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The Kruger National Park: The Big 6 Birds

Updated on July 12, 2016
esja profile image

Esmé has visited the Kruger National Park many, many times. It is one of the loves of my life. On my way to go again!!

Birds of Kruger

Southern Carmine Bee-eaters
Southern Carmine Bee-eaters | Source

The Big 6 Birds

  • The Big 6 Birds represent the birds that visitors to the Kruger National Park and other national parks most likely want to see. These large birds are easily recognizable to even the novice birder.
  • Everyone knows the Big 5 which is: elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard. Even the Little 5 is not entirely unknown: they are the elephant shrew, rhino beetle, buffalo weaver, ant lion and leopard tortoise. But who is aware of the fact that there are Big 6 Birds? I did not and it is a first for me.

These 6 birds have made the selection to the Big 6 Birds for exactly the reason as stated: they are large birds and of the largest of their species. They are, in no particular order:

  • Kori Bustard
  • Martial Eagle
  • Lapped-faced Vulture
  • Pel's Fishing Owl
  • Saddle-billed Stork
  • Southern Ground Hornbill

1. The Kori Bustard

The Kori Bustard is the largest flying bird in Africa and the male of the species is more often than not twice the size of the female. They prefer to dwell and feed on the ground but can of course also take off.

  • Food:
  1. They are omnivores and their diet consists of insects such as locusts and grass hoppers.
  2. Scorpions and crickets
  3. Small vertebrates i.e. lizards and snakes
  4. Small mammals like rodents
  5. Birds
  6. Carrion
  7. Grasses and seeds
  • Habitat: The habitat of the Kori Bustard is open grassy areas with sandy soil and a low rainfall such as one would find in the Kalahari. They tend to follow fires where they can pick foods from the short grass. Open space is needed for the species to take off hence they do not occur in forest type locations.
  • Habits: Up to 70% of time is spend on land, so it is clear that they do not like flying overly much. They like sun and dust bathing as this is a means of cleaning up.
  • Status: This is a scarce bird that is listed on CITES Appendix II. They are expected to decline with roughly 10% over the next 3 generations.

Jackal: Martial Eagle food
Jackal: Martial Eagle food

2. Martial Eagle

The martial eagle is the largest of its kind in Africa. Have a look at these impressive measurements:

  • Weight 6-13 lb.
  • Length 31-38 in
  • Wingspan 6 ft. -8 ft.
  • Tail 10-12 in
  • Tarsus 3-5 in
  • Wing chord 22-26 in

The martial eagle is an apex predator meaning that it is at the top of the food chain. It feeds on:

  1. Birds
  2. Reptiles
  3. Mammals like hares, mongoose, baboon, monkey and small impala.
  4. Caracal and jackal
  5. Domestic livestock such as poultry and lamb
  • Habitat: The Martial Eagle can be found in woodland edges, open woods, thorn bush areas and savannahs. They nest in trees and would therefore not occur in areas without trees. Protected areas such as the Kruger National Park are more likely to be their habitat.
  • Habits: They hunt in flight and then swoop down on prey once it has been spotted. They can be seen circling before diving down on their prey.
  • Status: This bird has a low productive rate and needs large areas to hunt in; as such they are a scarce species. In 2009 it was listed as Near Threatened and in 2013 as vulnerable.

Carrion: food for vultures
Carrion: food for vultures

3. Lapped-faced vulture

The lapped-faced vulture is a solitary creature and also goes by the name Nubian vulture. This is a huge specimen of vulture with probably the largest and longest wings compared to others of its kind.

  • Food: Carrion of every sort and description
  • Habitat: Their preference is for open mountain slopes or dry savannah. Also find them in deserts, arid plains and thornbush - it is clear that they like wide open spaces. With advent of road kills, the vulture has found a new food source.
  • Habits: The Lapped-faced Vulture is a scavenger and it spots animal carcasses by watching other vultures when they circling above a kill. Their aggressiveness means that others of their kind will make way when they appear.
  • Status: These vultures are declining for various reasons. One is the fact of human occupation and the destruction of their natural habitat; another reason is that they die after they have consumed poisoned livestock. As such they are seen as Vulnerable and their population world-wide stands at less than 9000.

Lapped-faced Vultures and Jackal


4. Pel's Fishing Owl

Pel's Fishing owl is one of the largest owls in the world and like the others of its species it is a nocturnal bird. It weighs about 4-5 lb. and has a length of 20-25 in; the males and females are similar in size and coloring.

  • Food: frogs and fish
  • Habitat: Pel's Fishing Owls like to keep in forests, along rivers, lakes, estuaries and swamps. They favor riverine forests where there are large trees where they roost during the day. They are resident birds in other words they do not move from one place to the other with the changing of seasons. They do however move further afield when looking for prey.
  • Habits: They are vocal on moonlit nights and then especially near dawn. They eat almost exclusively fish with weights from 3.5 oz. to about 4.4 lb. These owls perch on a branch over the river and then swoop down to catch their prey; they then fly back to the branch to feed.
  • Status: Population seems to be stable at present as long as they can find habitats along large water sources in conjunction with large trees and a good supply of fish.

Pel's Fishing Owl

Saddle-billed stork food - various frogs
Saddle-billed stork food - various frogs

5. Saddle-billed stork

The bird is a wader and once again it is one of the largest of its kind with the male heavier than the female. It also has exceptionally tall legs.

  • Food:
  1. Fish
  2. Crabs
  3. Frogs
  4. Small birds
  5. Reptiles
  • Habitat: The stork is found in large parts of Africa and they need flood lands or forested water lands to breed. Trees are needed for the building of a deep and stick like nest.
  • Habits: The Saddle-billed Stork is a silent bird; the only time when you will hear it make a sound is when they clatter their bills when nesting. They fly with an outstretched neck and the drooping bill is distinctive for bird watchers.
  • Status: They do not seem to be a threatened species.


Southern Ground Hornbill

Snakes: food for the Southern ground hornbill
Snakes: food for the Southern ground hornbill

6. Southern Ground Hornbill

This large bird is between 35 and 50 in long and the males are heavier than the females.

  • Food:
  1. Mammals such as hares
  2. Insects
  3. Snails
  4. Frogs
  5. Reptiles
  • Habitat: These birds spend a lot of time on the ground, as their name indicates. What they need is a savannah where there are large trees so that they can build a nest and raise their young. Short and dense grass is furthermore required for foraging. They mostly occur in national parks such as Kruger or otherwise in protected areas like game reserves.
  • Habits: They are highly vocal in groups; these groups consist of between 5 and 10 individuals. This bird is a cooperative breeder, meaning that a breeding pair is assisted by 2 or more other birds. It seems that the bird needs 6 years as a helper breeder before it can breed on its own.
  • Status: The need for agricultural land has reduced the specific and preferred habitat for the Southern Ground Hornbill. Furthermore, its productive rate is low. This has made bird's classification as Vulnerable to Extinction, however in South African it is already on the Critically Endangered list.

Hornbill in KRUGER

show route and directions
A markerKruger National Park -
Kruger National Park, Kruger National Park, South Africa
get directions

B markerLower Sabie -
Lower Sabie Rest Camp, Skukuza - Lower Sabie Rd, Mpumalanga, 1350, South Africa
get directions

Secretary bird, the bird with its ass in the air...

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    • esja profile image

      Esmé 2 years ago from South Africa

      I agree, certainly better than poachers and certain other members of the human species.


    • claptona profile image

      John D Wilson 2 years ago from Earth



      I love watching birds.

      One of Gods better creations!


    • esja profile image

      Esmé 2 years ago from South Africa

      Hi Hazel,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my post.



    • esja profile image

      Esmé 2 years ago from South Africa

      I appreciate your comment Erik.

      Keep well!

    • Hazel Abee profile image

      Hazel Abee 2 years ago from Malaysia

      This is something new for me .. was only a fan of Eagle .. I just love then .. the power and the energy ... Thank you for such great info

    • Milieunet profile image

      Erik van Erne 2 years ago from Utrecht, The Netherlands

      Great post

    • esja profile image

      Esmé 2 years ago from South Africa

      I love the outdoors and I'm a bird watcher too.

      Thanks a lot.

    • Fox Music profile image

      Fox Music 2 years ago

      Thanks for sharing this excellent information on the Big 6

    • esja profile image

      Esmé 3 years ago from South Africa

      Yes the ostrich makes since, did not think about that one.

    • Johan Smulders profile image

      Johan Smulders 3 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Well researched and interesting article. An interesting choice of the big six- I might choose the Ostrich in there.

    • esja profile image

      Esmé 3 years ago from South Africa

      I only found out about the Big 6 Birds yesterday myself, so this was new to me too and you are right, it does give one a new take on these birds.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      I hate vultures, they are like hyenas , ugly and beast, but this hub did gave me a different look on big birds