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The birds of KwaZulu-Natal(KZN) are probably the best known in Africa. Many of the early birders worked here, the reason that more than a few African birds have natalensis as the second half of their scientific name. KZN has a long bird list, about 470 species being regularly recorded, and another 200 less regularly. This diversity reflects the number of habitats in KZN.
The coastal plain is influenced by the warm Mozambique current, with the result that a number of tropical birds push to their southernmost extremity there. Some of these are species absent from the rest of South Africa. Other tropical species spread south on a broader front, sometimes occupying the whole of KZN. None of these is a South African endemic, but a few are endemic to the coastal plain, just extending into Mozambique.
Many are breeding migrants, retreating to equatorial Africa in winter. The KZN interior is structurally diverse - forests, woodlands, grasslands, wetlands - although these habitats are not unique to KZN. Here the tropical birds mingle with species spreading from the western half of southern Africa. These latter are year-round residents, although some migrate short distances to lower altitude in winter. Most of the widespread species come from the southern and western Cape.
KZN’s alpine species are a mixture of Karoo birds at their easternmost limit, and species confined to high altitude. Many of these are endemics. A number of north-western KZN birds are more typically associated with the Kalahari or highveld.
Much of the diversity of KZN is accounted therefore by its unique position at the crossroads of two, and by some definitions four avifaunas.
It also receives a substantial proportion of the Palaearctic migration that graces Africa each summer. One consequence of KZN’s crossroads position is that no species is endemic to the province. The importance of KZN in conserving South Africa’s birds is reflected in the number of Red Data species present. Of the 62 species currently listed, 49 occur regularly in KZN, and KZN makes a major, or the only contribution towards the conservation of 26 of them.