DISCOVERY: Hadada ibis sleep longer in birding capital Nairobi

Tuesday May 12 2020

Scarlet chested sunbird at Tsavo West gate in Kenya. Curfews and lockdowns have meant bird calls can be heard more clearly. PHOTO | RUPI MANGAT


Bird calls, especially in cities, have become clearer as curfews and lockdowns become the norm in countries around the world.

“The wake-up call of hadada ibis in my estate in Buru Buru, Nairobi, was always 4.30am, but now because it’s so quiet, it has changed to 6am,” said Jennifer Oduori, a veteran birder and member of the birders’ group at Nature Kenya.

The hadada is a common bird in Nairobi and has one of the loudest calls. It is enjoying the bliss of a quiet sleep during the current curfew in Kenya. Nairobi is the birding capital of the world with more than a thousand species.

Ms Oduori said that there have been new bird species flying into Kenya, which she is trying to identify from pictures sent to her by other birders. More unusual reports are coming in from Kenyan birders, members of Nature Kenya, the country’s oldest natural history society established in 1909.

In late April, Abigail Church sent a video from Nairobi’s Giraffe sanctuary of 1,000 Great white pelicans flying in waves over the city en route to Lake Magadi. Such large numbers had not been seen before and the video went viral among birders.

Meanwhile in Mombasa, Mustafa Adamjee said he “heard a Mangrove kingfisher’s call all night in the middle of Mombasa town where there are few trees, its noisy and full of buildings.”


Mangrove kingfishers are intra-African migrant birds seen along beaches lined with mangroves and coastal bush but rarely in town centres.

The list is endless of unusual bird sightings around the world’s cities, but the far-away port of Mumbai on the natural deep-water harbour of Mumbai in Maharashtra, in India’s largest city, is currently stealing the show.


The waters are turning pink with tens of thousands of flamingos after the country’s nationwide lockdown that has silenced the city. According to Rahul Khot of the Bombay Natural History Society, the flamingos are also spreading to wetlands where they were rarely seen before “because there is no human activity there now.”

According to the British Trust for Ornithology the daily chorus of birds is now more audible in the heart of cities. Birders consider this to be helping the birds be heard by potential mates, which increases breeding success. However, this has to be verified scientifically through continued survey by volunteers.

Birding in Kenya is largely thanks to Fleur Ng’weno of Nature Kenya who in February 1971, started the Wednesday morning bird walks from the Nairobi National Museum. For the past 35 years, the walks have taken place weekly, led mostly by Ms Ng’weno. Nature Kenya has branches almost everywhere in the country.

Despite the walks being suspended for the first time in Kenya, especially during the March-April migration period, Ms Ng’weno is still busy bird watching with her face mask on in the Nairobi Arboretum, Karura Forest and Nairobi National Park as well as other birders in the country and filling in their data diligently.