Birds of Kenya – Bird Safaris
In Kenya, there are about 1105 birds species recorded which are further classified as endemic, accidental and those introduced by humans. The birds of Kenya offer a birdwatcher quite an awesome experience and it can take close to a week to identify over 300 species even without the help of a bird expert. This is possible when you choose to go bird watching in a particular region where certain birds reside or breed.
The Best time to go for a bird watching safari in Kenya is in the months of October to March when most migratory birds come back. If you are more interested in the water birds especially found in the Rift Valley lakes, January is the best time to spot them.
If you are interested in seeing the rarest and shyest of the birds, you can either use the help of a birds expert or buy a bird guide book. Some of the regions that are great for bird watching both the common and rare species include:
The Great Rift Valley Lakes System
Kenyan section of the Rift Valley is home to eight lakes, three of which are freshwater and the rest alkaline. Three of the alkaline Lakes i. e Lake Nakuru, Lake Elementaita and Lake Bogoria marked UNESCO World Heritage Sites is home to the Lesser Flamingos. Lake Turkana which is a freshwater lake is also a marked heritage site.
From this area alone, one is able to records about 350 birds species in different locations along the Rift. One of the common birds found in these lakes is the Lesser and Greater flamingos which are common in the shallow soda lakes with a record of about 4 million birds moving between the lakes. The soda lake includes; Lake Nakuru, Lake Bogoria, Lake Elementaita and Lake Magadi. Other birds found in these soda lakes including 13 globally threatened birds species are The great white pelicans (which makes these lakes it’s breeding ground), African Fish eagle, Black-necked Grebe, African Darter, White-necked vulture, Jackson’s widow bird, Grey crested helmet shrike, Martial and Crown Eagle, African Spoonbill, Cape Teal, Great Egret, The Avocet, Lesser Kestrel, Madagascar Squacco Heron among others.
Of the three freshwater lakes, we have Lake Bogoria which is the second largest in Kenya’s Great Rift and a good place for bird safari along the lake shores, some of the birds to see include; Jackson’s and Hemprich’s hornbill, Bristle Crown Starling, Goliath Heron, White Backed duck, African skimmers and darters.
In Lake Turkana which is the largest desert lakes in the world, also a good bird-watching spot for bird specialist. We have birds like Pink-backed Pelican, Greater Flamingo, Sur-winged Plover, Little Stint. There are also some rare species like Saddle-billed Stork, African Skimmer and the Banded-Snake Eagle.
Lake Naivasha which is also a freshwater lake and a great birding area with birds like African Fish Eagle, Jacanas, Pied and Malachite Kingfisher, Goliath Herons, Red-knobbed coot, Spoonbills, Saddle-billed stork, Rare Maccoa duck, African Darters.
The Lake Victoria Islands
The Lake Victoria, Kenyan side has Islands that are home to over 350 local and migratory birds some not found anywhere else in Kenya. The Islands like Rusinga, Mfangano which are great tourist attraction have great lodges where you can stay and enjoy watching birds right from your room balcony. There is also a bird’s island accessible via boat from Rusinga or Mfangano Island which is a nesting ground to most of these water birds.
Some of the birds to see while on the Island lakes include; The African Fish Eagle, The Giant, Pygmy and Malachite Kingfisher, cormorants, sunbirds, double-toothed barbets, Egrets etc.
There is also the swampy area around the lake like Kusa, Dunga, Koguta swamps where you can spot birds like the endangered Papyrus Gonolek and the Papyrus Yellow Warbler. The Ruma National park which is also near the lake has birds like the migratory Blue Swallow.
National Parks and Game Reserve
It is easy to spot most bush birds in Kenya’s National Parks and Game Reserves though you need to concentrate on the birds and not get distracted by other wildlife in the area.
The Amboseli National Park has a record of around 400 species with birds like Lesser Flamingo, Martial Eagles, ducks, heron nest, darters among others.
The Maasai Mara has a record of 500 species with birds like The Common Ostrich, Martial and Crown Eagles, Corncrake, Grey Crested Helmet Shrike, Yellow bill ox-peckers, Lilac Breasted Roller, White-headed Vultures, Secretary bird, Saddle Billed Stork among others
Meru National Park is also popular bird heaven with birds like Saddled Billed Stork, Pel’s fishing owl, African Fin Foots among other birds.
Up North, we have The Samburu and Buffalo Springs Game Reserve that have a record of around 380 bird species like the Somali Ostrich, Shining Sunbird, Donaldson-Smith’s sparrow weaver, Bristle Crowned Starling, Vulturine Guinea Fowl, rare birds species like the Taita Falcon, Kestrels, William’s Lark among others.
The Tsavo also has some notable bird species like Violet Wood hoopoe, Blue Quail, Friedman’s Lark, rare Basra Reed Warbler among others.
Hiking Regions and Forests
There are more birds tucked away in the many forests and highland grasslands stretching out to the various farmlands worth a bird watching safari.
One of the main forest in the coast, The Arabuko-Sokoke Forest near Malindi is home to some very rare birds species like the Sokoke Scops Owl, the Sokoke Pipit, Clarke’s Weaver, Amani Sunbird, East Coast Akalat, Spotted Ground Thrush among many.
The Aberdares Moutain Range which comprises a thick highland forest has a record of around 200 species with birds like African green Ibis, Cape Eagle-owl, African Cuckoo Hawk, Mountain Buzzard, Hartlaub’s Turaco, some rare species like Scarlet tufted Sunbird, long-tailed widow bird, the Aberdares Cisticola and many more.
Mount Kenya and it’s forest region have noted species like the Cape Eagle Owl, the Crown eagle, African grass Owl, Hunter’s Cisticola, Lesser Kestrel, Jackson’s widow bird, Abbots Starling, Jackson’s Francolin among others.
Mount Elgon on the western side region of Kenya is another bird region with species like the Slender-billed Starling, Toro olive Greenbul, Purple-throated Cuckoo Shrike, Crowned Eagle, Red-necked Francolin, Stripped Rufftail, Red-chested Owlet, Thick-billed Honeyguide among others.
The Kakamega Forest also in the western region has a unique environment in Africa that favours various bird species like Blue-headed Beater, Chapin’s Flycatcher, Turner’s Eremola, Angsore’s Greenbul, Banded Snake Eagle, Great Blue Turaco, the Least Honeyguide etc.
South Coast Kenya Area
Apart from the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, there are other areas in the coastal region that are home to many bird species some endangered. These places include the forest islands at the top of Taita Hills with species like the endangered Taita Thrush, Taita Apalis, Taita White-eye. Chyulu Hills also part of Taita has bird species like Abbots Starling, Shelley’s Francolin, Orange Ground Thrush, Ayre’s Hawk Eagle, Crowned and Martial Eagle and many more.
Shimba Hills down at the coast also has bird species like Southern-Banded Snake Eagle, Sokoke Pipit, East-Coast Akalat and the migratory Eurasian Cuckoos.
Down South Coast, in Diani forest, there are species like Little Yellow Flycatcher, Uluguru Violet-Backed Sunbird, Fischer’s Turaco and the southern-banded Snake Eagle. Dzombo Hill is home to Sokoke Pipit, African Crowned Eagle among other forest-dependent species.
The Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Park is home to the rare Roseate Terns among other pelagic birds.
The Tana Delta is also home to many water birds such as Pelicans, Storks, Flamingos, Egret, Geese while the surrounding forests have species like East Coast Akalat, Malindi Pipit, Basra Reed Warbler, Pel’s Fishing owl, Violet Wood Hoopoe, Scaly babbler and many more.
In Malindi, The Midas Creek in Watamu is a feeding area for the Western Reef Heron, Lesser Crested Tern, Sanderling, Greater and Lesser Sandplover, Curlew Sandpiper. Whale Island is a breeding ground for Roseate and Bridled Terns. The Sabaki River attracts birds like Saunder Tern, Sooty Gull, Madagascar Pratincole.
If you are planning on going on an actual bird safari, it is always advisable to get a guide book which is available online. When you are not good at spotting or identifying certain birds, you can go ahead and hire a bird guide/specialist for your excursion.
When in Nairobi Kenya, it is actually possible to site many bird species flying from tree to tree like Secretary Bird, Bustards, black and yellow weaver, tiny iridescent sunbirds, mousebirds. You can also site the giant Marabou Stock sitting in the acacia trees in the city centre.
If you would love to join a group of bird watchers in Nairobi, you can consider joining Nature Kenya located at the Nairobi National Museum, who hold bird watching excursion on Wednesday mornings in Nairobi its environs.