To the east of Johannesburg, just outside the small town of Nigel, is one of the most popular attractions in Gauteng, Marievale Bird Sanctuary. Approximately 1 000ha in extent, the sanctuary supports more than 240 bird species, among them 65 waterbird species, including large populations of Reed Cormorant, Red-knobbed Coot and Yellow-billed Duck. The sanctuary is also one of the best locations in Gauteng to see Goliath, Black, Squacco and Purple herons.

Although the construction of roads, railways, pipelines and power lines in the area has reduced the floodplain to small dams, waterbirds still favour Marievale as a feeding and breeding place. Habitats of the sanctuary include shallow open water, reedbeds and grassland, so the variety of birds is immense.

If you are an experienced birder with a bit of luck you may even find Marsh Owl, African Grass-Owl, Red-chested Flufftail, Curlew Sandpiper, Sand Martin, Caspian Tern, Baillon’s Crake, Black-winged Pratincole or even Black-tailed Godwit. Other recently spotted birds include the Slaty Egret, Yellow Wagtail, as well as Baird’s, Pectoral and Buff-breasted sandpipers.

Along with the five hides overlooking four pans, there is a braai and picnic spot with ablution facilities. To maximise your stay, you can overnight in the reserve in one of the two chalets which can be booked through the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve.

While a visit to the sanctuary is worthwhile at any time of year, birding organisations say the best time to visit is at the beginning of summer, when the grass is short and the birds are breeding.

Admission and visiting hours

  • Entry is free and the sanctuary is open from sunrise to sunset
  • Summer entry is from 5.30am to 7.30pm
  • Winter entry is from 6am to 6pm 

Bookings and enquiries

  • Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve also handles Marievale Bird Sanctuary enquiries on 
    +27 (0)11 439 6300.