Ker & Downey – Birding safari at the Kanana Heronry

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The Botswana Birding Safari: Kanana Heronry

“One of the most important breeding sites in Southern Africa” The Kanana Heronry lies in the central region of the Okavango Delta, within the wider floodplains which form the headwaters of the Xudum River and forms part of Ker & Downey Botswana’s private Kanana concession making it a great Botswana birding safari.

The area is typical of this region of the Okavango and comprises of open shallow floodplains covered with a mosaic of lily pads, cyperus grasses & assorted floating sedges with small crystal clear channels and pools of open water. Scattered randomly throughout the area are dense ‘islands’ of varying sizes, covered in gomoti figs (Ficus verruculosa) mixed with water berry trees (Syzygium guineense) & edged by papyrus reeds (Cyperus papyrus).

These ‘islands’ are used extensively for both breeding and roosting of several species of birds, with breeding activity starting in mid-July with the arrival of Pink-backed Pelicans, closely followed by the Cormorants, Darters and White Egrets. Thereafter the Marabou storks arrive, followed by Yellow-billed Storks, Sacred Ibis and Grey Herons. In addition to these species, there have been documented sightings of Rufous-bellied Heron’s with fledged chicks and small numbers of Black-crowned Night Herons using the breeding site, though it not been confirmed they are actually breeding within the heronry.

The main breeding locations consist of two main large ‘islands’ of roughly 10,800 and 20,000 square metres, as well as numerous smaller ‘islands’ predominantly used by Marabou, Pink-backed Pelican and some Yellow-billed Storks.
A recent visit by researchers to the heronry for the purpose of a survey led them to state, “this heronry is the most dynamic & vibrant heronry that we have ever visited in Botswana” and that “this site is one of the most important breeding sites in Southern Africa.”
The researchers estimated at the time of the survey, well in excess of 5,000 birds of ten species were using the heronry for breeding or roosting purposes. Of special significance is the breeding presence of the Pink-backed Pelicans and Marabou storks.


Listed below is breakdown of the species identified by researchers at the Kanana Heronry, in their order of conservation importance.

  1. Pink-backed Pelicans - Classified as vulnerable in Southern Africa and breeding has been recorded in only a handful of places in Southern Africa.
  2.  Marabou Storks - Classified as near threatened in Southern Africa. 298 active nest sites were identified. This species has a small breeding population in Southern Africa and this site is probably one of the largest one in the region.
  3. Yellow-billed Storks – This species was nesting in several sites throughout the heronry.
  4. Sacred Ibis – This species was nesting in small numbers on the larger of the two main large ‘islands’
  5. Grey Herons – This species was nesting in small numbers in both of the main ‘islands.’
  6. Western great Egrets
  7. Darters - A handful of birds were seen sitting in the dense areas of the two main “Islands”. No sign of any actual breeding could be seen & from what we were advised by the guides we believe that the Darter breeding had been completed for this season.
  8. Reed Cormorant – No sign of breeding was noted but each evening, huge numbers of these birds flew into roost.
  9. Rufous-bellied Heron

As well as the species noted above, the area is also home to other ‘Okavango specials’ species including Pels Fishing Owl, Slaty Egret, Lesser Jacana, Greater Swamp Warbler, Chirping Cisticola, Luapula Cisticola, Swamp Boubou, and Hartlaub’s Babbler to name but a few.
Ker & Downey Botswana’s Code of Conduct:

Having identified the significance of the Kanana Heronry within the southern african region, it is the responsibility of Ker & Downey, as custodians of the concession to ensure the protection of this breeding area. Great care has been taken to identify best guiding practices throughout the company’s areas of operation and to educate our guides and guests in the appropriate behaviour when observing animals and birds. However, the unique importance of the heronry required additional attention as nesting sites are extremely susceptible to external pressures.

The remote location of the heronry is also fortunate, as visitors are restricted to only Kanana guests, and therefore human interaction is minimal. In addition there are strict speed limits for boats, limits on how close boats can get to the nesting sites and care is taken to keep noise level to a minimum. Nesting birds exhibit obvious stress when disturbed and this can easily lead to a desertion of nests and even chicks. Uncontrolled human interaction is possibly a reason for the decline in the other notable heronry within the Okavango Delta, Gadikwe lagoon in the Moremi Game Reserve.

While it would seem obvious that humans would pose the major threat to such a breeding area, ironically it is more likely that another the large populations of a common resident of the northern Botswana, could pose a more serious problem. Elephant, in the early summer months are partial to feeding on the islands and within the waterways of the Okavango, and probably pose the greatest threat to the site as their destructive feeding activity is extremely disruptive to breeding birds