its native range, and its introduction to other parts of the world has impacted local ecosystems.

It has become an invasive species in some areas, out-competing native wildlife for resources. It is essential to be aware of the potential impacts of invasive species and manage them responsibly.

SpeciesN. meleagris

9. Common Sandpiper


The common sandpiper is a small wader bird found in the Palearctic region. It is part of the genus Actitis and its American sister species, the spotted sandpiper.

These two species are parapatric, meaning they are geographically separate but may overlap in certain areas. This overlap can lead to hybridization when two species breed together and create a new hybrid species.

Stray birds of either species may settle down and breed with birds of the other species, resulting in hybridization. Hybridization can benefit species, as it allows for genetic diversity, which can help them adapt to changing environments.

SpeciesA. hypoleucos

10. Red-eyed Dove

The red-eyed dove is a species of dove that is native to Sub-Saharan Africa. Its population is abundant in the region, and it is a commonly seen species. It is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, an evaluation of species’ conservation status, since 2004.

This is because the species is not facing a significant risk of extinction shortly and is not under threat. The red-eyed dove is a relatively small bird, usually around 25 centimeters long.

It has a distinctive red eye-ring around its eyes, and its plumage is generally grey to off-white. It feeds mainly on seeds and small insects and nests in trees and shrubs.

Its range includes much of Sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal and Mauritania in the west to Ethiopia and Somalia in the east. The red-eyed dove is an essential species in its habitat, and its abundance makes it an important food source for many predators.

It is also a famous game bird hunted for sport in some parts of Africa.

SpeciesS. semitorquata

11. Emerald-spotted Wood Dove


The emerald-spotted wood dove is a bird species in open, drier, deciduous woodlands and second-growth forests of eastern and southern Africa.

It is a member of the Columbidae family, which includes many other species of doves, such as the ring-necked dove and the laughing dove.

This dove species thrives in these deciduous woodlands and second-growth forests, characterized by trees that lose their leaves annually and areas where forests are growing back after being logged or cleared for other uses.

However, it is absent from evergreen rainforests and semidesert areas, so it cannot survive in these habitats.

This is likely because evergreen rainforests are too moist and humid, and semidesert areas are too dry for the emerald-spotted wood dove to survive.

The emerald-spotted wood dove is an exciting species with qualities that make it well-suited to its preferred habitats.

SpeciesT. chalcospilos

12. White-browed Coucal

The White-browed Coucal, also known as the Lark-heeled Cuckoo, is a species of cuckoo found in sub-Saharan Africa. This cuckoo species prefers to inhabit areas with dense vegetation, such as thick undergrowth and scrub. It is also known to be present in some coastal regions.

The Burchell’s Coucal is sometimes considered a subspecies of the White-browed Coucal. This species is generally found in more open grasslands and savannas with less dense vegetation.

The White-browed Coucal is a medium-sized cuckoo, typically ranging from length to 32 centimeters, with a distinctive white eyebrow stripe and a dark tail with white tips.

The head is usually greyish-brown, with a white throat and a yellowish-brown breast.

SpeciesC. superciliosus

13. Sunbird

Sunbirds and spiderhunters are part of the Nectariniidae family of passerine birds. These birds are small and slender and come from the Old World. Sunbirds and spiderhunters typically have downward-curved bills that give them a distinctive look.

Many species have brightly colored feathers, often with iridescent feathers that are exceptionally bright in males. Additionally, many species have unusually long tail feathers.

Sunbirds and spiderhunters are known for their bright and colorful feathers, making them an incredible sight.


14. Reed Cormorant

The reed cormorant is a bird of the cormorant family Phalacrocoracidae, also known as the long-tailed cormorant. This bird is native to Africa, south of the Sahara Desert and Madagascar.

It is primarily a resident bird, although it may undertake some seasonal movements. The reed cormorant can be found in various habitats, including marshes, lagoons, and rivers. Its diet includes aquatic animals like fish, crustaceans, and amphibians.

The reed cormorant is an elegant bird with a long, slender neck and long tail feathers. Its plumage is black, with a white patch on its wings. It is a medium-sized bird with a length of up to 70 cm and a weight of up to 1.5 kg.

The reed cormorant is an essential species in its native habitats, as it plays a critical role in the food web and helps maintain the ecosystem’s balance.

SpeciesM. africanus

15. Black-winged Stilt

The black-winged stilt is a type of wading bird that belongs to the avocet and stilt family. These birds are found in many areas worldwide, with an extensive distribution.

These birds are easily recognized by their long legs, which allow them to move gracefully while foraging in shallow waters. The scientific name for the black-winged stilt is H. himantopus, which is usually used to refer to a single, almost cosmopolitan species.

This means this bird species can be found in many locations and is not limited to one area. This bird is a common sight in wetlands, lakes, and other water sources, where they feed on insects, small crustaceans, and other small animals.

SpeciesH. himantopus

16. Greater Flamingo


The greater flamingo is the most widespread and significant species of the family.

These birds are found in various parts of the world, including Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, the Middle East, the Levant, the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea, and the Mediterranean countries of Southern Europe.

This makes them one of the most geographically widespread birds in the world. The greater flamingos are easily recognized by their bright pink feathers and long, curved necks.

They typically feed on small invertebrates such as shrimp, mollusks, and crustaceans, which they find in shallow waters.

They also have an impressive wingspan of up to four feet, allowing them to fly long distances and cover great distances in search of food. The greater flamingo is a social species, often living in large colonies of up to a thousand birds.

They are highly gregarious, gathering in large groups to protect and share resources.

They are also highly adaptive and can live in various habitats, including wetlands, mudflats, and mangroves. The greater flamingo is an impressive species, with its broad global distribution and adaptability to different habitats.

It is a beautiful bird and a joy to watch in its natural habitat.

SpeciesP. roseus

17. Lesser Jacana


The lesser jacana is a small wading bird that belongs to the Jacanidae family. It is the only species in its genus, Microparra. This bird species is known for its ability to walk on lily pads and other floating vegetation.

The lesser jacana is distributed in parts of Africa, Asia, and Australia. It prefers to live in shallow wetlands with abundant aquatic vegetation, such as marshes, swamps, and shallow lakes. The lesser jacana has black, yellow, and white plumage.

Males and females look similar, although males are slightly larger and have longer bills. This species feeds on aquatic insects, larvae, other small invertebrates, and small fish and plant material. The lesser jacana is a solitary bird that breeds in colonies.

The female builds the nest and incubates the eggs, while the male defends the territory. This species of bird is not considered threatened or endangered.

SpeciesM. capensis

18. Double-banded Sandgrouse

The double-banded sandgrouse is a species of bird belonging to the family Pteroclidae, which are predominantly terrestrial, meaning they live and feed on the ground.

This species can be found in arid parts of southern Africa, adapted to the dry climate and limited resources.

They have particular adaptations like feathers that help them retain water and strong legs and feet that allow them to travel long distances for food and water.

The double-banded sandgrouse is also a very social species; often, they form large flocks and can be seen flying in formation.

These birds are also famous for their spectacular courtship displays, where they fly in circles and dive towards one another in a kind of mating dance. They have many food sources, from seeds to fruits to insects and small vertebrates.

All of these adaptations make the double-banded sandgrouse a unique and fascinating species of bird that is adapted to live in the harsh conditions of the desert.

SpeciesP. bicinctus

19. Whimbrel


The Eurasian or common whimbrel is a wader from the Scolopacidae family, a large family of shorebirds. It is also known as the white-rumped whimbrel in North America.

This whimbrel species is one of the most widespread curlews, a type of shorebird, and can be found breeding across much of subarctic Asia and Europe. Its range even extends south of Scotland, indicating that it can survive in colder climates.

The Eurasian or common whimbrel is a migratory species, meaning that it spends the winter season in more temperate climates and then returns to its breeding grounds in the spring.

It has a distinctive white rump, which sets it apart from other species of whimbrels, as well as a long, down-curved beak, which it uses to feed on insects, worms, and other small creatures.

The Eurasian or common whimbrel is a relatively large bird, measuring up to 45 centimeters in length and weighing up to 200 grams.

This species of whimbrel is a valuable asset to the environment, as it helps to keep the ecosystems of its habitats balanced by eating small invertebrates. It also provides food for various predators, and its unique call is a recognizable sound of the wetlands.

The Eurasian or common whimbrel is an essential species of shorebird, and its conservation is of utmost importance for the future of these habitats.

SpeciesN. phaeopus

20. Hornbill

Hornbills are a unique and distinctive family of birds found in tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, Asia, and Melanesia.

They are easily recognizable by their long, curved bills, which often have brightly colored areas and can also have a casque, or a small, helmet-like structure, on the upper mandible.

Hornbills have a wide variety of sizes, ranging from the small Tockus species, which can be as small as a robin, to the large Ground Hornbill, which can be up to 1 meter long.

Hornbills are omnivorous, feeding on various food items, such as small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, fruits, and nuts. They are also known to be important seed dispersers in their native habitats, helping to maintain healthy ecosystems.

Hornbills are often hunted for their meat, eggs, and feathers, especially in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia. They are also threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation due to deforestation.

Hornbills are highly social birds, often living in large groups of several pairs and their offspring. They are also known for their complex courtship rituals involving loud vocalizations and elaborate displays of their colorful bills.

Hornbills are monogamous and usually mate for life, forming strong pair bonds. Hornbills are essential to their native cultures, often featured in myths and legends, and used in traditional medicines.

They are also popular in zoos and aviaries, providing an exciting display for visitors.


21. Cattle Egret


The cattle egret is a heron widespread across the globe, particularly in tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate areas.

It is the only species in its genus, Bubulcus, although there is debate among experts as to whether its two subspecies should be considered entire species in their own right.

These two subspecies are the western cattle egret and the eastern cattle egret. The cattle egret has a wide range of habitats, from wetlands and grasslands to the edges of urban areas. It is a relatively small bird, with white or light grey plumage and yellow bill and legs.

Its diet consists mainly of insects, which it hunts by standing in shallow water or open grassland and waiting for prey to appear. The cattle egret is a highly adaptable species that has colonized many different areas.

It is considered a beneficial species, as it helps reduce insect pests in agricultural areas.

In some places, it is kept as a pest control agent, encouraged to breed on farms and crop fields. Overall, the cattle egret is an important species in many parts of the world, and its conservation is essential for the long-term health of many ecosystems.

In addition to its ecological significance, it is also an important cultural symbol, with its image being used in many cultures to represent strength and courage.

SpeciesB. ibis

22. Gray-headed Bushshrike

The grey-headed bushshrike is a species of passerine bird found in sub-Saharan Africa. It is nicknamed the ‘ghostbird’ due to its elusive nature and secretive behavior.

It is common throughout sub-Saharan Africa, excluding Central Africa and the interior of southern Africa, though it can be found in smaller numbers in these regions. The grey-headed bushshrike is a medium-sized bird measuring up to 24 cm long.

It has a grey head and back, brownish-black chest and wings. Its tail is white with black barring and bright yellow eyes.

It has a strong bill and a long, hooked beak for catching insects. The grey-headed bushshrike is mainly a solitary bird but may form small flocks during the breeding season. It feeds primarily on insects and takes fruits, berries, and small lizards.

It is an active hunter, perching in a tree and swooping down on its prey. The grey-headed bushshrike builds its nest in the fork of a tree, usually in a deciduous forest or savanna. The female lays two to three eggs, which she incubates for 12 to 14 days.

The young fledge after 14 to 16 days. The grey-headed bushshrike is considered a species of Least Concern by the IUCN Red List, as its population is stable and widespread. It is, however, threatened by habitat destruction and fragmentation.

If its habitat is disturbed or destroyed, it will likely suffer a significant population decline.

SpeciesM. blanchoti


The birds of Nkhata Bay are a unique and vital part of the local ecology and biodiversity. They provide an essential link in the food web and contribute to the ecosystem’s overall health.

This area’s wide variety of bird species makes it a vibrant and diverse natural habitat. Bird watching can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience for all who visit this beautiful part of Malawi.

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