Durban Pelagics

About the Birding

The open ocean is one of the most challenging habitats in which to look for and identify birds. Weather plays an extremely important role and, as a general rule, the rougher the conditions the greater the chances of seeing impressive numbers of birds and a high diversity of species. The downside is that rougher conditions are not generally conducive to travelling far from land, where most pelagic species prefer to remain.

However, to witness the graceful ease with which these birds are able to fly is one of the best birding experiences and to see thousands of birds attending a fishing trawler in the ocean’s deep is something few will forget.

The tropical waters off Durban offer exciting potential in terms of pelagic birding, boasting an interesting mix of tropical Mozambican and Southern Ocean species.

Three seasons are of key interest to birders:
The winter (July-August) months typically boast the highest numbers of birds, featuring many species from the Sub-Antarctic regions. Birds seen at this time of the year include the Indian Yellow-nosed, Shy, and Black-browed Albatrosses, both the Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, impressive numbers of White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Pintado (Cape) and Soft-plumaged Petrels, Antarctic Prion and Wilson’s Storm-petrel. Irregular species include the Flesh-footed Shearwater and Antarctic Tern. Notable records from these months have included the Atlantic Yellow-nosed and Sooty Albatrosses, as well as Slender-billed Prion.

The spring (September-October) months often deliver many of the aforementioned Sub-Antarctic species, together with an interesting mix of tropical species. The Black-bellied Storm-petrel and Great Shearwater area regularly sighted on passage migration, while the rare Barau’s Petrel visits these waters for a limited time on a pre-laying exodus from their breeding colonies on Reunion Island. Other notable records include the White-faced Storm-petrel, Wandering and Grey-headed Albatrosses, Slender-billed Prion and Streaked Shearwater.

The autumn (March/April) months boast a similar diversity of species to the spring months. Other species seen at this time include the European and Leach’s Storm-petrels, Parasitic and Long-tailed Jaegers, Arctic Tern, and Cory’s Shearwater. Other records include the Brown Booby, South Polar Skua and Black Tern.

Key species:

Barau’s Petrel, Black-bellied Storm-petrel, and numerous Albatrosses, Petrels and Shearwaters

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:

Barau’s Petrel, Black-bellied Storm-petrel, and numerous Albatrosses, Petrels and Shearwaters

Other Related Information

Regular pelagic seabirding trips are run from Durban Harbour. Cruises typically leave at 05:30 (possibly earlier in the summer months) from Wilson’s Wharf in Durban harbour.

For more information, please visit

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:

Other related information:

Local guide information:
See Other Related Information and Contact Details.

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

Key species:

Barau’s Petrel, Black-bellied Storm-petrel, and numerous Albatrosses, Petrels and Shearwaters

Contact details:

For more information, contact Niall Perrins and Dave Rimmer:

Neil Perrins
Cell: +27 (0)83 657 5511

Dave Rimmer
Cell: +27 (0)82 453 7255