Tuli – a birders’ paradise

By: Mogomotsi Radinonyane (MG) (Professional Safari Guide)

Location: Tuli Safari Lodge (Northern Tuli Game Reserve) Botswana


The Northern Tuli Game Reserve is home to over 350 species of birds, of which 130 species are migratory.

When the striking calls of the Woodland Kingfisher, Red-backed Shrike and European Bee-Eaters, Red-chested Cuckoos, Jacobin Cuckoos and other migratory bird species cease, it is the signal that our summer season in Botswana is coming to an end and our migrants are gone. All is not lost, as we have our residents species ranging from Red-billed Hornbills, Natal Spurfowl, Swainson’s Spurfowl, Crested Barbets, Crimson-breasted Shrikes, Pied Kingfishers and the magnificent Lilac Breasted Rollers to mention just a few.


The Northern Tuli Game Reserve is home to over 350 species of birds, of which 130 species are migratory.

When the striking calls of the Woodland Kingfisher, Red-backed Shrike and European Bee-Eaters, Red-chested Cuckoos, Jacobin Cuckoos and other migratory bird species cease, it is the signal that our summer season in Botswana is coming to an end and our migrants are gone. All is not lost, as we have our residents species ranging from Red-billed Hornbills, Natal Spurfowl, Swainson’s Spurfowl, Crested Barbets, Crimson-breasted Shrikes, Pied Kingfishers and the magnificent Lilac Breasted Rollers to mention just a few.

Tuli Safari Lodge lilac breasted roller


Strategically placed waterholes around the lodge and reserve are the best spots to sit with binoculars and a field guide to identify the many species coming down to drink and bathe. Birds play an important role in the entire ecosystem, no matter how small or how big they are, and their presence reveals how healthy the ecosystem is.

All this takes me back to the days when I was a young boy and my grandmother narrated stories, superstitions and beliefs about birds while sitting around the fire. These stories and beliefs are strong in Botswana culture and actually had a great result in terms of protecting and conserving bird species that were on the brink of extinction long before conservation policies were put in place.


Superstitions and beliefs about bird species in Botswana tribes

A living example is about the Kori Bustard, Botswana’s national bird. When we grew, the Kori Bustard was only meant to be hunted by chiefs, for the sole purpose of conserving and protecting the remaining population that we had.

Kori Bustard – Lionel Reyes


We were told that if you kill a Crimson Breasted Shrike you will be struck by lightning. When the Batswana hear the calls of these summer migrants, they know that it is time to prepare their implements for ploughing fields as they associate them with good rains.

Our grandparents believe that during winter yellow billed kites hide in tree cavities, not knowing that they migrate to warmer parts of Africa. In fact this is something I also believed until learning about bird migration on my guiding course!


The king of birds – a folklore story

A story about birds that I still remember from my grandmother and I still share with guests even today goes like this … A long time ago when birds were fighting over who should be the king, after a long argument they agreed that they should have a competition. They set a date to suit them all and agreed the criteria: the one that flies higher than all other birds will be declared king. The day of the competition finally arrived and all the birds, big, medium and small, came in numbers prepared and ready for the competition. Guess what, of all the animals, the guest referee of the day was a spotted hyena! The competition was officially launched and all the birds started flying. A common blue waxbill sat on top of a vulture, but because of its small size the vulture didn’t notice and after all the birds were tired, the blue waxbill started flying higher and higher and reached a point where others failed to reach, and so was declared a winner.

Common Blue Waxbill – Holton Photography

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