South Africa offers a range of birding habitats, from grasslands, wetlands and forests, to savannahs, fynbos, the seashore and open oceans. These habitats offer a spectacular diversity of beautiful birds, from the diminutive, fynbos-restricted Orange-breasted Sunbird to the large, desert-adapted Ludwig’s Bustard. A remarkable 870 bird species are found in South Africa, representing approximately eight percent of the world’s bird species. Eighteen species are fully endemic and thirty-one are near-endemic to South Africa, i.e. they do not occur naturally anywhere else in the world.

The overall objective of the Birding Routes is to achieve meaningful socio-economic benefits for local communities as well as conservation benefits by using avitourism to increase the competitiveness of the region. Through these birding routes, BirdLife South Africa seeks to achieve their conservation objectives by giving birds and their habitats an economic value. Birding routes provide information and resources to local and international birders on where to go, what to see, who to go birding with, and where to stay within a certain geographical area. An exciting initiative along all the birding routes is the availability of Community Bird Guides. The guides are affordable, provide improved security, and valuable information on where elusive and special bird species may be found.

Specifically the aims of the birding routes are:

  • To promote the conservation of birds and their habitats through the education of local communities within the routes.
  • To provide local and international birders with up to date and detailed information to enable them to enjoy the avifauna of the region. The routes provide information on birding sites, birding events, community bird guides and the location of Birder Friendly Establishments through a variety of mediums such as a website, brochures and maps.
  • To train and develop community bird guides from local communities and provide a source of employment and income for local communities through bird guiding and community projects.
  • To promote the conservation of wild birds and their habitats through community conservation projects.
  • To ensure that products used and promoted are socially, environmentally and economically responsible.
  • To increase the competitiveness of the region by developing birding routes, products and birding infrastructure.
  • To market the services of birding routes, guides, accommodation establishments, community and conservation projects.

In addition, the routes initiate a number of local community projects aimed at promoting the conservation of birds and their habitats by giving birds an economic value to the communities in which the route is situated.

All birding routes of BirdLife South Africa’s Avitourism division subscribe to the International Ecotourism Society’s principles. Ecotourism is defined by the International Ecotourism Society as: “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people

Ecotourism is about connecting conservation, communities, travellers and tourism operators. This means that those who implement and participate in responsible tourism activities should adhere to the following ecotourism principles:

Minimize impact

  • Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect
  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts
  • Provide direct financial benefits for conservation
  • Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people
  • Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate

This definition of ecotourism stands at the centre of BirdLife South Africa’s role in promoting and developing avitourism in South Africa.

The Birding Routes are conservation and community-orientated avitourism projects which subscribe fully to the principles of responsible travel and fair trade.

Through the Avitourism Division and the birding routes, BirdLife South Africa would like to promote carefully managed establishments involved in conservation and community projects and who promote responsible living by being environmentally responsible, sustainable tourism providers.

Establishments are required to meet certain criteria in order to qualify for ‘Birder-Friendly’ status which include:

  • Catering to the specific needs of birders
  • Being Responsible Tourism operators
  • Supporting BirdLife South Africa’ strategic objective of conserving wild birds and their habitats

Being “Birder Friendly” means that these establishments have committed themselves to catering to the needs of birders, have or are in the process of implementing an environmental management plan, support local communities through their procurement, employment and operating protocols and subscribe to the principles of responsible tourism.

Whilst the primary aim of the Birding Routes is to provide a service to local and international birders, they act as more than just an information provider to avitourists. The routes have been designed as community and conservation based avitourism projects where the benefits derived from tourism flow positively into local communities and conservation. The routes recognise the important role that local communities play in conservation and as a result has become involved a in a number of different community initiatives ranging from bird guide training to education to skills development. Over the next three years we will be looking at consolidating these projects as well as including new projects as opportunities arise

We encourage you as birders to take responsibility for your actions when visiting birding sites and act in a manner that will have a positive impact upon the communities and environments that you visit. Support local community and conservation initiatives, pay fair prices and leave only your footprints behind. Click here to download the Birders Code of Conduct (pdf)

Birding is one of the fastest growing nature-based tourism activities world-wide and is experiencing similar growth in interest and popularity in South Africa. It has also been recognised that avitourism is an important part of the global growth in naturebased tourism. South Africa is a premier destination for avitourism, due to its large diversity of birds and endemic species, as well as a full complement of major bird habitats in Africa. However, insufficient data and a lack of co-ordinated industrywide planning for future development have made it difficult to develop a targeted strategy to grow this sector. Recognising that South Africa has the potential to grow this untapped niche market, the dti concluded that an assessment of the status of the avitourism segment in the country was both necessary and timely.

The information contained in these booklets is based on outcomes of the dti Avitourism in South Africa research study, commissioned by the dti in 2009. The purpose of the study was to assess the status of avitourism in South Africa, and identify opportunities and constraints to the future development and sustainability of this niche tourism market.

Information Booklet
Quick overview of contents

  • What is Avitourism?
  • Why Avitourism?
  • Avitourists: Behavious and Preferences
  • Avitourism Locations and Hotspots
  • Avitourism Activities and Services
  • Opportunities in Avitourism
  • Case Studies of Successful Avitourism Businesses
  • Sources of Assistance for Avitourism Activities
  • Industry Contact Details

Research and Analysis Report
Quick overview of contents

  • Economic and Policy Context of Avitourism
  • Why avitourism?
  • Why avitourism?
  • Why avitourism?

Opportunities and Recommendations
Quick overview of contents

  • The Significance of Tourism to the South African Economy
  • Avitourism Opportunities
  • Definition of avitourism
  • Profile of avitourists and potential target-market segments
  • Economic impact of avitourism in South Africa
  • Environmental and conservation impacts of avitourism
  • Potential contribution of avitourism to National Tourism Growth Strategy and the dti objectives
  • Recommendations and Implementation Plan
  • Cross-cutting recommendations
  • Recommendations for meeting National Tourism Growth Strategy objectives


Population size and distribution of blue, grey crowned and wattled crane in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, determined by an aerial survey during July 2007

 To view the different Birding Routes throughout South Africa click on a province below.