Pel’s Fishing Owl at Pumulani

Pel’s Fishing Owl at Pumulani

For many birders, spotting a Pel’s Fishing Owl is the equivalent of finding the Holy Grail.

Classified as ‘threatened’ in Southern Africa, these owls are naturally restricted to areas near slow moving rivers as they feed mainly on fish and frogs. Despite being bright ginger in colour, the second largest owl in Africa, and the fifth heaviest in the world, Pel’s Fishing Owls are surprisingly elusive.

Recent guests at Robin Pope Safaris’ Pumulani Lodge, Barry and Rachel Chapman, were lucky enough to be treated to a wonderful sighting of this rare bird. Rachel shares a little more about the experience:

“After breakfast on the terrace overlooking the lake we chilled out by the pool before going on a short bird walk with our guide Black, followed by a kayak back along the shore line.

As we were walking and I was asking about a bird call, Black casually mentioned that they regularly saw a Pel’s Fishing Owl in the trees on the beach. A Pel’s Fishing Owl?! Wow! Do you know how rare they are? I love owls, and this species is stunning, rarely seen and one of the biggest owls in the world. Black promised to point him out to me if he saw him.

We had just finished our lunch under the shady trees on the beach, when Black came over to tell us he had spotted the owl. We peered up into a big tree and sure enough, towards the top in the leaves, there he was, blinking down at us!


He was clearly unimpressed at having his nap disturbed, and after a few minutes watching each other he took off, giving us a brilliant view of his huge wingspan, and flapped away.


Look at that grumpy face!

We thought that was that, and spent a lovely relaxing afternoon on the beach. Around 5pm we went back to sit on our balcony, which gave a fabulous view of the lake, with the trees in front often full of birds, monkeys and baboons. Barry spent an enjoyable (to him) 30 minutes trying to photograph bee eaters in flight (difficult!).

I enjoyed myself just watching the wildlife wander by. I glanced up into the enormous Baobab tree 20m from our balcony and saw a shape. It was the Pel’s Fishing Owl, within 30m of us! He seemed much more chilled out, and let Barry take photos and me gaze at him. He was still there when we went up for dinner a couple of hours later. What a special, beautiful sight!”

While these owls are natural residents in the area around Pumulani Lodge, a sighting is never guaranteed and it’s always exciting when they are spotted.

A little more about Pumulani Lodge
Pumulani Lodge is a luxury safari lodge nestled into the hillside on the South end of Lake Malawi. The lodge boasts 10 villas, each with a unique grass-top roof to reflect heat and blend in with the surroundings, as well as a private deck with stunning views.


Guests can choose to relax at the lodge or on the white, sandy beaches, or alternatively take part in the vast array of watersports and outdoor activities that the lodge has on offer. Under water activities are a particular favourite among guests as Lake Malawi is home to more native fish species than any other lake in the world.

Contact Pumulani Lodge:

Call: +265 (0) 179 4491 / 5483