Kenya tops Africa bird list again

Saturday November 04 2023

Grey Heron at Michuki Park in Nairobi, Kenya on Global Big Day 8 May 2021. PHOTO | POOL


Kenya topped the birds list yet again in Africa, with 705 types of birds recorded in a global platform that shows real-time data on the distribution and abundance of different species.

On October 14, people from 191 countries celebrated birds for eBird’s October Bid Day. More than 36,000 people contributed 83,735 checklists, setting three new records for the single biggest day in October birding history. Worldwide, 7,528 species were recorded, which is an incredible 72 more species than last October. 

Dubbed the Global Big Day, it is the world’s biggest birding event, held twice a year in May and October since 2015.

The 222 checklists submitted from Kenya placed it ninth globally.

Read: Birders now using eBird app to locate and record species

With millions of birders creating countless lists of the birds they saw or heard, tech-savvy birders at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the US created eBird, a free online database where all these lists are stored on one platform, providing scientists and researchers with real-time data about bird distribution and abundance, which can inform conservation strategies to protect birds, both migratory and resident.


Alex Wang'ombe with a group of 20 birders from Mount Kenya Biodiversity Conservation Group, birding in the low-altitude forests of Mt. Kenya, reported forest species. They also reported the elusive Abbott's Starling found only on East Africa’s highest mountains remained yet again – elusive.

“GBD [Global Big Day] offers us an opportunity to learn and enjoy the diversity and abundance of birds that occur in the Mt. Kenya region and motivates us to reforest degraded forest patches,” he said.

Logging species on her eBird app on her smartphone, Franciscar Amway with the Kenya Women Birders stayed put at the Great Rift Valley Lodge where she is the resident naturalist. Although hoping to log in a ‘lifer’ on the day, that is a bird seen for the first time by the birder, she comments, “Birding contributes towards bird conservation by involving women and children in it which is the start to conservation,” she said.

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The Kenyan who spread his wings to fly to Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of Kenya’s top birders, Joseph Ouma Oluoko.

His bird list is 205 species in DRC, mostly around Lubumbashi on the headwaters of the mighty Congo River.

“I do birding whenever I'm in the DR Congo, although the country is more known for its primates than its birds,” he said.

DRC is the leading African country in primate biodiversity with more than 67 taxa. Globally, it is the fourth richest country in non-human primate species after Brazil, Madagascar, and Indonesia.

The one bird that would really make Mr Ouma’s dream come true is the Congo Peacock in the wild – only found in the central lowland forest of DRC and doubles up as the country’s national bird. It was first noticed by a scientist, Dr. James P. Chapin of the New York Zoological Society, from a feather worn by a Congolese forest dweller, and then in 1934, when Chapin visited the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, and saw two feathers labelled as the 'Indian peacock'. Until then, no one in the outside world knew that Africa had its peacock.

“I’ve only seen it in the zoo in Lubumbashi; and apart from the Congo Peacock, I would also like to see the Miombo Tit, Katanga Masked Weaver and the Lufira Masked Weaver. There may be species of birds new to science because birding isn’t big in DRC, yet it could be the richest country in the continent when it comes to bird species,” comments the Kenyan birder. After all, DRC is home to the Congo rainforest, the river and mighty mountain ranges, as are Peru and Colombia with the amazing Amazon.

Largely due to Mr Ouma’s efforts, DRC is placed in the 45th position with 222 species this GBD. Ouma’s list in Lubumbashi closed at 91 species for the day, the same as Mustafa Adamjee’s birding in Tsavo West National Park which is Kenya’s largest national park.

Good news for the day came from the Dakatcha Woodland Conservation Group. “Early this year, when the long drought was at its worst, we lost track of Clarke's Weavers. No one reported seeing them. Finally, the long rains came and seasonal wetlands began to fill with water. In June, birders rushed to Dakatcha Woodland and saw a large flock – several hundred – in the Kamale Nature Reserve. A few Clarke’s Weavers were still foraging in the forest at the Kibaoni Nature Reserve on the October GBD,” enthused an excited Fleur Ng’weno. In her 80s, the internationally acclaimed ornithologist who started the weekly bird walks from the Nairobi Museum in 1971, has mentored many of Kenya’s top birders.

In March 2013, Mr Ng’weno and her team from the conservation group tracked down Clarke’s Weaver to a seasonal wetland in Dakatcha Woodland, solving the mystery of where the birds nest.

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“Clarke's Weaver is a bird found only in Kenya, and only in Kilifi County at the coast – nowhere else in the world. We can call it the Kilifi Weaver. The nests of Clarke's/Kilifi Weaver have only been found in Dakatcha Woodland, northwest of Malindi,” she said.

Clarke’s Weaver is globally endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of threatened species.

The unbeatable South American giants of the bird world retained their positions – Peru with 1,385 from 2,233 checklists and Colombia a close second with 1,372 from 4,174 checklists. The US submitted the most checklists - 31,927 with 696 species. It came in 10th just below Kenya and yet the US is 17 times larger than Kenya.