Whereto go birding in Kenya

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With over 1000 types of birds species spread all over the country, it might prove difficult selecting your next bird watching trip. As a birder and a tourist you can choose among the many different types of climatic condition suitable for different types of birds. The country has one of the richest avifauna composing of about 12% of world’s bird species due to the varied habitats with different types of vegetation and landscape features hosting different types of birds.  A place to go birding in Kenya includes theendemic bird areas, the forest, and water among others. About seven bird’sspecies are endemic in Kenya these are the Sharpe’s Longclaw, Hinde’s Babbler,Taita Thrush, Tana River Cisticola, Aberdare Cisticola, Clarke’s weaver andWilliam’s Lark. The country also serves as a major fly pathway of thePalaearctic migrants from Eastern Europe, Russia, the middle East and Asia’sboth land and water-birds. Of the different types of bird species found inKenya about 170 are Palaearctic migrants while over 60 species are known tomigrate frequently within the Afro tropics.  If you are looking for a suitable place to gobirding in Kenya, you can choose among the highlighted habitats and regions.

Birding in Kenyan Forest

Bird watching in Kenyan’s Forests

About 300 Kenyan’s bird’s species have been documented in various forested habitats across the country with over 200 depending entirely on forest for feeding, breeding and roosting. There are various types of forest suitable for birds including the Highland moist forest in areas with rainfall of more than 1,200mm per year. These forests vary in altitude and latitude with different types of tree species such as the Podocarpus, Olea among others with rich montane avifauna. Birds to watch include the Brown-capped weaver, Jackson’sFrancolin, Brown woodland warbler, Chestnut-throated Apalis, Montane Oriole andthe Hartlaub’s Turaco.

Birding of Kakamega and Nandi Forest

Known as the Guineo-Congolian rainforest and some of the few rainforest in African with a variety of birds to watch while in Kenya, Located in Western Kenya, County of Kakamega, host an array of endemic birds such as the Chapin’s flycatcher Muscicapa lendu is only found in Kakamega and Nandi Forest, the Chestnut wattle-eye Dyaphorophyia c.castanea, the Yellow-billed wattle-eye Dyaphorophyia concreta graueri. Some of the birds found in these forests are found nowhere else in Kenya for example the Grey Parrot, Uganda Woodland Warbler, Blue-headed Bee-eater, and the Ansorge’s Greenbul. Going bird watching in Kakaemga requires a local guide tomove through the trees and shrubs, and a binocular to be able to spot birds from a distance.

The coastal forest and Waters

These habitats are found along the coastal strip of Kenya with varied vegetation due to climatic condition and the soil types. There are different types of birds found in these forests such as the Clarke’s weaver, Green-headed Oriole, Tiny Greenbul, Sokoke Scops Owl the snake eagle among others. In the coastal areas mangrove forest host a number of bird species and offers suitable location for bird safaris in Kenya as they provide a safe stop-over for the Palaearctic migrants during migration time.

Kenya lies across the equator with altitude range of 5,199 m at the top of Mountain Kenya and with this varied topography offer a variety of habitats with its unique bird type. Almost three quarter of the country is arid or semi-arid with bush land, wooded grassland birds.

Grassland and moorland 

This includes the Mt. Kenya, the Aberdare Mountains, the Cherangan is and Mt Elgon with little vegetation at the top and a few birds to watch at the top of the mountains. The species to watch in these areas are the Scarlet-tufted Malachite sunbird in the Lobelia zone, Alpine chat and the Aberdare Cisticola are found in the grassland and shrubs. Birding inhighland grassland provide opportunity for birders to watch the threatened Sharpe’s Longclaw typically found in Kinagop grassland, other birds species present in highland grassland habitat includes the Jackson, long-tailed widowbird, Levaillant’s Cisticola Quail Finch among others. Looking for more grand lands for bird watching, consider travelling to the Masai Mara, seasonal flood plan and delta grassland. Open grassland host various types of birds such as larks, Cisticola, pipits with Mara Serengeti hosting endemic birds.

Birding in Savannah habitats

It runs from the Amboseli in the south through the Tsavo national park to north-east and North West ofKenya. The major tree species attracting various bird types include the Acacia,Commiphora and Combretum while grasses species include the Digitaria, Themeda among others.  Savannah pride itself with a variety of seed-eating birds such as the doves, weavers, larks, bush shrike,game birds, rollers and hornbill.

Desert birding

Kenyan’s north-central and north-western is covered by a desert hosting a few bird species to watch. These areas have little to no vegetation to provide birds with food and shelter. But if you’re interest in waching the Williams’s lark, Heuglin’s Bustard and Star-spotted Nightjar then prepare adequately with necessary birding equipment and bird guides.

Wetlands and Open Waters

You can go bird watching in Kenyan’s wetlands   which are important habitats covering about 14,000km2 of the country surface (Crafter et al. 1992). With the number of Lakes in the Rift valley, western Kenya, Turkana, Magadi provide conducive habitat for water birds that depends on fish. Best places to watch these birds are Lake Victoria, Lake Naivasha and other open dams and rivers. To watch aunique bird species then one has to travel to the papyrus swamp in Yalawetland, Lake Victoria. Papyrus vegetation host endemic bird species such asthe Papyrus Gonolek, Papyrus Canary, White-winged warbler, and the Papyrus Yellow Warbler. You can also create a bird habitat to enable different types of birds to come near you. Such created habitat provides an excellent way to bird watch near your door step, feeding and providing water for the little birds.Again where to go birding will depend on many factors including but not limited to the type of birds you’re interested in watching, the habitat near you and with long distance birding tours requires adequate preparation and resources to move. Birding in your back-yard doesn’t require many birding equipment. Always dress appropriately avoiding shiny attire that birds will spot from a distance.

Types of Birds in Kenya

There are Over 1000 bird types in Kenya

Kenya is one of those rare places on earth with over 1000 types of birds species making it the best bird watching destination in the world.Bird watching in Kenya is made easier with the tailor made birding trips and safaris by different tour companies and guides.  The type of birds found in Kenya has been documented by various birding and environmental conservation groups. With the recent effort to map various birds types in Kenya and their habitat by different organizations, local and international birders submitting data to Kenya bird map portal. With these information bird twitchers easily finds out where to go for any particular type of bird species.  Kenyans’ geographical and climatic condition favors various types of migrant bird species such as Eurasian and Intra African birds, endemic water birds, high altitude and low altitude birds among others. One of the most common question about Kenyan birds has always been this “How many birds species are there in Kenya? The answer to this question may vary due to climatic and environmental changes over the years enabling different types of birds species in Kenya to emerge and the same time eliminating other species.But one of the most essential bird watching book guide titled “Birds of Kenya& Northern Tanzania” have recorded all types of birds species found in Kenya with over 1000 birds documented. The book is one of the best and easiest user guide for both experienced and novice birders just getting started in the world of bird watching.

For birders having vacation or intending to have bird watching safari in Kenya should consider the months of October through April for migrants birds. Endemic birds are all over the country throughout the year making Kenya an all year round birding destination. Bird watching in Kenya requires adequate preparation from the most essential birding gears including but not limited to binoculars, bird guides and a notebook and a bird friendly dressed code taking into account the varied weather pattern the country normally experience.

The following are some selected birds of Kenya species

Pelagic Birds of Kenya

Mostly found in the coastal part of Kenya with some species arriving in the month of August-September. These species includes the Albatross from the Diomedeidae family.These birds have large web-toed, longer wings. The bird is known to nest in the island in southern ocean and feed on ocean insects among others. The most common species spotted in Kenya are the Black-browed Albatross Diomedea melanophris and the Shy Albatross Diomedea cauta. The other notable beviour about these birds are their behavior to follow ships sailing in the waters. Other Pelagic Birds includes Greater Frigatebirds, the Brown,Masked and Red-footed Booby among others. For a birder planning to watch the Albatross consider spending time in the coastal town of Kenya and be equipped with basic or waterproofed binoculars as birding may take you to the open waters.

The Bush Shrikes

The bush shrike species is fairly spread within Kenya; in western Kenya you’re likely tospot Luhder’s bush-shrike Laniarius l. luehderi with the locally common and wide spread species of Red-Naped Bush-shrike Laniarius ruficeps rufinuchalis, Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike Malaconotus sulfureopectus, Rosy-patchedbush-shrike Rhodophoneus cruentus, Black-frontedbush-shrike Malaconotus nigrifrons among others

The Gonoleks

There are two types of gonolek species in Kenya namely the Black-headed gonolek Laniariuserythrogaster and the Papyrus Gonolek Laniarius mfumbiri. The Papyrus Gonolekis mostly found in Papyrus swampy places in Western Kenya and common in Yala Swamp and the surrounding lakes. The black-headed gonolek is also common and wide spread in Western Kenya shrubs, thickets and bushy cultivation. The more common of the two species is the black-headed, this bird is found in an open fields, woodlots and homestead and if not in pair will be calling most of the time to locate its partner. When bird watching in Western Kenya you’re like lyto record the black-headed gonolek in every 6th recording while Papyrus Gonolek is restricted and endemic to the Papyrus vegetation. To watch Papyrus Gonolek in Yala Swamp or the surrounding Lakes a birder may use the available boats to get into the waters as these birds rarely come out of the papyrus plantation.

The Flycatchers

Among notable bird species found in Kenya are the Flycatchers. More than 10 species have been recorded and documented. In Western Kenya you’re likely to spot the Red-Bellied Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone rufiventer emini, Dusky Crested flycatcher,African Blue Flycatcher and the most common and widespread in Kenya are the African Paradise, Northern Black and South Black flycatcher. The rare species are the Blue-mantled crested Black-And-White, Semi-Collared and the Lead-colored. When bird watching in Kenya swamp you’re likely to spot the swamp flycatcher which is common in Yala wetland. The Chapin’s flycatcher is only found in Kakamega and Nandi Forest in Kenya. Also present and uncommon in Kenya is the Semi Collared Flycatcher, Palearctic migrant found in Western Kenya

The Babblers

babbler

The noisy bird that moves in group across Kenya vegetation, there are six recorded birdspecies found in various Kenyan birding terrain among these are the Scaly BabblerT. s squamulatus, Arrow-Marked Babbler T. jardineii emini found mostly in Rift valley region in Lake Naivasha and Nakuru also like thickets and forested places, Black-lored Babbler T.sharpei, Brown Babbler T. plebejus cinereus,Nothern Pied Babbler T. h.hypoleucus and Hinde’s Babbler T.hindei found central Kenya and locally common in the highlands. In western Kenya the babblers are found in shrub and near the water area of Lake Kanyaboli, mountain areas and the low land places.

The Ostrich is the largest living bird family in Kenya, a heavy and a flightless bird with very strong and powerful legs. Kenya host two types of Ostrich bird species namely the Somali Ostrich Struthio molybdophanes mostly found in the Savannah and the Common Ostrich Struthio camelus massaicus a wide spread specie in Kenya territory.

The Guinea fowls unlike the Ostriches, these birds are medium in size and spend most of their time on the ground but move to trees in the night to roost. They have featherless head with blue, black and white plumage. Three species have been documented in Kenya namely the Vulturine Guinea fowl Acrylliumvulturine which is locally common in dry bushes. The Crested Guinea fowl Gutterapucherani locally common in dense forest and woodland. Helmeted Guinea fowl Numidia meleagrisis widespread specie in Kenyan’s bushes, savanna, woodlands and shrubby grassland

The Quails and Francolins these are small to medium size type of birds found in Kenya,they are ground living birds. The documented species in Kenya are the Orange River Francolin Francolinus levaillantoides archeri.  TheMoorland francolin Francolinuspsilolaemus elgonensis mostly found in Mt Kenya, Elgon and the Aberdares,the Shelley’s Francolin Francolinus shelleyi uleunsis, the most common species in grassland and open field both in central and southern Kenya. The Chestnut-Naped Francolin Francolinus castaneicollis atrifrons,mostly common in Kenya borders with Ethiopia near Moyale and forest edges. The Red-Winged Francolin Francolinus levaillantii kikuyuensis alarge grassland bird species which was widely distributed in Western Kenya highlands but now scarce. The ScalyFrancolin this darken red-billed francolin is found in green forest andwidespread in Mt. Elgon, the Cherenganis and Mt. Nyiru. Hildebrandt’s Francolin commonFrancolinus hildebrandit documentedin the Kenyan rift valley, Nakuru north, Elgeyu to Nguruman hills and the Jackson’s Francolin Francolinus jacksoni speciereside mostly in areas of above 2500 altitude and mainly found in Mt Kenya and the Aberdares.

Flamingoes theseare aquatic long-legged birds with longneck and pink-colour. There are two documented types of flamingoes in Kenya namely the Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterusroseus endemic to soda lakes in the great rift valley of Kenya. These Kenyans birds are locally common for bird twitchers. The other species is known as the Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor also found in large numbers in rift valley soda Lakes. Recent changes in water quality have since the dwindling number of Flamingoes in the Rift valley soda Lakes and are migrating to other suitable lakes in Tanzania. Most Flamingoes breeds in Lake Natron but in some occasion breeding take place in Magadi and Logipi.

Flycatchers

These are insectivorous birds of Kenya with over 20 species documented in various habitats across the country. Among the endemic species are the Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone rufiventer eminithat is restricted to Western Kenya’s Kakamega forest. The specie interbreed with the African Paradise Fly catcher Terpsiphoneviridis which is wide spread and common in wooded and garden areas.

Bee-eaters

These are insectivorous bright colored birds that move in numbers. Kenya host a number of species both residence and migrants. The notable residence found in the country includes the little bee-eater Merops pusillus cyanostictus, a widespread and common with a black patch in the throat, Cinamon-Chested Merops oreobates that are locally common and widespread wooded areas, the specie is larger than the little and Blue-breasted bee-eater. Eurasian bee-eaterMerops apiaster is migrant specie common and wide spread in autumn, March through April and August – Octoberperiod. Over 10 different species have been observed and documented in Kenya.

Kenya birds of prey

There are different types of bird of preys in Kenya including the Falcons which are small and medium sized with razor-sharp tooth on their upper mandible, with female larger than the male. Among the notable Falcons includes the Lanner Falco b. biarmicus, the PeregrineFalco peregrines minor, Taita Falco fasciinucha among others. The other birds of prey in Kenya are the Vultures with Lappet-faced, Ruppel’s Griffon, African white-backed, Hooded,White-headed, Lammerger, Palm-nut  amongother species are locally available in different habitats, Bustards, hawks and allies

Jacanas

Are widespread in water habitat and characterized by medium legs with very long toes, among the species found in Kenya are the African Jacana Actophinlornisafricanus which is common and widespread on waters and floating vegetation in rivers, Lakes and Swampy areas. The other scarce specie is known as Lesser Jacana Microparra capensis.

The Cormorants

These are duck like birds with dark colored feathers and long necks. Cormorants have a very strong bill with short legs and webbed feet to walk on water vegetation.When hunting for food they dive below the water surface to get their delicacy.Kenyan species includes the long-tailedPhalacrocorax a. africanus and the Great cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo lucidus.

The Rails

 These are ground dwelling small sized birds with long toes and legs and mostly found in marshes. African water rail Ralluscaerulescens is widespread in Central region and the south of Masai Mara Reserve. The bird is scarce in other areas.

The Turacos

Are long-tailed medium size birds of Kenya and restricted to African continent. Overseven species have been recorded and documented including the Great Blue Turaco Corythaeola cristata. This specie is scarce but available in some forest in Western Kenya. Hartlaub’sTuraco Tauraco hartlaubi is a very common and widespread in highland forest. It has a white facial marking with dark bushy crest.  Other species are the Fischer’s Turaco Tauraco f. fischeri among others.

The Mousebirds

As the name suggest, these are small mouse like birds. Have long tail and a crest. These birds are only found in Africa and the species available in Kenya are the Blue-napped Urocolius macrourus pulcher whichis common and widespread in dry bush. The other two species are the Speckled Colius striatus kikuyuensis and White-headedColius leucocephalus turneri mousebirds 

The Bulbuls

Very common specie in almost every corner of the country with fairly short bills, feeds on insects and seeds. The specie is present in almost every habitat from desert to forest; Common Bulbul Pycnonotus barbatushave been recorded in every corner of the country.

Waxbills

Consist of different family and are small in size. Spend most of the time feeding in the ground eating seeds. Species in Kenya are the Zebra Amandava subflava which is rare in humid grassland, the common waxbill Estrilda Astrid a common and widespread in grassy places with brown rump and tail, theblack-crowned waxbill Estrilda n.nonnula mostly found in western Kenya. There are more than 10 species present in Kenya.

Cisticolas One of the most difficult birds of Kenya to identify due to their similarities,with 50 species recorded worldwide Kenya host about half the species spread across the country.