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Republic of Malawi

Endemic
Yellow-throated Apalis Apalis flavigularis ©Francesco Veronesi Website

Birding Malawi

Malawi is a relatively small country, only 94,000 km², compared with its principal neighbours Zambia (752,000 km²) and Mozambique (784,000 km²). It is also comparatively densely populated, with over 9 million people, more than in Zambia. Nevertheless, Malawi is a most worthwhile birding destination, with a diversity of accessible habitats and an excellent variety of species, including several near-endemics and an array of both Palearctic and Intra-African migrants too.

Malawi is dominated by its lake (formerly Lake Nyasa); which flanks the upper two thirds of the country. The river Shire drains Lake Malawi southwards to enter the Zambesi in Mozambique. The western highlands, from the Nyika plateau in the North southwards comprise the western flank of the African Rift Valley. Southern Malawi has a number of important isolated massifs and outcrops, notable for their residual montane rain forests, which harbour some of the country's most notable species. These mountains include Mulanje, Cholo, Soche, Zomba and Chiradzulu.

The birding habitats of the country must all be visited in order to appreciate the species diversity of this peaceful, pleasant and scenic country. Lake Malawi itself attracts relatively few waterbirds but the often rocky shores have their hyrax colonies and attendant Black Eagles Aquila verreauxi and the lake itself is fished by the ubiquitous Fish Eagles Haliaetus vocifer. Lake Chilwa, near Zomba, is comparatively small and much shallower than Lake Malawi. It is a key locality for migrant and wintering Palearctic waders, including Great Snipes Gallinago media and a wide range of storks, herons, raptors and passerines. The Shire river valley is intensively cultivated but there are excellent wildlife areas (including Liwonde, Lengwe and Mwabvi national parks and the Elephant Marsh). Notable species here include Mottled Spinetail Telecanthura ussheri, Giant Kingfisher Megaceryle maxima, Boehm's Bee-eater Merops boehmi and Livingstone's Flycatcher Erythrocercus livingstonei.

Low-lying areas of the Shire valley have Mopane woodland, home to a wide range of widespread species such as Red-billed Hornbill Tockus erythrorhynchus. More rewarding ornithologically is the widespread Miombo Brachystegia woodland, characteristic of areas above 1000 metres, although much reduced in extent by deforestation. The Miombo endemics include Thick-billed Cuckoo Pachycoccyx audeberti, Racket-tailed Roller Coracias spatulata, Pale-billed Hornbill Tockus pallidirostris, Whyte's Barbet Buccanodon whytii, Bennett's Woodpecker Campethera bennettii and Souza's Shrike Lanius souzae.

It is perhaps the remaining areas of montane evergreen forest which provide the biggest attraction to visiting birders. This scarce habitat is declining in extent, so much so that some of its flagship species are now regarded as globally endangered. They are two small chats, the Cholo Alethe Alethe choloensis of Mts Mulanje and Thyolo, and the East Coast Akalat Sheppardia gunningi of the northern Lake Malawi shore and also the Spotted Ground-thrush Zoothera guttata of the Shire highlands. Related species of interest are the White-chested Alethe Alethe fulleborni of the Nyika forests, and the Olive-flanked Robin Alethe anomala of Mulanje and the northern mountains. Other noteworthy species of the mountain forests include the White-winged Apalis Apalis chariessa of Mulanje and the Shire highlands, the Green-headed Oriole Oriolus chorocephalus of Mts Cholo, Soche and perhaps Chiradzulu, Bertram's Weaver Ploceus bertrandi of the forest fringes throughout and the Red-faced Crimsonwing Cryptospiza reichenovii found in most evergreen forests.

This short resumé does not pretend to be exhaustive, not least because although I spent eight months in Malawi it was as long ago as 1975. Many others are far better qualified to write this Introduction and I will be happy if someone does so. All this notwithstanding, I heartily recommend Malawi as a varied and rewarding birding destination. It is certainly a place that I hope to revisit before too much longer.

Contributor

Dr Ernest Garcia

Gibraltar

EFJGarcia@aol.com

Number of Species

National Bird: African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer

Number of bird species: 650

(As of September 2018)

Endemics

Number of endemics: 1

Yellow-throated Apalis Apalis flavigularis

Checklist

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Useful Reading

A Contribution to the Ornithology of Malawi

By F Dowsett-Lemaire | Tauraco Press | 2006 | Paperback | 121 pages, no illustrations |

ISBN: 2872250034

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Newman's Birds of Southern Africa

By Kenneth B Newman, Faansie Peacock & vanessa Newman | Random House Struik | 2010 | Paperback | 536 pages, plates with colour illustrations; colour photos, colour distribution maps |

ISBN: 9781770078765

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Roberts Birds of Southern Africa

By Phil AR Hockey, W Richard J Dean & Peter G Ryan | Jacana Publishers | 2006 (2018 Re-print) | Hardback | 1296 pages, 80 colour plates, maps, keys |

ISBN: 0620340533

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SASOL Birds of Southern Africa

(4th Edition) | By Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey, Warwick Tarboton, Peter G Ryan, Norman Arlott & Peter Hayman | Random House Struik | 2014 | Paperback | 464 pages, plates with colour illustrations; colour distribution maps |

ISBN: 9781775840992

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The Birds of Malawi

(An Atlas and Handbook) | By Françoise Dowsett-Lemaire & Robert J Dowsett | Tauraco Press | 2006 | Paperback | 556 pages, 16 colour plates, 625 species distribution maps |

ISBN: 2872250042

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Organisations

African Bird Club

Website

For a long time Malaŵi has been kept secret by those who live there and those who visit. However, this is changing as increasing numbers of birders and ecotourists are discovering this wonderful country. Malaŵi has a history of being trouble free and the people are very friendly. The infrastructure is excellent, it has a pleasant climate and adequate accommodation at a reasonable standard and cost. It still supports much wilderness and it holds around 650 species of bird, many of which are difficult to see anywhere else: it should be possible to see over 300 species in a two week visit…

Malawi Ornithological Society

Information

The Malawi Ornithological Society (MOS) formed in 1996 with a principal aim of promoting ornithology and avian conservation in Malawi. The Society has a Board of Trustees (Directors) and an Executive Plenary Committee (EPC). The MOS operates a network of local birders and ornithologists called Mosnet, which contributes to MOS database bank from time to time. Malawi has vital collection for natural resources - most of which is preserved/protected. Information about National Parks and Game Reserves can be obtained from Tourism Information or Important Bird Areas (Sanctuaries).

WildLife & Environmental Society Of Malawi

Website

The Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi is dedicated to conservation of natures resources, including land, forestry, animals, bird-life, flora and fauna, rivers and lakes. We create and assist with educational projects, especially with the young in order to bring about a greater and deeper understanding of the importance of the environment in which we live…

Reserves

Abbreviations Key

IBA WII Lake Chilwa Wetlands

Information

Satellite View

Lake Chilwa, a tropical lake without an outlet, is the second largest lake in Malawi located in the southern region of the country with its catchment comprising Phalombe, Zomba and Machinga districts. It lies on the border with Mozambique. The lake and its beautiful wetland is roughly 40 km across and 60km from north to south, giving a total of 2400 km². In normal years, one third of the lake is open water, one third is swamp and marsh, and one third is floodplains. The lake supports a waterbird population of around 1.5 million with about 160 different species. Some of these migrate along the Asian - East African Flyway from Siberia each year. With twelve bird species, the number is over 1% of their total flyway population.

IBAs

Website

n Important Bird Areas in Africa and Associated Islands (BirdLife International 2001), 22 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are listed for Malaŵi…

NP Kasunga

Information

Satellite View

Kasungu National Park is located west of Kasungu, about 175 km north of Lilongwe, extending along the Zambian border. The vegetation consists mainly of Miombo woodland with grassy river channels, known locally as Dambos. A number of rivers flow through the park, notably the Dwanga and the Lingadzi and its tributary, the Lifupa, which creates an important spot for hippo surveyal in the park at the Lifupa Lodge. Kasungu is known for its population of elephants although is threatened by poaching.

NP Lake Malawi

Information

Satellite View

The park is also home to mammals including chacma baboons, vervet monkeys, hippopotamuses, leopards, common duikers, bushbucks, greater kudus, and klipspringers. Also to be seen are crocodiles, African fish eagles, and white-breasted cormorants as well as wading birds, kingfishers, hornbills, nightjars, kestrels, swallow-tailed bee-eaters, and many other species of birds.

NP Lengwe

Information

Satellite View

Lengwe's topography is unusual for Malawi and consists of open deciduous forests and dense thickets. It is the home of the reclusive Nyala antelope.

NP Liwonde

Information

Satellite View

Also known as Liwonde Wildlife Reserve, with the Shire River as it's border, Liwonde National Park could well be Malawi's best. Well managed, stocked with large numbers of interesting animals and with beautiful scenery, this park should not be missed. Biome-restricted bird species in the park include: white-starred robin, brown-headed parrot, brown-breasted barbet, pale batis, Dickinson's kestrel, Lilian's lovebird, Böhm's bee-eater, racket-tailed roller, pale-billed hornbill, Kurrichane thrush, Arnot's chat, white-bellied sunbird, black-eared seedeater, broad-tailed paradise whydah, Meves's starling. The park is the only location in Malawi where Lilian's lovebird and the brown-breasted barbet are found. Four species of vulture were present in the park in the 1980s, but due to secondary poisoning of the birds, only the palm-nut vulture remains.

NP Nyika

Information

Satellite View

Nyika National Park is Malawi’s largest national park, with an area of 3200 km2 (1250 mile2). The name Nyika means "where the water comes from" as the plateau's elevation makes it wetter than surrounding areas. Over 400 species of bird have been recorded in the park. The rare Denham’s bustard and the wattled crane are among those to be seen, as is the red-winged francolin - endemic to Nyika.

NR Mulanje Mountain Forest Reserve

Information

Satellite View

Mulanje Mountain Forest Reserve is a nature reserve founded in 1927 in Malawi. It is operated by the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust. The native Mulanje Cypress (Widdringtonia whytei) has been so heavily logged that it is considered endangered and the park contains the last remaining stands of this tree, as well as a number of other plant and animal species—many of them endemic to the area. Examples include forest butterflies, birds such as the cholo alethe and White-winged Apalis, Dwarf Chameleon, geckos, skinks, the Squeaker Frog, and a rare limbless burrowing skink species.

WR GR Vwaza

Information

Satellite View

In contrast to the Nyika National Park on the Nyika Plateau, much of Vwaza is located on low-lying flat ground although the eastern side of the park is hilly. It is located to the southeast of the plateau and to the north of the floodplains of South Rukuru River and covers an area of 1,000 km2. Notable birdlife include Goliath herons, openbill storks and the rare white-winged starling. Lake Kazuni is located in the reserve and supports a notable hippo population.

WR Majete

Information

Satellite View

Majete has been managed by African Parks since 2003, when the nonprofit conservation organisation entered into a public–private partnership with the Malawi Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW). Since then, wildlife has been restored, the park has achieved big five game status, and tourism has increased. Birds include the African Finfoot, Böhm's Bee-eater, Egyptian Goose, and Racket-tailed Roller, as well as others in the Anseriformes order.

WR Mwabvi

Information

Satellite View

With an area of 135km² Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve is Malawi’s smallest national park, and its least accessible. Nevertheless, it has a wide variety of habitats, including Mopane, Combretum and brachystegia woodland, as well as open savanna, dambo, and riverine areas. Mwabvi was the last natural home to Malawi's Black Rhino population, but both wildlife and woodland have been poached over recent years.

WR Nkhotakota

Information

Satellite View

Nkhotakota Wildlife Preserve is the largest and oldest wildlife reserve in Malawi. Some 280 species of bird have been recorded in the reserve and there are likely to be considerably more than this figure. They vary in size from tiny iridescent kingfishers to large martial eagles. The Taita falcon has been recorded twice near the escarpment and may breed there. Other bird species include the olive-headed weaver, the Böhm's bee-eater, the Arnot's chat, the Anchieta's sunbird, the Böhm's flycatcher, the miombo wren-warbler, the Souza's shrike, the Chapin's apalis, the miombo rock thrush, the miombo scrub robin and the miombo double-collared sunbird.

Forums & Mailing Lists

Malawi Birding

Mailing List Forum

Malawi Birding Group Page serves birders both within and outside of Malawi. The objectives of this group is to:
1. Share information on birding within Malawi
2. Organize amateur birding trips within Malawi and adjacent countries
3. Create a network of advocates for the protection of birds and their habitats
4. Circulate scientific journal articles or other research pertaining to birds of Malawi

Guides & Tour Operators

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Birding Ecotours

Tour Operator

During this magnificent and diverse birding adventure, we expect to see a huge number of bird species, lots of mammals, and extremely diverse scenery. Search for some sought-after species such as Pel’s Fishing Owl and even African Pitta. We also run a shorter (2-week) version of this tour, and can custom-make other Malawi tours to suit your exact needs.

Central African Wilderness Safaris

Tour Operator

Looking for the holiday of a lifetime? Here at Central African Wilderness Safaris we offer unforgettable travel experiences in Malawi, the warm heart of Africa.

Eyes on Africa

Tour Operator

…This 11-day safari is led by one of southern Africa's top birding experts, authors, painters and wildlife lecturers. Geoff has many Malawi birding safaris under his belt and will help to bring this safari alive. Malawi has many National Parks. Each harbours a number of different vegetation types and different birds…

Fish Eagle Safaris

Tour Operator

Malawi is affectionately known as the Warm Heart of Africa, and its people and geographic location certainly bear this out. The enormous Lake Malawi, one of the largest of the Rift Valley lakes, dominates the eastern half of the country. The memorably beautiful lake provides sustenance for the many people living along its shores, and along with its drainage rivers, is a haven for a wide variety of birds and other wildlife.

Rockjumper

Tour Operator

The attractive, land-locked country of Malawi with its plateaus, rolling plains, lakes, mountains, forests and vast Miombo woodlands offers incredible birding and the opportunity to see many of Africa’s most localised species...

Sunrise Ground Tours

Tour Operator

Malawi is a beautiful country offering a diverse range of tourist attractions ranging from mountains and wildlife to fresh water lake in addition to its friendly people. It is relatively cheaper destination in the region. There has been no war nor civil strife in Malawi and it is a very peaceful country. If you want to get away from your busy life schedule, then come to Malawi.

Trip Reports

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CloudBirders

Trip Report Repository

CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.

2008 [11 November] - Richard Cruse

Report

We met our guide and driver, Abasi Jana, in the terminal before finding our first bird of the tour, Little Swift. Common Bulbul, Pied Crow and European Bee-eaters were seen as we drove to the Lodge. We checked in and went to the garden before lunch. Here, Kurrichane Thrush, Southern Cordon Blue, African Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Eremomelas, Fork-tailed Drongo, Puffback and Chinspot Batis all showed…

2008 [12 December] - Benjamin Schwartz

Report

While not often visited by birders, Malawi is a key country for anyone wishing to clean up on their African bird list. Add to this the extremely friendly people and the amazing accommodation, and it is rather surprising that there aren't more people flocking to the country. With much of Central Africa in turmoil, Malawi offers an excellent chance to pick up many of the Central African endemics as well as a large host of miombo specialties found more easily here than anywhere else on the continent…

2011 [01 January] - Erik Emanuelsson

PDF Report

Target White-winged Babbling Starling…

2011 [11 November] - Joakim Djerf

PDF Report

…Best birds were Lesser Jacana (4) in "Kasungu lake" (which also held a lot of other water birds) and Miombo Scrub-Robin and Lesser Blue-eared Glossy-Starling (Miombo Blue-eared) in the miombo forest…

2014 [09 September] - Errol de Beer

PDF Report

This trip was run as a customized tour for three clients, all with lists of well over 7000 species seen worldwide, and in fact Dollyann was hoping to reach 8000 species by the end of this trip. Travel to some really remote destinations, particularly in Malawi, was necessary to find some of the group’s target birds. Places like Misuku Hills and Uzumara Forest in Malawi are hardly ever visited by birders, primarily from a logistics point of view, and also because of lack of suitable accommodation. Both these destinations are, however, excellent birding spots, and Uzumara in particular could be included in most itineraries, using accommodation in the town of Rumphi as a base. On the Zambian side we included the Mwinilunga area, a must for any serious birder; this area hosts many Angolan/Congo specials, found nowhere else in Zambia...

2016 [09 September] - Heinz Ortmann

PDF Report

This Malawi – Miombo & Montane Birding Tour was Rockjumper’s second fully comprehensive tour of Malawi, and was overall an incredible experience in all respects. This tour also featured, for the first time, an extension to the world-famous wilderness and wildlife haven of South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.

2016 [12 December] - Nik Borrow

PDF Report

...In the miombo woodlands surrounding Vwaza Marsh we tracked down a family group of unique Babbling Starlings as well as the striking Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Weaver. Breaking the journey back at Luwawa a Red-chested Flufftail was seen there and en route to Lilongwe the delightful Lesser Jacana was added to the list....

2017 [11 November] - Dylan Vasapolli

PDF Report

This comprehensive tour takes in the best of Malawi. Beginning in the southern lowlands we explore a few national parks and the montane forests of the Zomba Plateau. We then move to the miombo-clad hills of the Dzalanyama Forest Reserve before continuing to the famous Nyika National Park in the north of the country. Our final destination is the Chintheche area on the shores of Lake Malawi before ending the tour in the capital, Lilongwe.

Places to Stay

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Mvuu Wilderness Lodge

Accommodation

The 580,000 hectare Liwonde National Park is situated in the south of Malawi and is Malawi's premier wildlife reserve. Liwonde incorporates the huge and scenic Shire River, as well as quiet backwaters and lagoons, marshes, open savanna country, woodland and hills. As a result of the wide variety of habitats, there is a great diversity of plants, mammals, reptiles and birds. The birdlife is particularly good, and Liwonde is possibly the best birding location in central and southern Africa…