AN INTRODUCTION TO BIRDING IN KENYA
With over 1100 bird species recorded, Kenya is ranked second highest in Africa after the Democratic Republic of Congo and 11th in the world. Kenya also holds the world-record ‘bird watch’ – with 342 species seen in 24 hours! In many instances the habitats change greatly within a short distance thus presenting different species in a short duration. It is not unusual for birding trips to record 300-600 different varieties on a short trip or to record more than 120 at a particular site on a single day!
Tremendous geographical range gives Kenya a variety of climates and landscapes. From the soda-encrusted, flamingo-filled Rift Valley lakes to the montane forests in the highlands and the lowland forests in Western Kenya, these habitats, combined with bird-rich savannas, the semi-deserts and coastal forests make Kenya a prime destination for bird-watching.
The country also lies on bird migration route – a stopover for migrant birds from northern Asia and Europe, accounting to roughly 10 % of the bird population.
Many visitors to Nairobi head straight from the Airport to their respective places of visit, mainly business and Conferences. Very few will venture out of their hotels other than when they are engaging in the purpose of their visit. As a result many a visitor miss the numerous attractions the city has to offer including bird-watching – a favorite past time and one of the fastest growing outdoor recreational activities among nature enthusiasts in Kenya.
Kenya’s birding starts with Nairobi. In Nairobi you are guaranteed to find birds everywhere you travel. For any visitor staying in central Nairobi, it is not uncommon to see flocks of black kites soaring in thermals over the city, in some places they will readily swoop and snatch food held by humans. Other common species include the black-and-white pied crows, Marabou storks, sacred ibises and silvery-cheeked horn-bills.
The giant Marabou Storks, are a common sight in the city. First time visitors in Nairobi are always mesmerized by the dramatic sight of perched, motionless, head bowed Marabou Storks that have build a permanent residence on the acacia trees along the Uhuru Highway (the highway connecting the city to the main airport). Viewed from a closer vantage point, you realize how terrifying, ugly and revolting this bird is. Another thing that will strike you is the bird’s sheer size – almost five feet tall, they are thought to have one of the largest wingspreads of any living bird: 12 or more feet across. The birds have been known to devour virtually anything that they can swallow, “including shoes and pieces of metal,” and can lash out violently when denied food.
The leafier areas of the city are also ideal birding sites. The suburb of Karen is one such area. A huge suburb with lots of long, tree-lined roads and lanes you are sure to encounter dozens of species.
The gardens in the grounds of the National Museum are another interesting and relatively safe area to do your birding. Organizations like Nature Kenya arrange bird walks in the grounds on a weekly basis every morning for a temporary membership fee of Ksh200 ($2).
The Nairobi National park
A mere 7 km away from the Central Business District, the Nairobi National Park has a surprising wide range of habitats which include open rolling grass plains, thicket and bush, rocky gorges and forest. It is home to a whopping 520 bird species! Plausibly the the largest bird list of any city on earth. Bird species include the African crested cranes, African fish eagle, kori bustard, secretary bird, marabou stork, rappels vulture, martial eagle, great white pelicans, Egyptian geese, hadada ibis, sacred ibis, malachite kingfisher, wagtail, yellow billed stork, go away bird, hammerkorp, Madagascar bee eater, plovers, African jacana and many more.
Regrettably the park is incessantly under threat, there have always been forces with a certain frame of mind the Park is wasted space. Of late the threat has been very serious – a proposal to drive a new train-route through the Northern section of the park, right through some of the most important watering sites which will potentially have devastating effects on the Park’s ecology. Visiting the park is one way of raising awareness and keeping this unsurpassed urban birding location in existence.
Why not try birding on your next trip to Nairobi, you sure will love it! Nowhere else are birds so numerous, cooperative, and easy to take pictures of. With so many sights where birds are common, and easily seen, there are plenty of opportunities even for the casual photographer to indulge and enjoy birding.
Bird watching excursions in Nairobi national park are arranged on a regular basis and Bountiful Safaris will book for you a tour within short notice.