Cape Glossy Starling

Common Garden Birds of Gauteng - Johannesburg and Pretoria

Did you see a bird outside and want to know what it is? Great! Birdwatching is a decision that will bring you closer to nature, allow you to see the beauty in everyday life, and just generally make you a happier person. But where do you begin? All you really need to enjoy birdwatching is a bit of interest, a pair of binoculars (even a cheap pair will do) and a willingness to go outside.

But you live in Gauteng... In the big city - all the birds here are rubbish-eating scum, aren't they? Absolutely not! The number of birds that live in your garden - or if you don't have one, a local park - will suprise you.

According to the South African Bird Atlas Project, sightings of over 350 different species have been recorded in the last month in the mostly urban area of Johannesburg roughly between Randburg and Sandton in the Northern Suburbs. This is more bird species than live in countries like Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. South Africa may have its problems, but it is certainly a great place to watch birds.

All you need to do is look for them.

The Doves

3 of the top 10 Gauteng garden birds are doves, and I'm sure you already know why. You can't get away from them. They can seem a bit boring at first, but once you understand them you will start to appreciate them a lot more.

Although they are so common, it can be a bit confusing to identify the different species because they are all very similar, but there are some easy ways to distinguish them once you know what to look for. Additionally, their calls are very distinct! Once you get the hang of their songs, you won't even need to look up to identify them.

The Dove Songs

It can be quite daunting to approach learning bird calls at first, but it's easier than you might think! To help in this task, birders often use 'mnemonics' which are just a fancy way of saying that we use similar sounding phrases to help us remember. A great example of a mnemnoic is the actual bird species name "Cuckoo", named after the common european cuckoo whose song actually sounds like "Cu-Koo". By learning a phrase like this, we can easily relate the bird song to the phrase, and the phrase to the bird. This sounds complicated, but trust in your brain's ability to learn, and this will come naturally in no time.

Bonus: Aliens

Humanity's effect on the birdlife in South Africa isn't limited to affecting populations of native birds, humans have also introduced birds from overseas - some of which have done very well in the amazing climate and conditions that we call home. These are commonly known as 'alien' species, and are normally considered invasive pests as they compete for resources and habitats of indigenous birdlife. Despite this, they are here to stay and it is important to know how to recognise them. The individual birds are not to blame, so we might as well enjoy them instead of hate them.

Gardens and Parks in Gauteng Cities

The plantlife in the suburban areas and parks in Johannesburg and Pretoria tells an interesting story. Before the gold-rush in the 1880s, the areas that we now call Johannesburg and Pretoria were like anywhere else on the highveld, a mostly grassland Savanna with very few trees dotted over the rolling hills of brown grass.

Today it is vastly different. The region has been transformed into what is often called "the world's largest man-made urban forest". This 'greening' of suburbia has involved a dramatic increase of both indigenous and exotic trees as well as open water, and this has transformed the bird community that lives here. Most of the grassland specialists have all been 'chased out' and replaced with a diverse mix of fruit-eaters, waterbirds, tree-cavity nesters and cliff nesters (what is a building to a bird, other than a man made cliff?).

In Conclusion

If you live in Joburg or Pretoria and are just starting birdwatching, you don't have to go anywhere to start appreciating our avian friends. The 10 birds on this list are just a start to what you can see in your garden and you will certainly see a whole lot more birds that you won't identify when looking for this small selection. But you have to start somewhere, so get out there with a pen and paper and check these birds off your list as you see them!