Birds of the Sahara Desert – Birding in the Western Sahara, Morocco

Birds of the Sahara Desert
Birds of the Sahara Desert

The Sahara Desert may seem like an unlikely place for birdwatching, but this vast expanse of sand and stone is home to a surprising variety of avian life. From tiny desert sparrows to majestic raptors, the birds of the Sahara have adapted in remarkable ways to survive in one of the harshest environments on Earth. For birders seeking adventure, a trip to the Western Sahara region of Morocco offers the chance to spot many of these unique desert species.

An Introduction to Saharan Birdlife

The Sahara Desert covers much of North Africa, including large parts of Morocco and Western Sahara. While it may appear barren at first glance, the Sahara actually supports over 200 species of birds. Many are specially adapted to desert life with features like:

  • Pale plumage to reflect the sun’s heat
  • Long legs to keep their bodies away from hot sand
  • The ability to go long periods without water

Some birds are year-round residents, while others pass through during migration seasons. Key habitats for Saharan birds include:

  • Sand dunes
  • Rocky plateaus
  • Dry riverbeds (wadis)
  • Oases with palm trees and water
  • Coastal areas (in Western Sahara)

Let’s explore some of the most interesting bird species you might spot on a birding trip to the Western Sahara.

Desert Larks and Other Small Birds

Desert Lark

The desert lark is one of the most common birds found throughout the Sahara. Its sandy-colored feathers blend in perfectly with the desert landscape. Desert larks hop along the ground searching for seeds and insects. Their melodious song is a welcome sound in the quiet desert.

Desert Sparrow

Another small bird adapted for desert life is the desert sparrow. Unlike its more common house sparrow cousin, the desert sparrow has pale gray and white plumage. These sparrows gather in small flocks near oases and human settlements where food and water are available.

Desert Warbler

The tiny desert warbler flits through scrubby vegetation in search of insects. Its dull brown coloring makes it hard to spot as it darts between bushes. Patient birders may be rewarded with a glimpse of this active little bird.

Ground-Dwelling Birds of the Sahara

Cream-Colored Courser

With its long legs and sand-colored plumage, the cream-colored courser is built for life on the open desert plains. These birds can run swiftly across the sand in search of insects and small prey. Their large eyes help them spot food and stay alert for predators.

Sandgrouse Species

Several types of sandgrouse can be found in the Sahara, including:

  • Spotted sandgrouse
  • Crowned sandgrouse
  • Pin-tailed sandgrouse

Sandgrouse have plump bodies and short legs. They fly to water sources in the morning and evening, soaking their belly feathers to carry water back to their chicks.

Ostrich

While no longer found in most of the Sahara, small populations of ostrich still live in parts of the Western Sahara region. These massive flightless birds can survive in the desert thanks to their long legs and ability to go without water for long periods.

Raptors and Other Large Birds

Egyptian Vulture

This small vulture species can often be spotted soaring on thermals above the desert landscape. Egyptian vultures have distinctive white plumage with black wing edges. They feed on carrion as well as small live prey.

Lanner Falcon

The lanner falcon is a sleek bird of prey found across North Africa. These powerful hunters chase down other birds in flight. Their pale plumage helps them stay cool in the desert heat.

Pharaoh Eagle-Owl

This large owl species roosts in rocky crevices during the day, emerging at dusk to hunt. Pharaoh eagle-owls have distinctive ear tufts and piercing orange eyes. Their haunting calls echo across the desert night.

Rare and Elusive Desert Birds

Ostrich

While no longer found in most of the Sahara, small populations of ostrich still live in parts of the Western Sahara region. These massive flightless birds can survive in the desert thanks to their long legs and ability to go without water for long periods.

Nubian Bustard

The Nubian bustard is one of the rarest birds in the Sahara. This large ground-dwelling bird has declined due to hunting and habitat loss. Catching a glimpse of a Nubian bustard is a prize for any serious birder visiting the region.

Egyptian Nightjar

This nocturnal bird is almost impossible to spot during the day due to its cryptic brown plumage. Egyptian nightjars rest on the ground, blending in perfectly with the desert landscape. At night, they take to the air to catch flying insects.

Best Places for Birding in Western Sahara

The Western Sahara region of southern Morocco offers some excellent spots for desert birding. Here are a few top locations to visit:

Dakhla Bay

This coastal area attracts many shorebirds and water birds. Species to look for include:

  • Flamingos
  • Spoonbills
  • Various gull and tern species

Oued Jenna

This dry riverbed comes to life after rains, attracting many desert birds. Keep an eye out for:

  • Desert sparrows
  • Egyptian nightjars
  • Cream-colored coursers

Aousserd Road

This remote desert road is one of the best places to search for rare Saharan species like:

  • Dunn’s lark
  • Cricket warbler
  • Sudan golden sparrow

Tips for Birding in the Sahara

Birding in the desert presents some unique challenges. Keep these tips in mind for a safe and rewarding experience:

  • Go with an experienced local guide who knows where to find birds
  • Bring plenty of water and sun protection
  • Use a 4×4 vehicle to access remote areas
  • Be patient – desert birds can be well-camouflaged and hard to spot
  • Visit oases and water sources, especially in early morning and evening
  • Look for birds sheltering in the shade during the heat of the day

When to Go Birding in Western Sahara

The best time for birding in Western Sahara is from October to April when temperatures are milder. Spring (March-April) and fall (September-October) are ideal for seeing migratory species passing through. Winter (December-February) is good for spotting resident desert birds.

Avoid the extreme heat of summer (May-August) when daytime temperatures regularly exceed 100°F (38°C). Not only is this uncomfortable for humans, but bird activity is very low during the hottest months.

Conservation Challenges

Many bird species in the Sahara face threats from human activity, including:

  • Habitat loss due to development
  • Hunting and trapping
  • Climate change leading to increased desertification

Conservation efforts are underway to protect key habitats and endangered species. Responsible eco-tourism, including birding trips, can help support these efforts by bringing awareness and economic benefits to local communities.

Planning Your Sahara Birding Adventure

A birding trip to the Western Sahara offers the chance to see unique desert species in a stunning landscape. Here are some key things to consider when planning your trip:

  • Book with a reputable tour company specializing in Sahara birding
  • Allow at least 7-10 days to explore different habitats
  • Be prepared for basic accommodations in remote areas
  • Bring a good pair of binoculars and a bird field guide
  • Pack appropriate clothing for hot days and cool nights

With proper planning and an experienced guide, you’ll be well-prepared to discover the fascinating birdlife of the Sahara Desert. From tiny desert sparrows to majestic eagles, the birds of this harsh yet beautiful region are sure to leave a lasting impression.

List 118/ over 200 Birds of the Sahara Desert:

No.Bird SpeciesDescription
1AddaxLarge antelope with long, spiraled horns, highly adapted to desert life, critically endangered.
2African Desert WarblerSmall warbler with sandy-colored plumage, found in arid regions, insectivorous.
3African Harrier-HawkMedium-sized raptor with bare face, found in arid regions, feeds on small mammals, birds, and reptiles.
4African HoopoeMedium-sized bird with distinctive crest, found in arid regions, feeds on insects.
5African SilverbillSmall finch with silvery plumage, inhabits arid regions, feeds on seeds and small insects.
6Arabian BustardLarge terrestrial bird, inhabits dry open country, omnivorous and known for its striking flight patterns.
7Bar-tailed LarkSmall, pale lark with a distinctive bar on its tail, inhabits arid desert regions, feeds on seeds and small invertebrates.
8Barbary FalconMedium-sized falcon with dark plumage, found in arid regions, feeds on small birds.
9Barbary PartridgeGround-dwelling bird with a distinctive face pattern, inhabits rocky hillsides, feeds on seeds and insects.
10Black Scrub RobinSmall bird with black plumage, found in arid regions, feeds on insects and small invertebrates.
11Black WheatearSmall bird with black plumage and white rump, inhabits arid regions, feeds on insects.
12Black-bellied SandgrouseSandgrouse with a black belly and colorful plumage, found in arid regions, feeds on seeds.
13Black-crowned Finch-LarkSmall bird with black crown, found in arid regions, feeds on seeds and insects.
14Black-crowned Sparrow-LarkSmall bird with black crown, found in arid regions, feeds on seeds and insects.
15Blue-cheeked Bee-eaterColorful bird with blue cheeks, found in arid regions, feeds on insects.
16Bonelli’s EagleLarge eagle with dark plumage, found in arid regions, feeds on small mammals and birds.
17Booted EagleMedium-sized eagle with feathered legs, found in arid regions, feeds on small mammals and birds.
18Brown-necked RavenLarge raven with distinctive brown neck, found in arid regions, omnivorous.
19Burrowing OwlSmall owl with brown-spotted plumage, known for living in underground burrows, feeds on insects and small animals.
20Chestnut-bellied SandgrouseMedium-sized sandgrouse with chestnut-colored belly, found in arid regions, feeds on seeds.
21Common CuckooWell-known cuckoo with a distinctive call, known for laying eggs in the nests of other bird species.
22Common KestrelSmall falcon with brown-spotted plumage, found in arid regions, feeds on insects and small mammals.
23Common QuailSmall ground-dwelling bird with distinctive call, found in grasslands and farmlands, feeds on seeds and small invertebrates.
24Common Wood-PigeonLarge pigeon with a distinctive white neck patch, inhabits woodlands and urban areas.
25Cream-colored CourserSlender bird with pale cream plumage, found in arid desert regions, feeds on insects and small invertebrates.
26Crowned SandgrouseStout bird with feathered legs, known for its gregarious behavior, inhabits open arid areas, feeds on seeds.
27Dark Chanting GoshawkMedium-sized raptor with dark plumage, found in arid regions, feeds on small mammals and birds.
28Desert CisticolaSmall warbler with distinctive call, found in arid regions, insectivorous.
29Desert CrocodileSmall population of crocodiles found in desert oases, known for their ability to survive in arid conditions.
30Desert Eagle-OwlLarge owl with tawny plumage, found in arid regions, nocturnal predator of small mammals and birds.
31Desert FinchSmall finch with pinkish plumage, inhabits arid regions, feeds on seeds.
32Desert HedgehogSmall nocturnal mammal with spiny coat, found in arid regions, feeds on insects and small invertebrates.
33Desert LarkPale brown lark with cryptic plumage, found in arid desert regions, feeds on seeds and insects.
34Desert LocustLarge grasshopper known for its swarming behavior, found in arid regions, feeds on vegetation.
35Desert MonitorLarge lizard with powerful limbs and tail, inhabits arid regions, carnivorous.
36Desert Rain FrogSmall, round frog with a distinctive high-pitched call, found in sandy deserts, insectivorous.
37Desert SparrowSmall bird with sandy-colored plumage, inhabits arid regions, feeds on seeds and insects.
38Desert WarthogLarge wild pig with distinctive facial warts, found in arid regions, omnivorous.
39Desert WheatearSmall bird with sandy-colored plumage, found in arid regions, feeds on insects.
40Dromedary CamelLarge mammal with a single hump, domesticated and used for transport in desert regions.
41Dunn’s LarkSmall lark with streaked brown plumage, found in sandy and stony deserts, feeds on seeds and insects.
42Eared GrebeSmall grebe with distinctive ear tufts, excellent swimmer and diver.
43Egyptian GooseLarge waterfowl with distinctive eye patch, found in oases and water bodies in arid regions, feeds on vegetation and small invertebrates.
44Egyptian VultureSmall white vulture with black flight feathers, known for its tool use to break open bird eggs.
45Eleonora’s FalconMedium-sized falcon with dark plumage, found in arid regions, migratory, feeds on small birds and insects.
46Eurasian Collared-DoveSmall dove with a distinctive black collar, common in urban areas and farmlands.
47Eurasian HobbySmall falcon with dark plumage, found in arid regions, feeds on insects and small birds.
48Eurasian TealSmall duck with distinctive green eye patch, found in oases and water bodies in arid regions, feeds on vegetation and small invertebrates.
49European Bee-eaterColorful bird with distinctive call, found in arid regions, feeds on insects.
50European Turtle-DoveMedium-sized dove with a distinctive purring call, found in woodlands and gardens.
51Fennec FoxSmall fox with large ears adapted for dissipating heat, found in sandy deserts, omnivorous.
52Ferruginous DuckMedium-sized duck with dark plumage, found in oases and water bodies in arid regions, feeds on vegetation and small invertebrates.
53Ferruginous Pygmy OwlSmall owl with distinct black marks on its nape, feeds on insects, small birds, and rodents.
54FlamingoLarge wading bird with pink plumage and distinctive beak, known for filter-feeding on algae and shellfish.
55Fulvous BabblerSmall bird with brown plumage, found in arid regions, known for its social behavior, feeds on insects and seeds.
56GadwallMedium-sized duck with grey plumage, found in oases and water bodies in arid regions, feeds on vegetation and small invertebrates.
57Great Crested GrebeMedium-sized grebe with striking black and white plumage, known for its elaborate mating display.
58Great Spotted CuckooMedium-sized cuckoo with a spotted plumage, known for its brood parasitism, inhabits open woodlands and savannas.
59Greater FlamingoLarge wading bird with pinkish plumage, found in arid regions, feeds on algae and shellfish.
60Greater Hoopoe-LarkLarge lark with distinctive long curved bill, known for its melodious song, inhabits desert and semi-desert regions.
61Houbara BustardLarge bird with a distinctive crest and patterned plumage, found in dry open country, omnivorous.
62House BuntingSmall bird with distinctive head pattern, found in arid regions, feeds on seeds and insects.
63HwameiMedium-sized bird with olive-brown plumage and melodious song, feeds on insects and small seeds.
64Isabelline WheatearSmall bird with pale plumage, inhabits open arid areas, feeds on insects.
65Lanner FalconMedium-sized falcon with distinctive facial markings, found in arid regions, feeds on small birds.
66Lappet-faced VultureLarge vulture with distinctive pinkish head folds, known for its powerful beak used to tear through tough hides.
67Laughing DoveSmall dove with a distinctive laughing call, found in arid and semi-arid regions.
68Lesser Egyptian JerboaSmall rodent with long hind legs adapted for jumping, found in sandy deserts, nocturnal.
69Lesser FlamingoSmaller flamingo species with deep pink plumage, filter-feeds on algae and shellfish.
70Lesser KestrelSmall falcon with reddish-brown plumage, found in arid regions, feeds on insects and small mammals.
71Little GrebeSmall freshwater diving bird, known for its lobed toes and excellent swimming ability.
72Little OwlSmall owl with brown-spotted plumage, found in arid regions, feeds on insects and small mammals.
73Lizard BuzzardSmall raptor with distinctive red cere, found in arid regions, feeds on lizards and small mammals.
74Long-legged BuzzardLarge raptor with long legs, found in arid regions, feeds on small mammals and birds.
75Maghreb LarkSmall lark with streaked brown plumage, found in sandy deserts, feeds on seeds and insects.
76Marbled TealMedium-sized duck with marbled plumage, found in oases and water bodies in arid regions, feeds on vegetation and small invertebrates.
77MerlinSmall falcon with dark plumage, found in arid regions, feeds on small birds.
78Montagu’s HarrierMedium-sized raptor with long wings, found in arid regions, feeds on small mammals and birds.
79Namaqua DoveSmall dove with a distinctive black face mask, found in arid regions, known for its long tail.
80North African OstrichLarge flightless bird, subspecies of the common ostrich, known for its rapid decline due to hunting and habitat loss.
81Northern PintailMedium-sized duck with distinctive pointed tail, found in oases and water bodies in arid regions, feeds on vegetation and small invertebrates.
82Northern ShovelerMedium-sized duck with distinctive wide bill, found in oases and water bodies in arid regions, feeds on vegetation and small invertebrates.
83Pallid HarrierMedium-sized raptor with pale plumage, found in arid regions, feeds on small mammals and birds.
84Pallid SwiftSmall swift with pale plumage, known for its aerial acrobatics, found in arid regions.
85Peregrine FalconLarge falcon with distinctive facial markings, found in arid regions, known for its incredible speed, feeds on birds.
86Pharaoh Eagle-OwlLarge owl with fiery orange eyes and tawny plumage, nocturnal predator of desert rodents and lizards.
87Pin-tailed SandgrouseColorful sandgrouse with a distinctive pin-shaped tail, inhabits arid regions, feeds on seeds and plant parts.
88Red-footed FalconSmall falcon with reddish plumage, found in arid regions, feeds on insects and small mammals.
89Red-rumped WheatearSmall bird with red rump, found in arid regions, feeds on insects.
90Red-throated PipitSmall bird with reddish throat, found in arid regions, feeds on insects.
91Rock PigeonStout-bodied bird with short neck and slender bill, common in urban areas worldwide.
92Rosy-faced LovebirdSmall parrot with a peach-colored face and green plumage, feeds on small fruits and seeds.
93Rufous-tailed Scrub RobinSmall bird with rufous tail, known for its melodious song, found in arid regions, feeds on insects.
94Rüppell’s FoxSmall fox with distinctive large ears, inhabits arid regions, omnivorous.
95Sahara Desert Horned ToadSmall toad with distinctive horn-like projections on its head, found in arid regions, insectivorous.
96Saharan Horned ViperVenomous snake with distinctive horn-like scales above its eyes, found in sandy deserts.
97Saharan Silver AntSmall ant adapted to high desert temperatures, known for its rapid movements.
98Saharan Spur-thighed TortoiseSmall tortoise with distinctive spur-like scales on its thighs, found in arid regions, herbivorous.
99Saharan Striped WeaselSmall carnivorous mammal with distinctive black and white stripes, found in arid regions, feeds on small animals.
100Saharan Tree FrogSmall frog adapted to arid conditions, found in oases and temporary water bodies, insectivorous.
101Saker FalconLarge falcon with powerful build, found in arid regions, feeds on small mammals and birds.
102Sand CatSmall wild cat adapted to desert life, known for its thick fur and wide-set ears.
103Sandfish SkinkSmall lizard known for its ability to “swim” through sand, found in sandy deserts, insectivorous.
104Scimitar OryxLarge antelope with long, curved horns, known for its striking white and black markings, found in arid regions.
105ShikraSmall raptor with grey plumage, found in arid regions, feeds on small birds and mammals.
106Short-toed Snake EagleLarge eagle with short toes, found in arid regions, feeds on snakes and other reptiles.
107Spotted SandgrouseGround-dwelling bird with spotted plumage, found in stony deserts, feeds on seeds and plant matter.
108Spur-winged GooseLarge waterfowl with spurred wings, found in oases and water bodies in arid regions, feeds on vegetation and small invertebrates.
109Tawny EagleLarge eagle with tawny-colored plumage, found in arid regions, feeds on small mammals and birds.
110Tawny PipitSmall bird with tawny-colored plumage, found in arid regions, feeds on insects.
111Thick-billed LarkStout lark with thick bill, found in arid regions, feeds on seeds and insects.
112Tristram’s WarblerSmall warbler with distinctive black and white plumage, found in arid regions, insectivorous.
113Tristram’s WarblerSmall warbler with distinctive black and white plumage, found in arid regions, insectivorous.
114Verreaux’s EagleLarge eagle with distinctive white markings, found in arid regions, feeds on small mammals and birds.
115White WagtailSmall bird with black and white plumage, found in arid regions, feeds on insects.
116White-crowned WheatearSmall bird with distinctive white crown, found in rocky deserts, feeds on insects.
117White-rumped SeedeaterSmall bird with white rump, found in arid regions, feeds on seeds.
118Yellow WagtailSmall bird with yellow plumage, found in arid regions, feeds on insects.
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Nathan

I absolutely adore birds, especially lovebirds, and I’m passionate about exploring forests for bird watching. I wanted to create a space for fellow bird lovers to connect, learn, and share experiences.