From the world’s biggest bird, the Ostrich, to spectacular flamingos that congregate in their millions at the various Lakes of the Great Rift Valley and camouflage them in pink, Kenya holds some remarkable birding sights that you have to see them to believe. With eleven percent of the world’s species – some 1089 different varieties, Kenya’s birding is one of the best in the world. 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!
The variety of birds in Kenya is made possible by the favorable climate, diverse habitats and geographical features that make it a suitable migratory route for birds. Even without venturing outside Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, more than 600 resident and migratory bird species are found; more than in any other capital city, and more than in most countries.
Bird watching is good all year round in Kenya.
The rainy seasons of April and November coincide with migration of birds from and to Europe and Asia, and some of the top day’s totals have been recorded at that time. Migrants make up only about ten percent of Kenya’s birdlife. Spectacular birds of the bush –guinea fowl, go-away birds, rollers and barbets, to mention but a few – are active all year.
To see Kenya’s rarest, indigenous and unfortunately endangered birds, the bird enthusiast needs to seek out forests or highland grasslands tucked away amongst various farmlands. Arabuko-Sokoke Forest near Malindi, tops the list, with the six threatened bird species of the Sokoke Scops Owl, Sokoke Pipit, Spotted Ground Thrush, East Coast Akalat, Amani Sunbird and Clarke’s Weaver.
Some other areas including the forest “islands” at the top of the Taita Hills, near Voi, is home to the beautiful but critically endangered Taita Thrush and Taita Apalis, as well as the endangered Taita White-eye.
Sharpe’s Longclaw and Aberdare Cisticola, native and endangered, live in the highland grasslands near the Aberdare mountain range.
In western Kenya, Kakamega Forest is a little patch of Guineo-Congolian rainforest in Kenya. Among the many rainforest species found are spectacular Turacos and Hornbills, and the tiny, endangered Turner’s Eremomela.
The scarce and threatened Papyrus Yellow Warbler is found in papyrus swamps on the shores of Lake Victoria, alongside the Papyrus Gonolek, White-winged Warbler and Papyrus Canary, all papyrus endemics.
Local bird guides are available at numerous of sites and are your best aid for locating and identifying the many species. They live at or near these sites and their birding interest is nurtured by that association with visiting scientists, birders and added to by some formal training. It is advisable to contact the local guides association if you will be spending time at a specific site. By using local guides, you increase your bird citing success. More importantly, you will be supporting the conservation of that site by the involvement of the local community in sustaining the areas ornithology.
Professional bird guides and Tour Operators who can accompany you on safari also provide additional guiding services that will broaden your birding experience.
In Nairobi you are guaranteed to find birds everywhere you travel. A stroll in hotel gardens, a trip to the Nairobi National Park or the grounds of the National Museum is likely to turn up bright black and yellow weavers, tiny iridescent sunbirds resembling flying jewels, Secretary Bird, Bustards and Mousebirds with long tails, which are unique to Africa.
The giant Marabou Storks, a frequent visitor to the city, now nests on the acacia trees along the streets. Nature Kenya organizes weekly Morning Birdwalks in and around Nairobi to these and many more sites. A surprisingly wide range of habitats can be visited on day trips from Nairobi. These include Lake Naivasha in the Rift Valley, the dry bush around the Olorgesailie Prehistoric Site, and the Escarpment Forests in the foothills of the Aberdare mountain range.
Amboseli is popular with birders as Elephant watchers. Over 400 species including at least 40 raptors have been recorded. Notable species include the Lesser Flamingo, many ducks, darters and heron nest in the wetlands, and birds of prey including a small population of Martial Eagles.
The Mara is equally popular with birders, and specialist birding safaris. Of the over 500 recorded species, notables include the Corncrake, Grey crested Helmet Shrike, Lesser Kestrel, Madagascar Squacco Heron, Saddle Billed Stork, Secretary Bird, Ostrich, White headed Vulture among more common species, Lilac Breasted Roller, Yellow billed Ox pecker among the large herds, and Martial and Crowned Eagles.
Meru area is excellent Birding country, becoming popular with specialist birding safaris. There have been recorded sightings of Saddle Billed Stork, Pel’s Fishing Owl and African Fin foots in the swamps and along the river.
This area is very popular with birders, and specialist birding safaris. Samburu and Buffalo Springs have over 380 recorded species, with similar numbers in Shaba. Notable species recorded include arid endemics such as Donaldson-Smith’s Sparrow Weaver, Shining Sunbird and the Bristle Crowned Starling, many Vulturine Guinea fowl, several Hornbill species, Somali Ostrich and rare species such as the Taita Falcon, migratory Kestrels and William’s Lark.
This vast area is excellent Birding country, popular with specialist birding safaris. Notable species recorded include the rare Basra Reed Warbler, Friedmann’s Lark, Ostrich, Blue Quail, Violet Wood hoopoe, Martial and Crowned Eagle.
The Malindi-Watamu area is very popular with birders, and specialist birding safaris. Mida Creek, along with the beaches of Watamu and are a feeding area for Western Reef Heron, Lesser Crested Tern, and shorebirds such as the Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper and Greater and Lesser Sandplover.
Offshore Whale Island is an occasional breeding ground for Roseate and Bridled Terns. To the North, the Sabaki river mouth attracts Madagascar Pratincole, Sooty Gull and the Lesser Crested and Saunder’s Tern.
Outside Malindi, near the Marafa Depression is the Dakatcha Woodland, considered an important bird area and sanctuary for the Southern banded Snake Eagle, Sokoke Pipit and Clarke’s Weaver.
The Tana River Delta area is an excellent area for birding. The Delta itself attracts an average population of around 20,000 water birds, including Pelicans, Egrets, Storks, Flamingo, Geese and many shorebirds. The Surrounding forests are also rich with birdlife, including the rare Southern Banded Snake Eagle, East Coast Akalat, Malindi Pipit, Basra Reed Warbler, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Violet Wood Hoopoe, Scaly babbler, and of course, the Tana River Cisticola.
The South Coast is a perfect destination for coastal birding. The forest at Diani is a refuge for Fischer’s Turaco, Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Little Yellow Flycatcher and the Uluguru Violet Backed Sunbird. Nearby Dzombo Hill is home to a Digo Kaya and is also home for the rare Sokoke Pipit, the African Crowned eagle and around 33 other forest dependent species.
Offshore, the Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Park has an important population of rare Roseate Terns, among other pelagic birds, centered on Kisite Island.
This is an important bird area, and is frequently visited by specialist Birding safaris. Species of interest recorded here include the Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Fischer’s Turaco, Sokoke Pipit, East Coast Akalat and migratory Eurasian Cuckoos.
The Chyulu area is very popular with birders, and specialist birding safaris. Notable species recorded include Abbots Starlings en route from Mt Kenya to Kilimanjaro, Shelley’s Francolin, Orange Ground Thrush and several rare raptors- Ayre’s Hawk Eagle, Crowned Eagle and Martial Eagle. The Taita Hills are also a very important bird reserve, with many endemics including the Taita Falcon, Taita Thrush, Taita White Eye and the Taita Apalis.
This is an important bird area, and is frequently visited by specialist birding safaris. Species of interest recorded here include the slender billed Starling, Sharpe’s Long claw, and Crowned Eagle; Ring necked Francolin, Striped Rufftail, Red chested Owlet, Thick billed Honeyguide, Toro Olive Greenbul and Purple throated Cuckoo Shrike.
Mt Kenya and its surrounding forests are good birding country. Notable species recorded here include the Lesser Kestrel, Jackson’s Widowbird, Abbots Starling, Jackson’s Francolin, Hunter’s Cisticola, the Crowned Eagle, African Grass Owl and Cape Eagle Owl.
The bird-rich Aberdares are very popular with birders, and specialist birding safaris. At least 200 species have been recorded, including African Green Ibis, African Cuckoo Hawk, Cape Eagle Owl, Mountain Buzzard and Hartlaub’s Turaco.
Rare species include the Scarlet tufted Sunbird, long tailed Widowbird, African grass owl and the Aberdare Cisticola on the moorlands.
The Arabuko Sokoke Forest is a very important area for birding. Among the endemics here is the Sokoke Scops Owl, the world’s rarest Owl. The species is only found in this forest, although there have been reported sightings in the Usambara Mountains in Northern Tanzania. This highly elusive bird is more often seen than heard, but the chance of a sighting makes this a real mecca for birders.
Even if you don’t locate a Scops- there are plenty of other species to be seen, including the rare Clarke’s Weaver, Fischer’s Turaco, Southern Banded Snake Eagle and the Amani and Plain backed Sunbirds.
Kakamega’s main attraction is its birdlife. The forest is a unique environment, not just in Kenya but in Africa. There are a number of relict species found here, including the Angsore’s Greenbul, Blue headed Beeeater, Chapin’s Flycatcher and Turner’s Eremola. Other notables include the Red Chested Owlet, Least Honeyguide, Great Blue Turaco, Banded Snake eagle, and Crowned Eagle. Kakamega is a popular destination for birders and is well set up for bird watching safaris.
This is an important bird area, and is frequently visited by specialist Birding safaris. Species of interest recorded here include Jackson’s and Hemprich’s Hornbills, Bristle Crowned Starling, and waterbirds including Goliath Heron, White backed Duck, and African Skimmers and Darters.
Bogoria is an important bird area, with its large populations of flamingo. Other species of interest recorded here include many Black necked Grebe, African Darter, White necked vulture and African Fish Eagle. The best way to see birdlife in this area is to travel around the lakeshore. The acacia forests and cliffs are both rich birding country.
This is considered an important bird area, frequently visited by specialist Birding safaris. Species of interest recorded here include both Lesser and Greater Flamingo, the remarkable Jackson’s Widowbird and the Grey crested helmet Shrike. Both Martial and Crowned Eagles have also been sighted here.
The flamingo breeding grounds here are an important bird area, and are frequently visited by specialist Birding safaris. Other species of interest recorded here include the African Spoonbill, Cape Teal, Great Egret and the Avocet.
This is an important birding area, and the entire region is a popular destination with specialist birding tours.
Naivasha has over 400 recorded bird species. The waters of the Lake obviously attract many waterbirds including the continent’s highest concentration of African Fish Eagles, many Goliath Heron, Jacanas, Pied and Malachite Kingfisher, Red-knobbed coot, Spoonbills, Little Grebe, rare Maccoa Duck, African Darters and Saddle Billed Stork.
The shores and forests of the lake are also excellent birding territory, while the cliffs of Hell’s Gate National Park are and important nesting area for many raptor species.
One of Nakuru’s greatest attractions is its birds, and this is a common stop for specialist Birding safaris.
Apart from the obvious Greater and Lesser Flamingo, species of interest recorded here include many Great White Pelican and Black necked and Little Grebe, as well as rare Martial Eagle, Lesser Kestrel and Madagascar Squacco Heron.
There are several excellent birding areas around Lake Victoria. The Main areas of interest are the swamps at Kusa, Koguta and Dunga and within Ruma National Park. The Swamps are one of last refuges of the endangered Papyrus Gonolek and Papyrus Yellow Warbler, while Ruma is the only place in Kenya where the migratory Blue Swallow has been sighted.
Turkana is also an important bird area, frequently visited by specialist Birding safaris. Species of interest recorded here include large populations of Pink backed Pelican, Greater Flamingo, Sur winged Plover and the Little Stint as well as rare species such as the Saddle billed Stork, Banded Snake Eagle and the African Skimmer.