Durban and surrounds – Durban bayhead

About the Birding

Once a haven for waterbirds, with extensive mangroves around the edges and large expanses of salt marsh and other wetland, the habitats of the Durban Bayhead have changed dramatically following the development of the Durban Harbour. Only a single stand of mangroves remains, covering 15 hectares of the total 20 hectare reserve. However, the reserve still attracts thousands of Palearctic waders each summer in addition to the resident populations of pelicans, gulls and terns.

An astonishing 120 species have been recorded including many uncommon species, as well as several provincial and national vagrants from time to time. Viewing is best at the peak low tide, though an encroaching tide concentrates the birds in front of the hide for short periods. Morning visits are recommended, when the sun is at your back. At high tide, most of the waders and other species congregate on the high artificial sand dunes near the Heritage Site where unexpected species like Familiar Chat and African Pipit also occur regularly.

Bird numbers are at their peak between October and April each year, when the resident bird populations are supplemented by the immense influx of Palearctic and intra-African migrant species. Key shorebirds on the mudflats include the Terek, Curlew and Marsh Sandpipers, Ruff, Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Red Knot, Greater Sand, Common Ringed and Grey Plovers, Ruddy Turnstone, and Little Stint. Small numbers of Pink-backed Pelican are usually in attendance, alongside at least three species of cormorant (White-breasted, Cape and Reed). Several pairs of Goliath Heron breed at the nearby Heritage Site, alongside Grey Heron and Little Egret. Woolly-necked Stork is mainly a summer visitor, though small numbers of these impressive birds can be seen throughout the year. The regal African Fish Eagle and Western Osprey are regular overhead, with resident osprey populations again being supplemented in the summer months by Palearctic visitors. The common gulls include the Kelp and Grey-headed Gulls, while Lesser Black-backed and Hartlaub’s Gull are irregular. The bay also supports an impressive number of terns including the Caspian (year-round), Lesser Crested (summer), Common (mainly summer) and Swift (Greater Crested; all year) Terns.

Adjacent to the main mudlfats is a small area of natural grassland and mangroves. Follow the trail through the mangroves in winter and listen for the distinctive trill call of the Mangrove Kingfisher; this perhaps the most accessible site for the species anywhere in South Africa. Other notable targets include the Black-throated Wattle-eye, Rufous-winged Cisticola, and Purple-banded Sunbird.

The Durban Bayhead regularly plays host to provincial and national rarities and visiting birders should always remain mindful of out-of-range species at this site. Previous records include the Red-tailed Tropicbird, Common Redshank, and both Black-headed and Slender-billed Gulls.

Key species:

Diverse Palearctic waders, Western Osprey, Goliath Heron, Pink-backed Pelican

About the Birding Site

The eThekwini Metropolitan Area (Durban) is a major harbour city situated on the east coast of South Africa. It serves as the most accessible port of entry into the KwaZulu-Natal province with daily flights to all other major cities in South Africa, and further afield (e.g. Mauritius, Dubai). The city and surrounding towns are popular among holidaymakers, given the sub-tropical climate and extensive beaches along the rich waters of the Indian Ocean. Moreover, the city falls within a global biodiversity hotspot – the Maputaland-Pondolona-Albany (MPA) Hotspot.

This region is home to more than 7000 species of plant, more than 25% of which are found nowhere else on Earth. The variety of landforms and sub-tropical climatic conditions, combined with its unique biogeographical position, have resulted in a range of aquatic (wetlands, rivers, estuaries) and terrestrial (mainly forests and coastal grasslands) environments which additionally support a plethora of interesting bird, mammal, reptile and amphibian species. The eThekwini area contains three of South Africa’s eight biomes (namely savanna, forest and grasslands), and supports more than 2000 plant species, 82 terrestrial mammals, 69 reptiles, 25 endemic invertebrates and well over 500 bird species – making it South Africa’s most biodiverse city, by far. To be expected then, the region offers a variety of prime birding spots featuring a number of South Africa’s most sought-after bird species. Top among these are the Spotted Ground Thrush, Mangrove Kingfisher, Buff-spotted Flufftail, Green Malkoha, and Knysna Woodpecker. Durban is also well known for its variety of waders and marine species, often turning up rarities such as the Lesser Black-backed Gull. Key sites within the eThekwini Metropolitan Area include Tala Game Reserve, Pigeon Valley and Krantzkloof Nature Reserves, Durban Bay Head and the Durban National Botanical Gardens.

In addition, as a further attraction to this rich region, the eThewkini Natural Science Museum has world-class ornithological displays and collections.

Key species:

Diverse Palearctic waders, Western Osprey, Goliath Heron, Pink-backed Pelican

Other Related Information

From Durban, head South along Victoria Embankment, keeping right to follow the Maydon Wharf signs. Bare left into Maydon Road and continue along Wisely Road for a short stretch. From here, turn left into Bayhead Road after passing the dry dock on the left. Carry on until the Umbilo Canal is crossed, then turn left into Langeberg Road. Proceed through the old customs gate and across the railway bridge, …

Other related information:

…then turn immediately left and follow the road a short way until you reach the Natural Heritage Site on the left. Note that major traffic congestion may be encountered on Bayhead Road during the normal work week (Monday-Friday) and, thus, it is advisable to visit this site on weekends only.

Access and facilities:
Durban Bayhead is managed by national port authority and is accessible free of charge. Durban Bayhead is accessible to day visitors and is open from 06:00 to 18:00 daily. Several information boards on the mangrove and inter-tidal habitats are provided. Two trails are on offer – one to a hide overlooking the tidal flats and the mangroves, and another through the grasslands with a side branch and a boardwalk through the mangroves. Secure parking and toilets are available near the main heritage centre.

Note that, for security reasons, it is recommended that you visit the site in a group and it is preferable to not leave your car unattended for lengthy periods.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
A number of Birder Friendly Establishments are available within the wider eThekwini Metropolitan Area including Camperdown/Kloof/Pietermaritzburg.

For more information, view:

Local guide information:
No community bird guides are currently available within the wider eThekwini Metropolitan Area.

Text prepared by:
Daniel Keith Danckwerts (Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Tours)

Key species:

Diverse Palearctic waders, Western Osprey, Goliath Heron, Pink-backed Pelican

Contact details:

For more information, contact:

SA National Ports Authority
Tel: +27 (0)31 361 8547
Fax: +27 (0)31 361 8835
Website: and