Discovering birds in Kenya in 2021.

Finding birds in Kenya is pretty easy.Look outside and there they are;Red-eyed Dove calling from a tree outside your balcony; Hadada Ibis powering past,Baglafecht Weaver doing its morning chores,Long-crested Eagle perched on top of electricity poll or Jackson’s Hornbill fighting furiously with  it’s reflection through your car side mirror or Olivaceous Warbler moving constantly above.Look around and there’s a lot more;a screeching flock of Red-fronted Parrot or Hartlaub’s Turaco showing off its magnificent crimson wing.

Ross’s Turaco. Photo by Juhani Vilpo

Keep looking and you keep seeing more but isn’t that the case for most places? Birds are out there but what about the birds we want to see the most? No matter how even-minded we are about seeing birds, even the greatest of Zen birders would still be tempted to make a mad dash for a Solitary Eagle, might forget about the common birds to gaze at a rare passing migrant.

We get great enjoyment out of watching birds, making that daily connection with nature, but we also enjoy seeing something new, testing ourselves in the field, seeing what each of us can discover. This is why we study the best times for birding, think about when and where to go, and get out of bed at some ridiculous early hour. It’s also  why so many birders make their way every year to this East Africa birdy place.

Golden-breasted Starling. Photo by Joseph Aengwo

At the moment, few birders are visiting Kenya but that’s the case for most places and we all know the reason. However, hope is there, waiting on a near horizon. It’s like waiting and holding at a starting line, holding in a limbo place for a gate that will eventually open and when it does, the race is for multi-faceted salvation. We each run at our own pace but as long as we are careful not to trip, not to make anyone fall, helping others along the way, we all reach a finish line where everyone wins.

Flamingos at Lake Bogoria.Photo by Jan F.L Van Duinen

One vaccine very soon, let’s hope it all goes smooth and more becomes available. In the meantime, we can also plan birding trips to Kenya because they are going to happen and the birding will be more exciting than you imagined. Here’s some tips for finding more Kenya  birds in 2021:

Learn About Habitats.

One of the keys to knowing where to watch birds in Kenya .To see certain birds, you need to go to their homes, need to know how to recognize their realms. In Kenya, at the macro scale, this means knowing what the major habitats are and where they occur:

  • Montane Forest-Dry evergreen forests that are found in the highlands and mountain ranges of central and western Kenya. These areas are Mt.Kenya forest reserve and Mt.Kenya National Park, Aberdare National Park, Mau forest, Mt.Elgon and Taita Hills.
  • Coastal Forest-Coastal forests are among the most biologically important forests in Africa,owing to their high plant diversity and many endemic  animal diversity. For this particular time of habitat,I highly recommend that you visit Arabuko Sokoke forest in Kilifi or Malindi and some remnant forest patches in Diani and Ukunda area.
  • Semi-Arid Bushland-Most part of Kenya is hot and dry for much time of the year and is covered by vast expanses of open Acacia and commiphora woodland. Examples of sites exhibiting this kind of Habitat includes; Tsavo West and East National park,Samburu national reserve,Lake Baringo,Bogoria and Magadi, Kerio Valley ,Kongolai Escarpment and Meru national park.
  • Tropical Rain Forest-Kakamega forest is the only remnant of tropical rainforest in Kenya.
  • Intertidal  Wetlands-Intertidal wetlands are areas along the coastline that are submerged by the sea at high tide and exposed at low tide. Mida Creek in Watamu and Sabaki estuary in Malindi are examples of birding sites with these kinds of habitats.
  • Alkaline Lakes-The beautiful soda lakes of the Rift Valley in Kenya are highly saline,hostile environments,which are often fed by hot springs and rivers. Lake Bogoria, Magadi,Nakuru  and Elementaita are examples of such habitat.
  • Freshwater Wetlands-These includes soft water lakes of Lake Victoria,Baringo, Jipe and Naivasha and permanent swamps  and ponds.
  • Highland Grassland -This where you find the tussock grass. This type of grass is ideal habitat for the endemic Sharpe’s Longclaw. Kinangop grassland is a classical example of this habitat.
  • Grassland Savanna-Plain grasslands are found at mid-to low elevations and are characterized by grass expanses with scattering trees are riverine woodlands. Masai Mara Game Reserve is a renowned example of this habitat.
  • Semi-desert Drylands-Water is scarce in these rocky drylands,and animals found here are adapted to survive with little water.The drive from Isiolo all the way north Marsabit and North Horr to Loyangalani at east shores of Lake Turkana provides this invaluable habitat.

Learn Which Birds are Common, Which are Rare

Speaking of the Zen birding approach, the path is easier to follow when you have some idea about abundance and how easy or difficult it might be to see so and so species. This will then help you to figure out your target species and design a strategy to find them in a very convenient way.

Sokoke Scops Owl. Photo by Joseph Aengwo

Don’t Expect to See Everything

These  go for birding anywhere. However, it’s still worth mentioning because it’ so easy to want to see a bird so much that you end up kind of expecting to see it during the trip. Remember to keep it easy and enjoy every bird that fits itself into your field of view. Remember that some  bird species in Kenya is naturally rare and/or naturally tough to see. Also remember that the more birding you do in large areas of mature forest, the more likely you will run into the rare ones.

Crowned Eagle.Photo by Juhani Vilpo

Consider Hiring a Local Guide

And that previous bit of information is why it’s so worth it to hire a local guide. Not just any guide either but someone who knows the local birds very well. Even so, not every guide will know where or how to see birds in Kenya or even the secretive Sokoke Scops Owl. Granted, some of those species are naturally difficult to find and require some serious time to locate but as with any place, the more experienced the guide, the more likely your chances are of finding rare target species. I should also mention that as with any place, in Kenya , although many guides are experienced, a few stand out because they stay up to date on the latest in bird identification, where certain birds are found, and know about sites that are off the beaten track. Many guides will work out fine but if you want to have a better chance at  rare birds, those few, highly experienced guides are the ones to hire.

Hartlaub’s Turaco (Tauraco hartlaubi)

DSCN0894Hartlaub's TuracoHartlaub's Turaco photo

Hartlaub’s Turaco is a beautiful bird to watch!!! it will surely take your breath away if at all you are seeing it for first time. Hartlaub’s  Turaco dominates the montane forest of Kenya with its range slightly extending to Northern Tanzania and Western Uganda in East Africa.

Hartlaub’s turaco is a spectacularly patterned, medium-sized bird with a strong, curved bill, short, rounded wings and a rather long tail. The vivid plumage of Hartlaub’s turaco, is a product of two unique copper pigments, unknown in any other bird family, or indeed in any other animal group. The adult has a bushy, blue-black crest and a conspicuous red eye-ring, with a distinctive white patch immediately in front of the eye and a white line beneath the eye. Much of the upper body, including the neck, mantle, throat and breast is silky green, while the lower back, folded wings, and tail are an iridescent violet-blue, Visible only in flight, the flight feathers are a striking crimson. Like all Turacos, the feet of Hartlaub’s turaco have a special joint that allows the outer toe to move either forward or backward, an attribute that enables these birds to move acutely through vegetation.

Best location to look for this species in Kenya includes, Mt. Kenya forest reserve, Aberdare National Park, Nairobi National Park, Taita and Tugen Hills. In Kenya , other than the Hartlaub’s  Turaco, we have have Great Blue and Black-billed Turaco restricted to Kakamega tropical rain forest. Others are Ross’s, Purple-crested, Schalow’s, and Fisher’s Turaco.


Northern crombec (Sylvietta brachyura)

Northern Crombec (Sylvietta brachyura)_20180110_082131_75702
Photo by Juhani Vilpo

Northern Crombec is a species of African Warbler. This species is listed on IUCN red list as a near threatened species, but is evaluated as least concern. This species as an incredible short tailed, that sometimes you might tempted to assume that is has no tail. This crombec construct deep pocket shaped nests suspended from a branch and is mostly made of cob web materials .

This is commonly seen alone or in a small group of upto 5 species, but they also found feeding in a mixed flock of species. In Kenya it can easily be seen in arid and semi-arid areas of Samburu national reserve, Lake Baringo, Lake Bogoria, Tsavo East and West national park.

Yellow-throated Sandgrouse (Pterocles gutturalis)

Yellow-throated Sandgrouse (Pterocles gutturalis)

Photo@Raymond Galea

Yellow-throated Sandgrouse is a sexual diamorphic species The female and male both have a buff-yellow chin and throat. The male is olive-brown and unspotted with a black collar on its foreneck. Upper wing-coverts are tipped with a light cinnamon and flight feathers are blackish brown. highs and belly are a dark chestnut. Females are mottled with fine black bars on their chestnut belly.These monogamous birds are also solitary nesters. They lay two to three eggs during the winter. The female incubates the eggs during the day and the male incubates them at night, for a total of 26 days. The female and male both care for the chicks when they hatch.They are seed and grains eaters.The bird appearing above was photographed inside Ngorongoro Crater.The yellow-throated sandgrouse is the largest of the five Kenyan Sandgrouses.In Kenya it is best seen in areas found in Southern part of the Country around Amboseli, Masai Mara and Tsavo west national park.

Friedmann’s Lark (Mirafra pulpa)

Friedmann's Lark (Mirafra pulpa)

Photo@Joseph Aengwo

Friedmann’s Lark is a rare bird resembling Singing Bush Lark but more richly coloured and more heavily streaked above, especially on nape and upper back, streaking enhanced in fresh plumage by broad pale feather edges; superciliary stripes somewhat  less prominent . Singing birds readily distinguished vocally and y prominent white throat. Gregarious territorial birds share habitat with Singing Bush Lark, Red-winged and Flappet Lark.It has a tendency of elevating crown feathers when singing, leaning forwards and fluffing out  the white throat. Tsavo West and East National Park are the only places you have an high chance of seeing them.