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Birds of Laikipia

birds of LaikipiaBirds often take a back seat to mammals when it comes to popularity. Yet they have all the attributes of the keenly sought mammalian big five: size, beauty, speed and power. As home to some 400 of Kenya’s estimated 1,100 bird species, Laikipia is a birder’s paradise. Because the district is less travelled than other parts of Kenya and has hosted little ornithological research, 400 species is probably an underestimate. As more birders equipped with binoculars and spotting scopes spend time searching Laikipia’s diverse habitats, the number is sure to rise.

 

List of Common Birds

  • Crested Francolins
  • White-browed Sparrow Weavers
  • Spotted Palm Thrush
  • Slate-coloured Boubous
  • Red-chested Cuckoo
  • Hartlaub’s Turaco
  • White-bellied Go-away-bird
  • Laughing Speckled Pigeon
  • Common Ostrich
  • Doves – African Mourning, Red-eyed, Ring-necked and Dusky Turtle
  • African Fish Eagle
  • Secretary Bird
  • Hamerkop
  • The African Finfoot
  • Grey and Black-headed Herons
  • Kingfishers – Giant, Pied and Malachite
  • Helmeted and Vulturine Guineafowl
  • Bustard- Black-bellied, White-bellied, Hartlaub’s, Buff-crested and Kori
  • Eagles – Tawny and Crowned Eagles, Martial, Verreaux’s and Bateleur Eagles
  • Hornbills - Von der Decken’s, Red-billed, Eastern Yellow-Billed, African Grey, Crowned Hornbills, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill
  • Raptors - Pallid Harriers, Sooty and Red-footed Falcons and Lesser Kestrels
  • Vultures – White-faced, White-backed, Lappet-faced, Rüppell’s and Egyptian.
  • Sandgrouse – Black-faced, Four-banded and Lichtenstein’s
  • Nightjars - Donaldson-Smith’s, Freckled, Dusky and Slender-tailed, Montane Nightjar
  • Owls - Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, Northern White-faced Scops Owls, Pearl-spotted Owlet 

Birds at Night

When darkness sets in, nightjars begin their hunt for nocturnal insects. They are best seen when startled by a vehicle’s headlamps. Although hard to tell apart, Nightjars commonly seen in Laikpia are Donaldson-Smith’s, Freckled, Dusky and Slender-tailed. The Montane Nightjar is less common, being more easily found on the slopes of Mount Kenya. Darkness is also the time to scan trees for owls.

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Birds at Dusk

As dusk approaches, Sandgrouse – Black-faced, Four-banded and Lichtenstein’s – can be seen rallying near water. These beautifully patterned birds are known for the long flights they make during the breeding season, over distances as great as 40 km, to water holes, where males saturate specially modified breast feathers to carry water back to their waiting chicks.

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Early Afternoon Birds

Early afternoon is the perfect time to explore the Ewaso Ng’iro, Ewaso Narok, Naro Maro, or Nanyuki Rivers. All these watercourses are prime habitat for the African Fish Eagle, often seen swooping to the water’s surface to snag fish. Grey and Black-headed Herons stand patiently at the water’s edge, waiting to spear unwary frogs or other prey animals. Kingfishers – Giant, Pied and the small, jewel-like Malachite – streak back and forth between riverbanks, or perch motionless on reeds, scanning the shallows for prey.

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Commonly Sighted Birds

Other large terrestrial birds that are hard to miss during a day in Laikipia’s grass and bush lands include five species of Bustard: Black-bellied, White-bellied, Hartlaub’s, Buff-crested and Kori. These stout birds are generally seen striding purposefully through the grasses foraging for seeds, insects and lizards. Bustards are ponderous flyers, making them easy prey for raptors, such as the Tawny and Crowned Eagles that share their habitat. The Kori Bustard is reputedly the heaviest flying bird in tropical Africa, with males weighing as much as 18 kg. Male bustards undergo an extraordinary physical transformation during breeding displays. By lifting feathers and inflating air sacs, they expand their necks to as much as four times their normal size. They add to this spectacle by flipping their tails upward, exposing a large white puff of feathers visible from more than one kilometre away.

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Early Morning Birds

Once the sun has crested the plateau and morning unfolds, Laikipia’s ubiquitous Doves – African Mourning, Red-eyed and Ring-necked, as well as the smaller, more delicate Dusky Turtle and Laughing – begin their various rolling purrs.

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Birds at Dawn

Dawn in Laikipia is a noisy affair. Before the sun touches the plateau, Crested Francolins launch into rounds of strident, repetitive cackles. The force and timing of their daily chorus has earned them the soubriquet ‘East Africa’s alarm clock’. The loud, fluid whistles of White-browed Sparrow Weavers often punctuate the early mornings, especially where colonies are fussing over nests perched precariously at the tips of Acacia branches.

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