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The 50 Most Common Birds in Kenya

common birds in kenya
Lilac-breasted Roller, Kenya’s (unofficial) national bird: Photo by Nathan Mixon

Introduction to the Common Birds in Kenya

Welcome to Kenya, one of the great birding countries! With over 1,100 species recorded in the East African country, Kenya never fails to impress when it comes to birdlife. From the unmistakeable ostriches to the ever-challenging cisticolas, Kenya’s birds cover the spectrums of size, shape, and color.

Having grown up and spent most of my life (and most of my birding) here, I’m happy to share this guide to our 50 most common birds. This list covers most of the birds you’re likely to see across much (if not all) of the country and provides a good starting point for anyone who is planning on birding in Kenya for the first time. Hopefully this will help you learn to confidently ID these common birds and get out in Kenya!

Most Common Birds in Kenya

Jump to a species!

Common Bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus)

The Common Bulbul – a much maligned and oft-ignored bird, very aptly described as “common.” There is no bird you are likelier to encounter in any given place in Kenya than this bird. Common Bulbuls are the most widespread bird species in Africa ranging from South Africa all the way to the continent’s Mediterranean coastline.

  • Features: This bulbul has a pointed head and dark brown top, sometimes with a small white spot near its cheeks. Its eyes are surrounded by black, and its body is mostly dark grey-brown. Its wings and tail are black with some brown. Its throat is dark brown, fading to lighter colors on the body, which is mainly grey. The feathers under its tail are white with faint grey streaks. Its eyes can be red-brown or dark brown, its bill is black, and its legs are black or brown. Males and females look alike, but females are usually smaller.
  • Behavior: Mainly feeding on fruit, along with arthropods, nectar, flowers, and occasionally seeds, as well as some small vertebrates. It consumes a wide variety of fruit types. This bird is monogamous and nests alone. During the breeding season, it becomes territorial, with the male singing persistently for about 30-40 minutes at dawn from prominent perches, and sporadically throughout the rest of the day but for shorter periods.
  • Habitat: This bird lives, well, just about everywhere. It lives in forests or bushy areas with lots of fruit trees or bushes. It avoids very dense forests, open grasslands without bushes, and deserts without trees. It especially likes places near rivers and can go into deserts, forests, and woodlands along streams. It prefers staying near the edges of forests but sometimes goes into the upper parts of older forests to find fruit. You might see it in areas where forests have been cut down for houses or where new forests are growing back, like overgrown spots with certain trees and plants. It can also move into forested areas along roads where trees have been cut, and it settles in clearings and camps created by people, usually within a few years.
  • Range: As you would expect with the most common bird in the country, Common Bulbuls can be found just about anywhere in Kenya. There aren’t too many records from the northeast and that may be because that is the too dry of a habitat, but it is just as likely that there just isn’t enough data for that region. Yet. Kenya has three subspecies present: P. b. tricolor is found more centrally; P. b. layardi is regular in southeast Kenya, particularly the Taveta area; and P. b. dodsoni occurs also in the south, from Tsavo to the coast, north to the Somali border.

Superb Starling (Lamprotornis superbus)

Superstar birds, Superb Starlings absolutely live up to their name – at least in appearance. They can be a bit pesky, often getting overly-friendly at camp- and picnic-sites, but goodness, are they beautiful or what?

  • Features: A small starling with a short tail and unique coloring. Its crown and ear-coverts are bronzy black, while its nape, mantle, back, and rump shine in glossy blue-green tones, with a bluish hue on the nape. The upperwing has a metallic green sheen, with dark black spots on the tips of the coverts. The tail also gleams in blue-green. Its chin, throat, and breast are a glossy blue-green, separated from the chestnut-brown belly, flanks, and thighs by a thin white band. The undertail-coverts and underwing-coverts are white, and its iris is creamy white. Its bill and legs are black.
  • Behavior: The main diet consists of insects, including beetles, ants, flies, termites, grasshoppers, mantids, and caterpillars, along with berries and small fruits. This bird’s song is often heard for long periods from trees in the shade during the hottest parts of the day. While primarily monogamous, females may also seek extra-pair copulations, especially when fewer helpers are available within the group.
  • Habitat: This bird inhabits open woodlands, even in very dry regions, as well as woodlands along lakeshores, cultivated areas, gardens, and areas where people live. It can be found at altitudes of up to 3000 meters. While it usually stays away from humid lowlands, it can still be found along the northern coast of Kenya.
  • Range: These stunners are seen all over the country, even in the dry north and east, though slightly less frequent in the west, until you reach Lake Victoria.

Hadada Ibis (Bostrychia hagedash)

The Hadada Ibis is a most familiar bird in Kenyan gardens and parks. Strange-looking and curious, these birds are also Nairobi’s alarm clock, ringing in the day every morning with their raucous calls. (Frederick Jackson, who served as Governor of Uganda at the turn of the century and was an early expert on the birds of East Africa, described those calls as resembling the eerie mocking laughter of a witch – and he ain’t wrong.) You really gain a love-hate relationship with these ibises the longer you stay in Kenya.

  • Features: This bird is easily recognized by its red base at the culmen and the absence of a crest. Its overall coloration can vary from greyer to more olive-brown, depending on the subspecies. Similar to birds in the Threskiornis genus (see African Sacred Ibis below), its axillaries frequently extend beyond the folded wing when the bird is standing.
  • Behavior: Primarily, it feeds on insects, particularly flies, moth pupae, and beetle larvae, along with crustaceans, millipedes, centipedes, spiders, earthworms, snails, and small reptiles. It also consumes frogs. It forages by picking prey from the surface or probing into soft ground. During courtship, a ritual involves quivering of the half-open bill and tapping each other’s bills. The breeding season lasts a long time, typically reaching its peak during and after the main rains.
  • Habitat: Naturally, this bird is found in open grasslands and savannas, particularly near wooded streams and riverbanks. It’s also seen, though less commonly, in marshes, along lake edges, in mangroves, and on beaches. Additionally, it can be found in open woodlands and at the edges of forests. This species has successfully adapted to human-altered environments, particularly in southern and eastern Africa, where it’s found in irrigated farmland, on sports fields, and on lawns in spacious gardens.
  • Range: In Kenya, the subspecies B. h. brevirostris occurs. They range across virtually the entire country, although they are less common the further north and east you travel, as the habitat dries out.

Ring-necked Dove (Streptopelia capicola)

The call of the Ring-necked Dove is one of my favorite, probably mostly for nostalgic reasons. It’s common phrase (often written as, “Good MORning, good MORning”) is a familiar morning sound, particularly in bushy or savannah areas.

  • Features: The forehead and face are light bluish-grey, with a dark crown and a thin black band extending from the bill to the eye. The throat is white, while the nape, sides, and front of the neck have a pinkish-grey hue. A black half-collar runs across the back of the neck. The mantle, scapulars, and inner wing-coverts are brown, blending into bluish-grey on the outer wing-coverts, rump, and upper tail-coverts. The underwing is dark bluish-grey. Its iris is dark brown, the skin around the eyes is yellow, its bill is black to purplish-black, and its legs are reddish-purple or greyish-purple.
  • Behavior: Primarily feeding on seeds, this bird also consumes various invertebrates such as aphids, locust nymphs, earthworms, termites, and weevils, as well as the rhizomes of nut grass. While most of its food is gathered from the ground, it’s not uncommon to see these birds perching on sorghum plants to extract seeds.
  • Habitat: Thrives in woodland and open savannas with scattered trees, and can also be found in plantations, farmland, and often around villages. It tends to avoid dense forests.
  • Range: In Kenya, two subspecies occur. In most of the country, S. c. tropicola can be found in suitable habitat. S. c. somalica is found in the northern-most parts of the country.

Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca)

It’s not a true goose, but it’s also not a duck. And it’s also hardly native to Egypt, if at all. A misnomer in many ways, the Egyptian Goose is a widespread, odd-looking, but beautiful bird. Similar to the Hadada Ibis (see above), the Egyptian Goose has a call that is hard to miss and common across much of the country, including urban areas.

  • Features: The adult plumage typically appears grayish-tan with a noticeable brown mask around the eye and a small brown patch on the breast. The primaries, rectrices, and rump are black, while the secondaries display an iridescent green hue. The bill, legs, and feet are pink, and both the upperwing and underwing coverts are white, making them stand out in flight. The eyes are orange. Immature birds do not have the brown eye-patch or the brown patch on the breast, and their upperwing appears sooty in coloration.
  • Behavior: At ease on land, this bird walks proficiently and commonly perches in trees or on human-made structures like roofs, docks, and poles. It tends to rest more often on land than on water. A robust flier, Egyptian Geese can display high levels of aggression, particularly during nesting periods. They form monogamous pair bonds that can endure for a lifetime in some cases.
  • Habitat: Prefers various wetland habitats such as dams, rivers, lakes, estuaries, marshes, and ponds, often found in open landscapes but avoiding dense forests. It also frequents meadows and grasslands. While it seldom ventures into the sea, it frequently forages along shorelines in certain regions.
  • Range: In Kenya, Egyptian Geese can be found pretty much everywhere if suitable habitat is present.

African Pied Wagtail (Motacilla aguimp)

The booty-shakers of the Kenyan garden, African Pied Wagtails are lovely and familiar birds. They are aptly named “wagtails” for their habit of constantly bobbing the tail.

  • Features: In breeding plumage, the male has a wide white stripe from the base of the bill to behind the eye, with a square white patch on the neck. The forehead, nape, and ear areas are black. The back, mantle, and scapulars are black, with a greyish-black rump and black uppertail-coverts. The primaries are black with narrow white tips and a large white base, while the secondaries have broad white tips. The tail is black, with some white feathers. The underparts are mostly white with a black band across the chest and black blotches on the sides. The underwing-coverts are white, and the eyes, bill, and legs are black.
  • Behavior: The diet consists of a diverse range of small land and water-based invertebrates, primarily insects. It forages by walking and picking prey from the ground or low vegetation, darting forward to capture prey, and jumping up to catch insects. Occasionally, it hovers over water to catch insects from the surface. During the non-breeding season, flocks of up to 100 birds may gather at preferred feeding spots, such as sewage farms, where individuals and small groups feed close together. It has the ability to imitate other species, including the Common Bulbul (see above).
  • Habitat: In humid tropical regions, this bird is commonly found near human settlements, such as farms, villages, towns, and cities, often perching on roofs and roads or frequenting parks and garden lawns. It can also be seen around reservoirs, lakes, coastal lagoons, sewage ponds, and sandy or rocky areas along rivers. In drier regions, it is mostly limited to perennial rivers with rocks and sandbanks and other permanent waterbodies like reservoirs. It can be found at sea level up to moderate elevations, reaching up to 3000 meters in East Africa. During the non-breeding season, it forms communal roosts in trees, buildings, and even on boats.
  • Range: In Kenya, the subspecies M. a. vidua can be found all over the country but, like many of these birds, with fewer, if any, records in the northeast.

Fork-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus adsimilis)

If you see a small, black bird perched on a low branch in a relatively open area, flicking its forked tail constantly, this is most likely your bird. Or if you hear something that sounds like R2-D2, this is most likely your bird.

  • Features: This drongo is widespread and easily noticeable, with mostly black plumage that shines blue-green on the head, upperparts, breast, and flanks. Its upperwings have a subtle greenish gloss, and the flight feathers are slightly browner than the rest of the wing. The belly and undertail-coverts are also black, and its tail is long and deeply forked, with some variations among different groups. Its iris is red, and both its bill and legs are black.
  • Behavior: This bird typically perches upright on a prominent branch, darting out to catch large insects in the air, on vegetation, or on the ground, often returning to the same perch. It occasionally forages on the ground, holding large prey with its claws and tearing them apart with its bill; it often removes the wings of butterflies before swallowing them. Bold and fearless, it may steal food from other birds. Its diet mainly consists of large insects such as moths, caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles, cicadas, winged ants, termites, wasps, and bees, sometimes even reported near beehives. It forms monogamous pairs and aggressively defends its territory against other drongos, as well as chasing and mobbing nest predators including birds of prey, crows, hornbills, and shrikes, sometimes even clinging to their backs and pecking at them in flight. Additionally, it pursues and attacks small mammals and large snakes. Partners often perch together and engage in duets and displays, often involving head bowing and bobbing.
  • Habitat: This bird is found in various wooded habitats, excluding dense forests, mostly from sea level to low hills. These habitats include open woodlands, both moist and dry savannas, riverine woodlands, orchards, and tree plantations. It is also commonly seen in agricultural areas and grasslands with scattered trees, as well as along roadsides with wires or other perches. Additionally, it frequents city parks, gardens, and exotic plantations.
  • Range: Kenya has two subspecies: D. a. fugax is the most widespread, ranging across almost all of the country. The other subspecies, D. a. lugubris can be found rarely in the north of Kenya.

Pied Crow (Corvus albus)

Kenya’s most common corvid species, Pied Crows are a close second to Hadada Ibises in terms of obnoxious, noisy calls.

  • Features: This large bird, similar to a crow, has a moderately long tail that tapers towards the end. Its throat feathers are slightly elongated and pointed. Its head, neck, and upper chest are black with a glossy blue and purple sheen, contrasting with a white collar on its upper back that widens to cover its breast and front flanks, extending slightly onto the underarm feathers. The rest of its upper and underparts are black but less glossy, with its wings and tail also black but shining with blue and purple. Its eyes are dark brown, and both its bill and legs are black.
  • Behavior: This bird has a diverse diet, feeding on various invertebrates like spiders, ticks, beetles, termites, grasshoppers, and mollusks. It also consumes small vertebrates such as frogs, lizards, rodents, fish, and small birds. It’s capable of catching locusts, small birds, and bats in flight, and has been known to attack sickly newborn lambs. Often seen by roadsides, it scavenges at rubbish bins and dumps. It raids bird nests, including heronries, to steal nestlings and eggs, and can even carry away entire nests to eat elsewhere. It follows bushfires to catch fleeing insects and accompanies cattle and other animals to remove parasites. Sometimes, it drops stones from a height to crack open ostrich eggs. Known to hide food in sand under coconut palms, it forages in pairs or small groups, sometimes joining larger flocks when food is abundant. It roosts communally in large tree stands, particularly in urban parks, where hundreds or even thousands may gather.
  • Habitat: This bird is commonly found in open landscapes such as grasslands, open woodlands, forest clearings, savannas, riverbanks, and lakeshores. It’s often seen around human settlements, foraging near farms, villages, towns, and cities. It frequently visits garbage dumps and slaughterhouses. However, it tends to avoid dense forests, deserts, and very mountainous areas.
  • Range: Pied Crows are regular throughout the entire country – that’s why they’re on this list.

Black (Yellow-billed) Kite (Milvus migrans)

There’s an easy trick to finding one of these birds: stand in an open field in Nairobi and hold up a piece of food, perhaps a sausage or piece of pizza. If you’re lucky (and stupid) enough, a kite will come and take your snack – and maybe one of your fingers.

  • Features: This bird is primarily reddish-brown in color, with a tail that is brown and only slightly forked. Juveniles tend to be lighter in color and have more distinct markings, with a higher contrast pattern. Different subspecies vary, particularly in bill color, as well as in plumage and size. The subspecies found in Kenya, known as parasitus, has a more cinnamon-rufous belly and always has a yellow bill as an adult.
  • Behavior: Highly adaptable, this bird has become closely associated with humans. It feeds on a wide range of animal remains such as offal from abattoirs or fisheries, garbage, scraps, and carrion. It also hunts live prey including small mammals like voles, moles, and young rabbits, as well as small birds, fish, lizards, amphibians, and various invertebrates such as grasshoppers, locusts, beetles, and earthworms. Fish are an important part of its diet, often small or dead ones, and invertebrates can also be significant depending on the local or seasonal availability. Interestingly, it sometimes consumes vegetable matter, particularly oil-palm fruits. It catches prey on the ground or in water, and can also catch large insects in mid-air and eat them while flying.
  • Habitat: This bird is widespread, found in semi-deserts, grasslands, savannas, and woodlands, but it avoids dense forests. Wooded areas are particularly important for nesting and roosting. It’s commonly seen in aquatic habitats such as rivers, lakes, wetlands, and seashores, as well as in nearby meadows and along wetland margins. Surprisingly, it can also thrive in arid regions. It often associates with humans to varying degrees, often seen in suburbs, harbors, villages, and nomads’ camps. Remarkably, it has successfully colonized large urban areas throughout Africa.
  • Range: Primarily migratory, this bird tends to show some nomadic or dispersal behavior after breeding. Kenya has three subspecies. The nominate species, M. m. migrans, is notably migratory, spending its winters mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, venturing to Kenya and as far south as South Africa. Two yellow-billed subspecies, M. m. aegyptius and M. m. parasitus, are resident in Kenya – parasitus is more widespread across the whole country, while aegyptius is found mostly along the coast.

African Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus)

If you’re looking for a diva in bird form, perhaps this is your answer. The African Sacred Ibis was revered and seen as a god in ancient Egypt, specifically the god Thoth, and was supposed to protect the land from plagues. They were so revered that birds were actually mummified and buried – with the pharaohs.

  • Features: This bird has the thickest bill among the birds in its genus, Threskiornis. Its primaries and secondaries have black tips. It features a patch of bare red skin on its upperwing, underwing, and adjacent breast and flanks. During the breeding season, it stands out from similar species due to its bare skin extending to the base of the neck, sometimes with a loose sac of skin hanging. Additionally, it has black ornamental plumes. Its legs and feet are black, with a reddish tinge on the legs.
  • Behavior: This bird primarily feeds on insects like grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, and aquatic beetles. It also consumes crustaceans, worms, mollusks, fish, frogs, lizards, and small mammals, and occasionally eats bird and crocodile eggs. It typically feeds during the day in groups of 2 to 20 birds, although sometimes as many as 300 and even exceptionally 500. It moves slowly, walking and pecking or probing for live prey in mud or soft ground.
  • Habitat: This bird has a diverse habitat range, primarily favoring the edges of inland freshwater wetlands, sewage works, grasslands, cultivated fields, coastal lagoons, intertidal areas, and offshore islands. It’s also commonly found in human-influenced environments such as farmyards, abattoirs, and refuse dumps on the outskirts of towns. Occasionally, it can be seen far from water sources, especially in recently burned areas.
  • Range: Similar to the Hadada Ibis, but perhaps less frequent in urban gardens, Sacred Ibises are found all over Kenya.

White-browed Sparrow-Weaver (Plocepasser mahali)

White-browed Sparrow-Weavers are probably Kenya’s most common and widespread weaver species. You can find them not only out in the bush, but regularly nesting in urban areas and neighborhoods.

  • Features: This large weaver resembles a sparrow, with a broad white stripe around its eyes and a white patch on its rump. In its melanorhynchus subspecies, the forehead and crown are chocolate-brown, with a wide white eyebrow, brown cheeks, and ear-coverts, and a blackish stripe running down the face. The nape to the back and mantle are brown, lighter than the crown, while the rump and uppertail-coverts are white. Its upperwing and tail are brown, with white tips on the feathers, creating bold wingbars on the greater and median wing-coverts, and narrow pale edges on the remiges, and broader ones on the tertials and inner secondaries. It has a white underbelly, with some buffy coloring on the flanks. Its eyes are a rich chestnut-brown to dark brown, its bill is pale brown or black (potentially changing seasonally), and its legs are brown. It has earthy-brown upperparts and black marks on the sides of the breast that connect with the malar stripe.
  • Behavior: This bird’s diet consists of insects and seeds, with the proportion of insect food changing depending on the region and season. It primarily forages on the ground, chasing prey by running or hopping, and searches for food under stones, dung pats, and vegetation. It also catches insects, particularly termite alates, by hawking. This species is monogamous, with the dominant breeding pair leading a small territorial group of 5 to 9 individuals, occasionally up to 20, in a cooperative breeding system involving helpers.
  • Habitat: This bird lives in open savannas in Kenya, dominated by acacia trees, typically found in regions where the annual rainfall exceeds 600 mm. It is usually found at altitudes below 1400 m but can be found locally at elevations up to 1900 m.
  • Range: Favoring generally drier or open habitat, most of Kenya fits this bill for the sparrow-weavers. Other than the highlands in central Kenya, these birds, in Kenya the subspecies P. m. melanorhynchus can be found just about anywhere in the country.

Variable Sunbird (Cinnyris venustus)

Kenya has a lot of sunbirds. A lot. Variable sunbirds are probably the first species you will encounter once in Kenya. They seem to be the most abundant urban and garden sunbird species and they’re always a pleasure to see.

  • Features: Three subspecies are in Kenya. There are two yellow-bellied forms: Male C. v. falkensteini birds have a deeper yellow coloration on their undersides compared to the nominate variety. In eclipse plumage, which not all males acquire, they retain more metallic feathers, losing only 10-20%, and develop dusky feathers on the crown and chest. Immature males at the end of their first year develop plumage with only 50-80% of the full metallic coloration, becoming fully mature after their third molt, typically at the end of their second year. Male C. v. fazoqlensis birds resemble the falkensteini form but have metallic green coloration on the throat above the purple breast instead of purple-blue. In the white-bellied C.v. albiventris, male birds have white undersides, while females have grey-brown upperparts with faint streaking on the throat and breast, and off-white undersides.
  • Behavior: This bird feeds on nectar, insects, and spiders. It forages alone, in pairs, and sometimes in small groups, and it may also join mixed-species flocks. It searches leaves for insects, probes and hovers in front of flowers to feed on nectar, and catches insects while flying. Additionally, it drinks from birdbaths.
  • Habitat: This bird can be found in a variety of habitats including thornbush savannas, brachystegia woodlands, forests, forest edges, wooded ravines, farmland, parks, open coastal areas, mangroves, coconut plantations, rocky outcrops (inselbergs), montane savannas, slopes with proteas, and even gardens in urban areas.
  • Range: Less common in the east of the country, these sunbirds are otherwise widespread and common across the country.

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

There is no swallow species more widespread globally than the Barn Swallow. In fact, no passerine species is thought to have a larger distribution across the world. There have even been records of Barn Swallows in Antarctica!

  • Features: The Barn Swallow is a medium-sized bird. It has a distinctive long, forked tail. Males and females look alike, but males have longer outer tail feathers than females. Throughout the year, adults maintain the same appearance. In their main plumage, adult males of the nominate subspecies (rustica) have a rufous-chestnut forehead, glossy steel-blue crown and upperparts, and black wings and tail. They also have white patches on the inner parts of their tail feathers, except for the innermost pair. Their outer tail feathers are much longer. Their throat is rufous-chestnut, with a wide steel-blue band across the breast, while the rest of the underparts, including the undertail coverts and underwing coverts, are creamy or buffy white. Adult females look similar but are less shiny and have shorter tail feathers.
  • Behavior: In the Old World, the Barn Swallow is primarily a long-distance migrant. Birds from northern and central Europe migrate to southern and southwestern Africa, passing through Kenya, with some birds staying throughout the Palearctic winter. This bird migrates during the day, but it might also migrate at night, especially when crossing large bodies of water. Throughout the year, they feed on flying insects, often foraging in open areas like grassy pastures, plowed fields, and around farmyards and domestic animals. They typically avoid going to the ground except for collecting mud, grass, or feathers for their nests, picking up gravel or moribund insects, sunbathing, or seeking refuge from strong winds. When flying, they tend to have longer periods of straight flight compared to other swallow species. They may make slight adjustments to their course, but these shifts usually balance out, resulting in a mostly straight path.
  • Habitat: During the winter months in Africa, the nominate subspecies is commonly found near wetlands.
  • Range: Being passage and overwintering migrants from the north, Barn Swallows can really be observed anywhere in the country. Obviously more common in the Palearctic winter months, but some populations are resident in Kenya. Most birds in Kenya are of the nominate subspecies but occasionally the country will receive migrants of the form, H. r. transitiva.

Little Swift (Apus affinis)

Little Swifts are some of Kenya’s most vocal swifts, constantly making noise as they zoom about their nests. Their cute, pudgy bodies make these a favorite swift species of mine.

  • Features: This swift is small with a relatively stocky body, blunt wing-tips, and a square tail. It is mostly black with a slightly lighter forehead and upper tail-coverts. A prominent feature is its broad white patch on the rump, which extends onto the lower flanks. The underparts are blackish, except for the inner wings and a rounded white patch on the throat. It stands out from other swifts due to its square-ended tail and broader rump patch.
  • Behavior: Little Swifts in Africa have been observed feeding on flies, termites, ants, beetles, grasshoppers, and even dragonflies. They are highly social birds and often gather with other members of the Swift family. These birds are known for their vocal nature, and their calls are easily heard. This is partly because they are one of the more vocal Swift species, but also because they commonly nest and roost in colonies in urban areas inhabited by humans (the Village Market mall in Nairobi is an easy place to watch them come in to roost in the evenings).
  • Habitat: This bird can be found across various habitats and latitudes, although it’s less common in extremely dry areas and typically prefers areas near human settlements. In Kenya, it has been observed up to 3000 meters in elevation.
  • Range: Little Swifts can generally be seen all over the country with fewer records in, you guessed it, the northeast.

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)

One of Kenya’s several large heron species. Not a Grey-headed Heron, not a Grey-necked Heron – just a Grey Heron. Get it right.

  • Features: The bird has a white forehead, crown, and throat, along with a wide black eyestripe extending from above the eye to the back of the crown, forming crest plumes during the breeding season. The foreneck is grayish-white with two broken black streaks along the middle line. Its upper back and hindneck are pale gray, while the lower back and upper wings are blue-gray. The flight feathers are dark gray to black, with gray to whitish underwings and a black shoulder patch. Its flanks and tail are gray, while the belly-sides are black. The rest of the underparts range from pale gray to white. It has a long, heavy yellow bill with a dull brown tint, yellow eyes and lores, and brownish-yellow legs and feet. These features turn deep orange to red during the breeding season.
  • Behavior: The primary diet consists of fish, although it may vary based on habitat and time of year, as this species is highly adaptable. It also consumes amphibians, crabs, young turtles, mollusks, crustaceans, aquatic insects, snakes, and small rodents. It usually nests in colonies, with typically 2–10 nests per group, and often joins mixed colonies of hundreds or even thousands of pairs.
  • Habitat: Highly adaptable, this bird can be found in various types of shallow water, whether it’s fresh, brackish, or salty. It needs water that remains unfrozen for at least 4–5 months each year. While it generally prefers areas with trees, some subspecies, like monicae, don’t rely on trees for habitat. It thrives both inland and along the coast, frequenting rivers, lakes, marshes, floodplains, rice fields, fishponds, and other water bodies. It also inhabits coastal areas such as deltas, estuaries, tidal mudflats, and mangroves.
  • Range: Find a decent body of water – or even just some marshy spots with tall grass – anywhere in Kenya and you’re likely to find a Grey Heron.

Black-headed Heron (Ardea melanocephala)

Often confused with the Grey Heron, Black-headed Herons can be distinguished by their, well, black heads. Their dark, dual-toned beaks also stand out from they Grey’s yellow beaks. They’re also less pretentious.

  • Features: This bird is smaller and more slender than the A. cinerea, and it’s easy to tell them apart by the black coloration on its head and neck. In flight, it displays a two-tone wing pattern, with black flight feathers and white underwing-coverts. Its bill is shorter, deeper, and clearly two-colored. There is some variation in appearance: the wings and back can be much paler, emphasizing the black coloration of the head and neck, including the plumes. The extent of white on the bird can vary, with some lacking a white patch on the foreneck, while others have no white at all. In some individuals, the lower throat may be rufous in color. Its bill is black on the upper part and greenish-yellow on the mandible, with black legs and feet, and yellow eyes that turn orange and then red during the breeding season. The area around the eyes is yellow and green. Occasionally, a very rare dark morph can be found, which has entirely black underparts.
  • Behavior: It eats a variety of animals, both on land and in water, including rodents like rats, water voles, and musk-shrews, insects such as grasshoppers and locusts, lizards, earthworms, blind worms, snakes, frogs, birds, spiders, crabs, and fish. It also scavenges for food. It typically nests in small mixed colonies.
  • Habitat: Primarily found on land and less frequently in wetlands compared to other herons, this species prefers damp, open pasturelands, occasionally even far from water sources. It can also be found in moist grasslands, partially flooded areas, marshes, river margins, freshwater and alkaline lakes, cultivated lands, estuaries, coastal regions, and forest clearings.
  • Range: These birds are very widespread in Kenya, but generally don’t live in the hot, dry northeast.

Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)

In Kenya, these birds could just as well be called “Buffalo Egrets” or “Elephant Egrets,” considering they are not particular to the large animals they follow around in tall grass, snatching up the insects disturbed by the mammals’ movements. (In fact, I think it is sometimes called the “Elephant Bird” or “Rhinoceros Egret.”)

  • Features: This egret is white in color, with a sturdy build and a short neck. It often gathers with large grazing animals in fields and pastures. It bobs its head as it walks. Males and females look alike, but during breeding season, the males have slightly longer plumes than females. Typically, its feathers are white, but during breeding, it develops orange-buff plumes on its breast (lower foreneck), head (from forehead to nape), and lower back.
  • Behavior: The Western Cattle Egret eats a wide variety of food, mainly insects like grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, flies, frogs, and moths, depending on where it is and the time of year. It often looks for food near grazing cattle or other animals, catching the insects that are stirred up by the animals’ movement, but it also searches for food near water or in fields where there has been burning or cutting. Originally, it evolved in Africa, where it mainly followed African buffalo for food. But now, it feeds off different animals depending on where it is, including camels, elephants, and domestic animals like cattle, horses, and sheep. It sometimes catches insects that are fleeing from fires.
  • Habitat: The Western Cattle Egret typically nests in colonies established by other heron species, choosing from a variety of habitats with diverse vegetation. These habitats include coastal barrier islands, marshes, dredge-material islands, the periphery and islands of reservoirs, lakes, and quarries, wetlands, swamps, and wooded areas near rivers and in uplands, with or without dense undergrowth.
  • Range: Honestly, try not finding these birds anywhere in Kenya that has tall grass or water or cows (or other similarly large or larger mammals). I’ll bet you can’t.

Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumenifer)

Huge, dump-loving storks that you’d hope are not also delivering babies, Marabou Storks are icons of Kenyan birdlife. Considered esteemed members of “The Ugly Five” (which also includes vultures, warthogs, hyenas, and the wildebeest), these birds are the ultimate scavenger. They spend so much time in rubbish or decaying carcasses that they have adapted the habit of urinating on their legs to protect them from disease. Yeah – their habits are so gross that peeing on themselves somehow improves the situation.

  • Features: These are massive birds. Males are typically larger in size. It’s the only bird in its group with a dark-colored iris. Their legs are actually black, though they often appear white due to their habit of covering them in the uric acid they secrete. Immature birds have less vibrant upper feathers and more feathers on their necks.
  • Behavior: The diet is diverse and adaptable. It includes carrion and leftovers, like discarded fish, found near human areas such as refuse dumps and slaughterhouses. Sometimes, it joins vultures at large animal carcasses, but its bill isn’t designed for tearing apart carcasses. Instead, it often steals food from vultures or picks up dropped bits. Both males and females use bill clattering, making a loud, hollow sound, in various situations.
  • Habitat: It’s often found in open, dry savannas, grasslands, swamps, riverbanks, and lakeshores. It’s rarely seen in forests or deserts. In East and Central Africa, it’s commonly found near human settlements, like fishing villages, as well as around slaughterhouses and garbage dumps.
  • Range: Common and fairly regular throughout the country.

Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus)

Kenya’s unofficial national bird. The Lilac-breasted Roller is about as beautiful a bird as one can find. They are thought to have as many as eight different colors in their plumage, as that’s just what the human eye can see.

  • Features: A small bird with a long tail that streams behind in flight. It has a white forehead and stripes above the eyes, with a shiny olive-green top of the head and neck, and a warm brown back. Its wings are dark blue with lighter blue feathers on top, and its tail is bluish-green with blue feathers and black tips. The cheeks are orange-pink, and the throat and breast are purple with white streaks, while the belly is blue. Both males and females look similar. Juveniles are less colorful, lacking long tail feathers, with buff-colored forehead and eyebrows, and buff cheeks and breast with white streaks. There’s a subspecies, C. c. lorti, where the breast is blue instead of purple.
  • Behavior: It feeds on a variety of creatures like insects, including locusts and grasshoppers, as well as small animals like frogs and lizards. It perches high up and then swoops down to catch its prey on the ground, either swallowing it whole or breaking it into smaller pieces. It’s also drawn to areas where there are bush fires, where it can catch insects trying to escape the flames.
  • Habitat: It’s often found in Acacia woodlands, where trees are spread apart, as well as in open grasslands. It also inhabits areas with scattered bushes and trees, near rivers, and in lightly forested regions. However, it typically avoids areas with human activity. Sometimes it’s seen in plantations of non-native trees, but this might only happen when it’s moving around looking for new areas.
  • Range: The nominate subspecies is most common in central and southern Kenya, and these birds can be found widespread throughout the country. The blue-breasted C. c. lorti is restricted to the northeast in Kenya.

Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris)

These goofy-looking bush fowl are sometimes called “Maasai chickens” after the Maasai tribe and their ancestral lands which are chock-full of these birds. You may remember them from the opening scene of The Lion King – the guineafowls are the dummies who barely avoid getting stomped on by the elephants.

  • Features: The head and neck are mostly bare, with bluish-white skin and a distinctive horn-colored bony structure. It also has various red facial features and black feathers on the back of the neck. Its plumage is mostly blackish-grey with white spots and patterns. The female looks similar to the male but is typically smaller. Its eyes are dark brown, the upper part of the bill is horn-colored, the lower part is pale grey, and its legs are dark grey to black. The most widespread-in-Kenya subspecies N. m. reichenowi resembles the nominate race but stands out with its tallest casque, bluish-white facial skin, long hindneck plumes, all-red wattles, and vermiculated plumage.
  • Behavior: It has an omnivorous diet, with plant matter being generally more significant in terms of volume. During certain seasons, it’s seen in large flocks numbering over 100 individuals. The organization within these flocks is quite intricate: the highest-ranking male takes on a central role, directing the group’s daily activities, while the top two males work together to defend against intruders (with few aggressive encounters within the flock). During breeding season, breeding females tend to associate more closely with high-ranking males, while the second-highest ranking male assumes leadership of the flock temporarily as the dominant pair leaves to breed. Additionally, most adults assist in caring for the chicks of the highest-ranking male.
  • Habitat: It occupies a diverse range of habitats, primarily in open landscapes, spanning from forest edges to savannas, woodlands, and scrublands. It can also be found in cultivated areas, pine plantations, steppes, and semi-deserts. It is especially abundant in savannas with patches of cultivation, but it avoids heavily grazed areas. Its presence in an area is often influenced by the availability of water sources and suitable roosting sites, typically in trees or bushes.
  • Range: Of the four guineafowl species found in Kenya, Helmeted Guineafowls are easily the most widespread and common. They are less regular in particularly dry areas but can generally be found in most habitats. The nominate subspecies is limited to the far north, but the subspecies N. m. reichenowi is distributed through most of Kenya.

Northern Fiscal (Lanius humeralis)

The power line bird, the Northern Fiscal is commonly seen perched on telephone lines and barbed wire fences. They are also known as “Butcher Birds” for their habit of impaling their caught prey on thorns, barbed wire, and splinters to keep for later.

  • Features: A medium-large shrike with a long, thin, graduated tail. The male nominate race has a black head, mantle, and back, with prominent white scapulars, a grey rump and uppertail-coverts, and a black upperwing with a white patch near the base of the primaries. Its tail is black, with the outermost feather pair almost completely white. The underparts are greyish-white to grey, often whiter on the chin and throat and again from the central belly to the undertail-coverts, with the breast to belly faintly vermiculated with pale greyish. The underside of the flight-feathers is shiny dark slate. The female is usually duller than the male, often with some rufous on the flanks.
  • Behavior: It feeds on a wide range of food, mainly consisting of invertebrates, with fewer vertebrates and occasional seeds. It hunts by waiting on a conspicuous perch, typically 1–10 meters above the ground. It usually catches prey on the ground but may also catch insects in the air, pick them from foliage, or hover over prey. Sometimes it dives to catch tadpoles and may scavenge for food. Small prey is usually eaten on the ground, while larger prey is often taken to a perch where the shrike kills it by crushing it with its bill or striking it against the perch. Sometimes, it holds large prey in one foot and tears it apart with its bill or impales it on a thorn, wood splinter, flower spike, or barbed wire. Impaled items may be stored in larders.
  • Habitat: It inhabits open areas with short grass and scattered shrubs, including woodlands and open savannas, often with acacias. You can also find it in semi-desert regions, coastal thickets, and bushy margins of marshes, as well as in miombo shrubland with scattered trees. It’s relatively scarce in arid woodlands and alpine grasslands. This bird has adapted to various artificial habitats and can commonly be seen around plantations, farms, urban gardens, parks, and along roadsides with telephone lines and fences. It also frequents recently burnt or overgrazed wooded savannas, forest clearings, and well-cleared lands.
  • Range: The most common fiscal in Kenya (the nominate subspecies), although you’re unlikely to find it regularly in the northeast.

Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu (Uraeginthus bengalus)

You’ll have a hard time finding a more adorable little bird in Kenya.

  • Features: The male of the nominate race has light grey-brown to mid-brown coloring from the crown to the back and upperwing. The rump, uppertail-coverts, and long pointed tail are blue. It has a red patch on the ear-coverts, with the rest of the face and breast to the flanks ranging from light turquoise to bright cobalt-blue, meeting the blue of the rump. The center of the belly to the vent and undertail-coverts are buffy white. The iris is dark brown, with a pale blue-grey eyering; the bill is pale grey to pale violet-pink with blackish cutting edges and tip, while the legs are greyish-pink. The female resembles the male but has paler blue coloring, less extensive blue below, reaching only to the center of the breast and upper flanks, and lacks the red ear patch.
  • Behavior: It primarily feeds on small grass seeds, termites, and moth larvae. Its feeding occurs on the ground in cultivated areas, along thicket edges, and in grassy woodlands. Typically seen in pairs or small flocks, it occasionally joins other estrildids. Known for its tameness, during courtship, the male faces the female, raises its head with a feather in its bill, nods, perches close to her with sleeked plumage, and bounces up and down.
  • Habitat: It is commonly found in thornbush, bushy grassland, and woodlands, and is often seen in village areas.
  • Range: Common in the southwestern half of the country.

Emerald-spotted Wood Dove (Turtur chalcospilos)

A most beautiful dove, particularly when its eponymous emerald spots glitter in the sun, this species is one of Kenya’s most common Columbids.

  • Features: This bird is a small, compact dove found in dry regions and savanna woodlands. It has a brown body with a paler head and breast, while the tail is darker. Its wings display shiny emerald spots, and it has a distinctive black-and-white banded rump and dark tail tip. During flight, its rich rufous remiges are prominent. Typically shy, it tends to stay in the shade of trees and flies short distances low to the ground when startled.
  • Behavior: This bird feeds on small seeds, herbs, grasses, and occasionally on invertebrates like mollusks and termites. While it often rests on trees, typically staying within 3 meters of the ground, it always forages on the ground. Its flight is low and direct, but it doesn’t usually fly over long distances. The nest is typically built in a stump, bush, live tree, or bamboo, often on a horizontal outer branch or at the junction of two branches.
  • Habitat: This bird is often found in savanna woodlands, thickets of deciduous trees, highland forests with juniper trees, and areas with acacia trees. It also frequents riparian forests near rivers, coastal forests, and open cultivated areas. It is most commonly found below 1600 meters in East Africa. Typically, it prefers drier environments compared to its close relative, the Blue-spotted Wood-Dove.
  • Range: Found in all but the driest of Kenya’s habitats. They can be confused for the more rare Blue-spotted Wood Dove in the west of the country.

Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)

Hamerkops are so weird-looking and unusual in shape that they are the only species in their family, Scopidae.

  • Features: This bird is unmistakeable: short and brown, resembling an ibis, with a bushy crest resembling a “hammer-head.” During flight, it shows distinctive deep wingbeats and may occasionally soar to great heights, where its long neck distinguishes it from raptors.
  • Behavior: Primarily feeds on amphibians like frogs and tadpoles, with a preference for Xenopus species. In Mali, it mainly consumes small fish, such as young Tilapia, and also eats crustaceans, worms, and insects. Often seen wading in shallow waters, it occasionally catches prey from the water’s surface while flying. Known for its intricate stick nests, the largest of any birds in Africa, typically constructed in tree forks, with a central chamber. Pairs may build multiple nests, some of which remain unused, providing shelter for other animal species.
  • Habitat: It inhabits a diverse range of wetlands, such as estuaries, riverbanks, lakesides, fish ponds, and irrigation schemes. Trees are typically necessary for nesting and roosting.
  • Range: Pretty darn common anywhere in Kenya where there is suitable habitat, barring the far northeast. Maybe.

Crowned Lapwing (Vanellus coronatus)

These plover-like birds are some of the most common terrestrial birds you’ll see in grasslands and open areas in Kenya. They are known to perform a “broken-wing routine” in which they will pretend to be injured in order to lure potential nest-raiders away from their eggs or young before flying off once the danger has been avoided.

  • Features: Easily recognized by its horizontal black and white bands encircling a black crown. It has a pale brownish color on its upper body and breast, with a darker lower breast marked by a black line. The female is smaller than the male, and there is no seasonal variation in appearance. Juveniles have a less distinct white headband and a buff brown color on the front, with black head feathers tipped in brown, and upper body feathers edged in buff.
  • Behavior: Their diet comprises insects and their larvae, notably termites, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and ants, with earthworms possibly included. They are most active at dusk and during moonlit nights, likely feeding predominantly in the late afternoon and night. Occasionally, they feed near cattle. They are monogamous and nest semi-colonially, without establishing territories.
  • Habitat: Frequenting diverse dry and open environments, this bird is found in savannas, sparse woodlands, cultivated areas, and even desert regions. It’s often drawn to recently burned grasslands. While it typically avoids moist areas, large groups may roost near water bodies or on islands in lakes or rivers during the day.
  • Range: The nominate subspecies is common in open habitats all over the country, even in very hot, dry areas. Although unrecorded as of yet, V. c. demissus could well be present in the extreme northeast of Kenya.

Laughing Dove (Spilopelia senegalensis)

Easier to differentiate from the other Kenyan Spilopelia doves due to their lack of neck ring and the pink-orange patch on their throats, Laughing Doves are a common sight, especially at watering holes, in Kenya’s dry areas.

  • Features: The head, neck, and breast are mauve-pink, blending into a creamy white belly and undertail feathers. There’s a wide band of feathers on the neck, black at the base with golden copper tips. The mantle, scapulars, and inner wing coverts are rusty red-brown, while the outer wing coverts are blue-gray to slate. The primaries are dark gray-brown with white to buff edges. The lower back and rump are dark slate-blue mixed with brown. The iris is dark brown, the bill is dark gray-brown, and the legs are purple-pink.
  • Behavior: The diet mainly consists of seeds less than 2 mm long, but they also eat whole sunflower seeds or grains of maize. They also consume fruits and nectar from Aloe plants and occasionally insects like ants, termites, fly larvae, and pupae. They typically feed on the ground near shrubs and rarely pick fruit or grain directly from plants. They are usually solitary or in pairs or small flocks of 3–4 birds, but sometimes hundreds gather near water.
  • Habitat: In Africa, it lives in dry habitats but usually stays close to water within about 10 km. It’s often seen in wooded savannas, villages, and urban gardens, but it’s most common in areas with acacia trees.
  • Range: The nominate subspecies of Laughing Doves are common and widespread all over the country.

Tropical Boubou (Laniarius major)

This bird’s dueting behavior is one of Kenya’s most iconic and familiar sounds. In fact, it is sometimes known as the “bellbird” due to its call. It used to be thought of as a subspecies of the Ethiopian Boubou (Laniarus aethiopicus).

  • Features: A sizable bush-shrike. Its upperparts are black, while the underparts are white. In favorable lighting, the breast and flanks may display a pale pinkish to pale pinkish-buff hue (depending on the subspecies), along with a noticeable white wing-stripe, whose length varies among subspecies.
  • Behavior: It primarily searches for food in wooded areas, where it looks for insects on tree trunks, branches, and leaves. It also forages on the ground, where it uses its bill to flip leaves and debris to find food. Sometimes it catches flying insects and may raid the nests of small birds. It hunts alone, with a partner, or in family groups. When it catches prey, it holds it down with its foot and uses its bill to tear it apart. It’s shy and secretive, often staying hidden in cover, but it can also be curious and may come out into the open in gardens, farms, or near homes.
  • Habitat: Thick woody vegetation found along riverbanks and waterways, thickets within farmland and gardens, dense growth around termite mounds, and at the bases of rocky outcrops; also dense grass and vines along the edges of lowland forests and hilly ravines, as well as in savanna woodlands and Brachystegia woods. In highland areas, it can be found in bracken thickets and forest edges. Its habitat ranges from sea level to approximately 3,000 meters in Kenya.
  • Range: Kenya has two subspecies. The nominate form is found west of the Rift Valley, while L. m. ambiguus is found in the highlands east of the rift, south from Mt. Kulal in Marsabit County.

Red-billed Firefinch (Lagonosticta senegala)

  • Features: The male of the L. s. brunneiceps subspecies has brighter red upperparts compared to the previous one, with a brown crown and reddish sides. The female is typically grayer than before. In the L. s. ruberrima subspecies, the wings are duller and darker brown, while the crown and back display a pinkish-red to carmine color, which becomes browner with wear. The cheeks, rump, and underparts are deep red to purplish-red in both males and females, with females having a reddish wash on the cheeks.
  • Behavior: It primarily consumes small grass seeds, particularly those of Echinochloa and Setaria, along with meal from cultivated crops like maize and manioc. Additionally, it feeds on insects, including termites. It gathers seeds from the ground, often picking them from bare areas near latrines. These birds forage in pairs or small groups, sometimes alongside other estrildids. During courtship, the male carries a feather in its bill, flies to the female with a loud wing whirring, perches upright with head raised and displays its feathers, then performs a series of bobbing motions followed by a deep bow to the female.
  • Habitat: It inhabits open grassy woodland with acacia thornbush, as well as thicket clumps near open areas. You can also find it in secondary growth areas near rubbish dumps, around cultivation, and in towns and villages. It ranges from lowlands to locally highlands, typically found between 1000 and 2200 meters above sea level.
  • Range: Two subspecies occur: L. s. ruberrima is widespread in most of Kenya, while the birds in the northern parts of the country are of the form L. s. brunneiceps.

African Palm Swift (Cypsiurus parvus)

I know, I know, another swift. Who can really tell them apart? Well, the African Palm Swift is one of the easier Kenyan swift species to learn. Their slender bodies and wings and the deep, needle-looking tails make them hard to mistake . . . at least, as far as swifts go.

  • Features: Among a family known for identification challenges, the African Palm Swift stands out as relatively easy to recognize. This swift is petite, sporting an elongated and deeply forked tail, which often appears slender when tightly shut, along with elongated and narrow wings.
  • Behavior: Primarily feeds in the air, often at the tops of trees, and may join other swifts and swallows to hunt insects, especially over water. They have a wide foraging range but tend to return near their roosting areas around midday and at dusk. During courtship, they engage in upward flights towards palm leaves, sometimes landing and preening each other before mating. Typically, only one pair from a large flock will perch on a palm leaf at a time.
  • Habitat: Typically not found in regions lacking permanent water sources. African Palm Swifts are usually associated with palm trees, particularly fan and lala palms, which serve as crucial nesting sites. However, they have also begun to utilize man-made structures like bridges and buildings for nesting purposes to some degree.
  • Range: The species is widespread across most the country, with two subspecies represented. In the east, C. p. laemostigma and in the west, C. p. myochrous.

African Fish Eagle (Icthyophaga vocifer)

With a call as iconic to the African landscape as that of the Red-tailed Hawk is to North America (and every movie with pretty much any raptor), the African Fish Eagle is an unmistakeable and stunning raptor that graces Kenya’s skies.

  • Features: The adult bird has a white head, upper body, and chest, with a black back and chestnut-colored shoulders, belly, and thighs. Its tail is short and often hidden by its wings when perched. Females are slightly larger than males. Adults have yellow-brown to hazel eyes, a yellow cere (the area above the beak), a blackish bill, and fleshy-white to dull yellow feet. Juveniles are mottled brown, black, and white, with a different look before reaching adult plumage at around 5 years old. Their eyes are pale yellow, their cere and bill are grayish, and their feet are gray to fleshy-white.
  • Behavior: It lives near many permanent bodies of water, often in territorial pairs. Its diet consists mainly of fish but it consumes carrion, waterbirds (including young ones), mammals like monkeys and hyraxes, reptiles such as monitor lizards and terrapins, as well as frog and insects depending on what’s available locally. In Uganda, young birds have been observed feeding on lions and leopards kills in the uplands. At Lake Naivasha, it also preys on Red-knobbed Coots besides fish. It primarily hunts from a perch, swooping down to grab prey near the water surface and sometimes bringing larger prey to shore.
  • Habitat: It inhabits a variety of watery environments, such as the edges of lakes, rivers, swamps, and reservoirs, and can be found near the sea around estuaries. It can also be seen up to 4,000 meters above sea level. During rainy periods, it may venture to temporary streams and pools and may even breed there. It tends to nest near water, often in large trees, and prefers to hunt over relatively calm waters.
  • Range: Such an unmistakeable raptor, there are countless records of fish eagles from all over Kenya, as long as there is some fairly constant body of water in the vicinity.

White-browed Coucal (Centropus superciliosus)

I love these birds for two main reasons: One, their call is just wonderful. They’re known as “water bottle birds” because their call sounds like the glugging that occurs when one empties a water bottle. And two, these birds are just clumsy klutzes. I challenge you to find a coucal that can make a graceful landing, rather than the typical crash landing into a bush or shrub that we are so familiar with.

  • Features: The adult bird has a dark brownish head with a broad white stripe above the eye, a blackish mantle streaked with white, a rufous-brown back, and a finely barred black and buff rump. Its long, heavy tail is glossy black with a green sheen, and its wings are chestnut-colored. Below, it’s whitish, with the breast having creamy yellowish to whitish feathers. Its iris is red, its bill is black, and its feet are black or bluish-gray. The female is larger. A juvenile bird has a head and neck streaked with buff and brown, a buff stripe above the eye, wings, and tail barred with rufous and blackish, and buff underparts. By the time its tail grows, its iris turns red.
  • Behavior: It feeds on insects like grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles, as well as spiders, snails, crabs, lizards, snakes, frogs, mice, and small birds, including their eggs and nestlings. It often hides in grass, bushes, and other cover, and can be seen foraging during grass fires. This species has a wide and well-known range of vocalizations compared to other African coucal species. During mating, the male presents the female with a large insect.
  • Habitat: It’s found along riverbanks, in dense bushes, moist vegetation, tall grass, marshes, thickets, and shrubby fields that were once cultivated. It’s mostly in lowland areas but can also be found in mountainous regions up to 2,200 meters, and even up to 2,800 meters in dry areas.
  • Range: In Kenya, the nominate subspecies is widespread in most of the country except for the southwest which is home to the form C. s. loandae.

White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher (Melaenornis fischeri)

An easily identified flycatcher, this species is a common garden bird in Kenya. It’s eye-rings give it a cute, dorky look.

  • Features: The typical race, present in Kenya, has a dark bluish-grey forehead, crown, ear-coverts, nape, hindneck, side of neck, and upperparts. It also has a whitish-grey eyering, and its upperwing and tail are blackish with a glossy sheen, edged in dark bluish-grey. The chin, throat, and breast are pale bluish-grey, fading to white in the center of the belly. The flanks, vent, and undertail-coverts are also pale bluish-grey, while the thighs are darker. Its underwing-coverts and axillaries are whitish-grey, and it has a dark brown iris. The bill is black at the tip, transitioning to bluish at the base, and its legs are black.
  • Behavior: It eats grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, moths, ants, bees, flies, termites, frogs, skinks, and sometimes berries. It usually hunts in pairs or family groups and is active until almost dark. It perches low on branches, saplings, or bushes, and sometimes on wires, scanning for insects. It quickly catches flying insects or searches the ground for prey, then returns to its perch. It also catches insects in forest openings and is drawn to ant and termite swarms. It taps prey to stun it before swallowing, and it knows how to deal with bees’ stings. On the ground, it hunts for prey in bare soil or under leaves.
  • Habitat: In Kenya, it’s found at the edges of various forest types, like fringing and dry forests. It also inhabits open woodland, areas with scattered trees and short grass, as well as gardens.
  • Range: The nominate subspecies is a very common bird in the southwestern half of Kenya.

Bronze Sunbird (Nectarinia kilimensis)

Bronze Sunbirds are striking little birds. As is typical with sunbirds, this species shimmers in the sun, sometimes appearing a dull black and other times showing the bright gold-bronze shine that gives it its name. Kenya’s most familiar long-tailed sunbird.

  • Features: The male has a golden-green head, neck, and upper body with coppery reflections. Its wings are dark brown with shimmering greenish feathers. The tail is blackish-brown with elongated central feathers. Its underside is very dark brown or black. The female is greyish-olive above with pale stripes on its face, dark brown tail feathers, and streaked underparts.
  • Behavior: It eats nectar and insects. It feeds on various plants, including mistletoes, giant lobelias, aloes, and many others. It usually forages in pairs. It gathers nectar from flowers while perching or hovering and catches insects by flying around or picking them off surfaces. It also sometimes eats spiders caught in webs.
  • Habitat: It lives near forest edges, woodlands, scrub, cultivated areas, and gardens, preferably with trees, at elevations ranging from 1000 to 2350 meters.
  • Range: Common in many habitats, as long as there are plentiful flowers to get nectar from, all over the country, particularly central and western Kenya.

Abyssinian Thrush (Turdus abyssinicus)

Older birders will recognize this species as the Olive Thrush, however it has been split fairly recently into its a separate species, the Abyssinian Thrush. The true Olive Thrush is distributed in southern Africa, no longer present in Kenya.

  • Features: The adult has dark brownish-grey upperparts, becoming richer brown on the forehead, crown, lores, and ear-coverts. It has a more olive-grey color on the chin and throat with fine black streaks. The upper breast is greyish-olive, while the lower breast, upper belly, and flanks are a rich rufous-orange. The lower belly is white. It has an orange bill, a narrow orange eyering, and ochre-yellow legs and feet. Both sexes look alike. Could be mistaken for the African Thrush (Turdus pelios) but is generally located at higher elevations and is a bit darker brown.
  • Behavior: It eats a wide variety of both animal and plant foods. Animal meals consist of insects like beetles, moths, caterpillars, grasshoppers, mantids, termites, pupae, and grubs, as well as earthworms, snails, slugs, spiders, small clams, and tiny fish. It also consumes fruits from particular plants and hunts for food both in open areas and under cover, using its bill to flick through leaf litter and its feet to scratch at it. Sometimes, it picks insects from branches, and it usually eats fruits in the canopy, although it may also do so on the ground. It follows safari ants to catch disturbed invertebrates.
  • Habitat: Primarily found in highland forests of various kinds, including Hagenia forests, as well as in primary and secondary forests, gallery forests along rivers, and forest edges. It can also be found in clearings, bamboo forests, giant heath areas, scrublands, and in some cases, moorlands.
  • Range: A very common bird in the western half of Kenya.

Streaky Seedeater (Crithagra striolata)

Sure, sometimes birders aren’t the most creative with names. It’s streaky and it eats seeds – not every name can be a winner.

  • Features: This finch is medium-sized and heavily streaked, typically found in highland regions. It has a long tail with a slight notch, tan-colored upperparts, and tawny-buff to whitish underparts. It also features broad whitish stripes above the eyes and distinct dark brown streaks all over its body.
  • Behavior: This bird mainly feeds on small seeds, such as those from Lobelia giberroa and berries like blackberries. It also eats insects like aphids, termites, small beetles, and larvae. It actively searches for food in low vegetation or on the ground. You’ll typically find it alone, in pairs, or in small groups of 3 to 6 birds, likely family groups. During the non-breeding season, it often joins mixed-species foraging flocks. Breeding can occur throughout the year, with peak activity in Kenya typically from April to August and October to January.
  • Habitat: This bird inhabits lower montane to submontane regions, preferring open areas, woodland edges, and clearings. It can also be found in moist secondary evergreen forests, tree-heath environments, juniper areas, alpine moorlands, and meadows. Additionally, it resides in undergrowth of Hagenia forests, bamboo thickets, and bracken scrub. You may also spot it on the edges of cultivated areas and gardens, including those on the outskirts of large cities like Nanyuki or Nairobi. It may even visit bird feeders and bird baths.
  • Range: These little birds are particularly common and widespread in central and southwestern Kenya, but they also range to the far north.

Blacksmith Lapwing (Vanellus armatus)

Named “Blacksmith” because of the tinkering sounds it makes, similar to that of a blacksmith working on an anvil. These birds are fairly common in similar habitats to Crowned Lapwings but are more closely associated with water.

  • Features: This medium-sized lapwing stands out with its striking plumage. It features a glossy black face, foreneck, and back, along with a white crown and hindneck, and grey upperwing-coverts. You can easily spot the black carpal spurs. Both males and females look similar, but females have shorter wing-spurs. There’s no change in appearance throughout the seasons. Juveniles have a brownish crown, white chin, and throat. Additionally, black feathers between the grey scapulars and upperwing-coverts, as well as all black feathers, have buff fringes.
  • Behavior: It hunts for mollusks, crustaceans, worms, and insects in its typical plover manner. Additionally, it searches for food by trembling its feet, pecking at the water’s surface while wading, and looking for insects by flipping over dung piles. You can also find it foraging in plowed fields, agricultural lands, and among cattle. Its nest is a shallow hollow, about 140 mm wide and 40 mm deep, sometimes lined with pebbles, plants, and debris, and it’s usually placed on the ground or in short grass, typically very near water.
  • Habitat: This bird prefers dry areas close to water, like lagoons, lakes, rivers, dams, and marshes. It can also be found in mudflats, floodplains, and even sewage farms. Occasionally, it ventures into open country to search for food. You might also spot it roosting in groups on small islands.
  • Range: Widespread and fairly common throughout the entire country, as long as suitable habitat is present.

Kenya Rufous Sparrow (Passer rufocinctus)

It’s not quite endemic to Kenya. Should probably be called the “Mostly Kenya Rufous Sparrow.”

  • Features: The male bird has a blue-grey head and upper body, with black markings on its throat and around its eyes. It also has a chestnut-colored band that stretches from its eyes to the back of its head. Its back and tail are streaked with black and chestnut. The wings are dark brown with white patches, and the underparts are greyish. Its eyes are pale, its bill is horn-colored, and its legs are brownish. The female looks like the male but is less colorful, with a grey bib instead of black and lighter chestnut markings. Young birds look similar to females but have a paler appearance. This species is smaller and has a paler eye, greyer face, and more grey on the neck and upper body compared to the very similar P. motitensis.
  • Behavior: This bird species primarily consumes grains, small seeds, and domestic scraps, while insects are provided to unfledged young. It tends to forage on the ground more frequently than P. motitensis. It typically forages in pairs but may also gather in small groups of up to around ten individuals outside the breeding season.
  • Habitat: This bird species is commonly found in dry savannas with acacia trees, open wooded areas, cultivated land, villages, and towns.
  • Range: This species in common in the central, southern, and western parts of Kenya and is endemic to Kenya and Tanzania.

Speckled Pigeon (Columba guinea)

Somehow this species often gets confused for feral Rock Pigeons, but this is an African pigeon that has not been spread and naturalized the world over. And I think they’re prettier too.

  • Features: This pigeon is sizable and gray, featuring a prominent red skin patch around the eyes. Its back and wing coverts are rufous with heavy white spotting, and it sports a fluffy-looking rufous collar with split feathers. The legs are pinkish-red, the bill is blackish, and its iris is pale yellow, occasionally tinged with pinkish-red around the outer edge. In flight, it displays a gray rump that contrasts with its rufous back.
  • Behavior: It primarily eats seeds and small fruits, although it’s also been known to consume invertebrates. Breeding occurs year-round across many areas it inhabits, with a peak during the dry season.
  • Habitat: This bird can be found in diverse habitats across open landscapes, such as savannas, open woodlands, and gardens, spanning from sea-level up to 3,000 meters. It tends to steer clear of forests. In the west, it’s often seen near baobabs and Borassus palms, while in the east and south, it prefers rocky areas like cliffs and gorges, extending into croplands and grasslands for feeding.
  • Range: The nominate subspecies is common all over Kenya, perhaps less so in the northeast, but who knows?

Augur Buzzard (Buteo augur)

Augur Buzzards hold special places in many traditions in Kenya. For example, the Kikuyu consider spotting an Augur Buzzard a good omen. For other traditions, it depends on which side you see the bird – if on your right, good luck is ahead, but if on your left, you’d better go straight home.

  • Features: A large Buteo, ranging from 48 to 57 cm in length, with blackish upperparts, a short reddish tail, broad wings, and pale underparts, which can be white, black, or rufous. The common nominate subspecies found in eastern and southern Africa typically has white underparts contrasting with dark upperparts, with a black trailing edge to the white underwing. In the eastern African region, around 10-25% of the population exhibits a melanistic morph with black underparts and underwing linings, which is more prevalent in areas with higher rainfall.
  • Behavior: Its diet primarily consists of lizards, snakes (including venomous ones), rodents, and mole rats, alongside other small mammals, such as rodents and mole rats, small birds like francolins, insects, amphibians, and carrion. It hunts both within forested or wooded areas and in open habitats. Predominantly, it hunts from a rock, tree, or other perch, occasionally while soaring, hovering, or gliding in flight, and seldom while walking or hopping on the ground.
  • Habitat: The terrain consists of mountains and hills, dotted with patches of forest, open woodland, savanna, and grassland.
  • Range: Th nominate subspecies of this pretty distinctive raptor is common in most of the country.

Yellow-billed Stork (Mycteria ibis)

Yellow-billed Storks are skilled hunters and have a unique feeding technique. They use their partially open bills as a kind of scoop to catch fish and other aquatic prey, making them highly efficient hunters in their wetland habitats.

  • Features: Adult males are typically larger on average. Non-breeding adults exhibit duller plumage and bare parts. Immature individuals appear duller overall, particularly in their bare parts, while juveniles display an entirely dingy brown appearance, with their bare parts being a dull green color.
  • Behavior: It often feeds on frogs, small fish, and other aquatic prey, using tactile methods for hunting. Sometimes, it can be seen walking along the water’s edge, probing into the water with its bill or even submerging its head. Occasionally, it scavenges fish regurgitated by cormorants. While sociable, it’s rare to find large flocks of them together.
  • Habitat: It can be found in a diverse range of wetland habitats, including swamps, riverbanks, lakesides, and rice paddies, but it tends to avoid areas prone to extensive flooding.
  • Range: Yellow-billed Storks are common waterbirds that range across all of Kenya.

Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)

Pied Kingfishers are iconic birds of Kenya’s waters. They have this incredible ability to hover in place, holding their head steady as they search for prey in the water below. See the video below for this awesome ability!

  • Features: This kingfisher is easily recognizable due to its medium size and distinctive black-and-white plumage. In the male of the nominate race, you’ll notice a black crown and crest, with a white stripe above the eye. It has a black band around the eye to the hindneck, a white throat, and collar. Its upperparts are black with white edges, and it has a white patch on the wing-coverts. Below, it’s white with two black breastbands, with the upper one often appearing broad and sometimes broken in the middle. Its bill is mostly black, and its legs and feet are blackish. The adult female has only a single, narrower breastband, which may be broken in the center.
  • Behavior: In Africa, it primarily feeds on fish. Its hunting technique involves scanning from a perch, bobbing its head, and flicking its tail before diving down into the water with a splash. After catching prey, it returns to its perch with the prey held crosswise in its bill. Smaller fish may be swallowed in flight, while larger ones are taken back to the perch and repeatedly bashed. Additionally, it often hovers before plunging down to catch prey in the water.
  • Habitat: It inhabits a variety of water bodies, including small and large lakes, rivers, estuaries, coastal lagoons, mangroves, and sandy or rocky coasts. Additionally, it can be found in dams, reservoirs with fresh or brackish water, streams, fast-flowing rivers, marshes, paddy fields, and even roadside ditches. It prefers areas with waterside perches like trees, reeds, fences, posts, huts, and other man-made objects.
  • Range: If the right habitat is present, you can expect to find the nominate subspecies anywhere in Kenya.

White-bellied Go-away-bird (Crinifer leucogaster)

“Go away! Go away!” That is the squawky call of this aptly named bird, heard regularly in dry, bushy habitats across the country (okay, it’s more like “Gwah! Gwah!” but you get the idea). Once it has flown away, its name changes. It becomes a White-bellied Went-away-bird. That’s scientific.

  • Features: The adult bird is gray overall, with a white belly and undertail coverts. It has a stiff, pointed crest that is about 60 mm long, colored brownish-gray with dark brownish-black tips, rising from its forehead. The sides of the head, chin, neck, and breast are also gray, matching the upperparts. The median and greater upperwing coverts have black ends, forming partial bars on the closed wing. In flight, a conspicuous white patch is formed by the white bases of the black primaries. The tail is black with a broad white median band. The bill is blackish in males and pea-green in females, turning yellowish during breeding. The eye color is hazel-brown, and the legs and feet are black. Juveniles resemble adults but are browner, especially on the wing coverts.
  • Behavior: It prefers to feed on fruits, flowers, seeds, and buds, with a particular fondness for the young green pods of Acacia tortilis.
  • Habitat: Usually found in hot, low-lying areas with sparse acacia trees, often in savannas and steppe landscapes.
  • Range: This member of the turaco family is found literally all over Kenya, in suitable habitat.

Little Bee-eater (Merops pusillus)

Little Bee-eater are not just little, they are the littlest. The smallest bee-eater species, these cute, colorful birds are a joy to find, particularly when you see them perched in a group sitting so close together they almost blend into one fat, eight-headed bird.

  • Features: The crown and upperparts display a vibrant green hue, accompanied by a distinctive black eyestripe. The cheeks and throat are adorned in yellow, bordered below by a black gorget with a cinnamon band beneath it. The remaining underparts boast a rich buff coloration, with some rufous accents in the wings, while the secondaries are tipped in black. The tertials, initially green, may fade to a bluish hue over time. The iris is red. Racial distinctions are somewhat subtle: the M. p. cyanostictus variant features a blue forehead and supercilium, along with a narrow purple-blue line between the throat and gorget; in contrast, the M. p. meridionalis variant showcases a thin, short blue supercilium and a very narrow bluish-white line above the gorget.
  • Behavior: It eats many kinds of small insects. Its diet includes bees, ants, wasps, beetles, flies, crickets, and other insects. Bees make up a significant part of what it eats. It hunts for food by flying near the ground or perching on plants, watching for insects to pass by. It often hunts in pairs and catches most of its prey within a few meters of where it perches. It makes about 40 hunting attempts per hour, with about one-third of them successful.
  • Habitat: It inhabits grassy areas, usually close to water sources. During the dry season, it can be found in marshes, along lakeshores, riverbanks, and streamsides. In the wet season, it expands its habitat to include cultivated land, lightly to heavily wooded savannas, grassy clearings in forests, bushy sand dunes, grassy rock outcrops, and treeless plains. It particularly prefers drying-out marshes with waist-high grasses and sedges, often interspersed with woody thickets of Mimosa pigra. It quickly colonizes cleared land in forests, especially where grasses like Panicum are growing.
  • Range: In eastern Kenya, you’ll find M. p. cyanostictus and elsewhere in the country, the present subspecies is M. p. meridionalis.

Red-billed Oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorynchus)

The Red-billed Oxpecker exhibits a parasitic relationship with larger animals like cattle and zebras. While the oxpeckers benefit by consuming ticks and other parasites infesting their hosts, they may also exacerbate wounds by picking at scabs or creating new injuries to feed on blood. Despite providing a valuable service by controlling parasites, their feeding behaviors can sometimes harm the host animals, illustrating a complex interplay between mutual benefit and potential harm in this symbiotic relationship – is it parasitism or mutualism?

  • Features: The appearance of this species can vary, typically featuring a dark olive-brown head extending to the throat and tail, with a lighter mantle. The upperwing tends to be darker and more olive-grey, while the chest to the undertail-coverts is a lighter brown with dark brown thighs. The iris ranges from yellow to red, and the bare skin around the eye is yellow. Its bill is laterally flattened, slightly bulbous toward the center, and brightly red, while its legs are grey-brown to black. Both males and females share these characteristics.
  • Behavior: The primary diet of these birds consists of ectoparasites found on large mammals, primarily ticks, mites, lice, leeches, and biting flies, with termite alates also consumed. They may also feed on the blood and mucus of their host animals. These birds commonly target ticks of various genera, including Amblyomma, Boophilus, Hyalomma, Ixodes, and Rhipicephalus, as well as flies from the Tabanidae and Muscidae families. In settled areas, cattle are their primary hosts, but they also utilize other domestic animals like donkeys, mules, and camels. In natural habitats and game reserves, they are often found on species such as giraffes, African buffaloes, rhinoceroses, antelopes, zebras, and various other mammals. They employ techniques like stalking insects landing on hosts, hawking flying insects, and scissoring to remove ticks hidden in fur. These birds may also create wounds to access blood, keep injuries open, and remove scabs. They forage in small groups and are sometimes seen alongside Yellow-billed Oxpeckers (B. africanus) on the same host mammal.
  • Habitat: Found in savanna woodland and farmland up to 3000 meters in elevation, this species is notably absent from forested regions and arid, treeless areas. Trees are essential for roosting and breeding. Their presence in an area is closely tied to the availability of wild ungulates or domestic stock, as these birds primarily spend their time near them.
  • Range: Slightly more widespread and common in Kenya than Yellow-billed Oxpeckers, this species can be found all over the country if there are suitable hosts to parasitize.

Spur-winged Lapwing (Vanellus spinosus)

Spur-winged Lapwings are named after the distinctive spurs on their wings. These spurs are visible as sharp, pointed projections on the forward bend of their wings.

  • Features: The bird has a black crown, forehead, and throat, with white cheeks and sides of the neck. Although it possesses a slight crest, it is usually not noticeable. Its breast, upper belly, and flanks are black, and it features dark red eyes and black spurs.
  • Behavior: It primarily consumes insects and their larvae, with a preference for beetles but also including grasshoppers, flies, midges, termites, ants, spiders, and myriapods. Occasionally, it may consume crustaceans, mollusks, small lizards, tadpoles, adult frogs, fish, and seeds. Its feeding process is typically deliberate, involving a few quick steps followed by stabbing at prey, and sometimes it flushes prey by trembling its feet.
  • Habitat: Typically found on dry terrain but seldom strays too far from water sources. It thrives in diverse habitats ranging from cultivated areas or scorched grasslands to spots near ponds, lakes, rivers, or lagoons. You might also spot it on mudflats, sandy stretches, or rice fields, and occasionally in ponds and marshes.
  • Range: This monotypic species is common all throughout the open habitats in Kenya.

Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum)

Grey Crowned Cranes are known for their intricate courtship dances, which involve a series of leaps, bows, and even running in circles around each other. Two parts elegant and goofy.

  • Features: Primarily grey with a yellow crest. The iris typically ranges from pale grey to pale blue. In the V. s. gibbericeps subspecies, there’s a more prominent red hue in the cheek patch.
  • Behavior: Adaptable eater. Consumes seeds from Cyperus sedges, grass tips, insects like grasshoppers, crickets, locusts, cutworms, and armyworms, along with small creatures such as frogs, lizards, and Potamon crabs. Often seen foraging in grasslands and farmlands.
  • Habitat: Combination of wetlands and open grasslands or savannas. In Eastern Africa, it’s increasingly spotted in human-altered environments, like pastures, farmlands, idle fields, irrigated zones, and ranches.
  • Range: One of Kenya’s most recognizable and iconic birds, the endangered Grey Crowned Cranes (subspecies B. r. gibbericeps) are fairly regular all over Kenya, possibly replaced by the Black Crowned Cranes (B. pavonina) in the far north.

Lesser Striped Swallow (Cecropis abyssinica)

Kenya’s most frequent and widespread swallow species, Lesser Striped Swallows are regular all over. I had regular nesting swallows building their home and living under the eaves of my childhood home in Nairobi.

  • Features: Rufous-chestnut coloring extends from the forehead to the nape, ear-coverts, and neck, while the back is a deep glossy blue. The rump and shorter uppertail-coverts also feature rufous-chestnut hues. The wings and tail are blackish-brown, with elongated outer tail feathers forming distinctive long streamers. White patches adorn the inner webs of the tail feathers, except for the innermost two pairs, with the largest patches on the outer two pairs. The underparts are white with broad sepia streaks, most prominent on the throat and upper breast, while the undertail-coverts have a slight buffy tinge. The underwing-coverts are buffy in color. The C. a. unitatis subspecies is notably large, with pronounced streaks.
  • Behavior: The diet of the Lesser Striped Swallow consists of various insects like flying ants, bees, beetles, flies, and lepidopterans. They also consume fruit from the pigeon wood tree and seeds of the Acacia cyclops. These swallows feed alone, in pairs, or sometimes in flocks of up to 100 individuals, usually in smaller groups of 5 to 20. They often mix with other hirundines and swifts. When foraging, they typically fly about 6 meters above the ground but can also soar 10 to 20 meters above treetops and over water. Their flight pattern involves a lot of gliding but can also be fast and direct. They are adept at hovering over vegetation to catch caterpillars and feed around other animals to catch flushed insects. When consuming fruit, they often perch.
  • Habitat: The Lesser Striped Swallow typically inhabits grasslands, savannas, open woodlands, forest edges, clearings, cultivated areas, and human settlements. While they are less frequently found in mangroves and river valleys within forested regions, notable observations include large roosts comprising 200 to 300 individuals in sugar-cane fields.
  • Range: In Kenya, the subspecies C. a. unitatis is common in almost all of Kenya year-round, but perhaps slightly less abundant in the months of September and October.

Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

The only Palearctic migrant on this list, perhaps because it is one of the earliest arrivals and latest departures for its breeding grounds, not to mention some birds stay in Kenya for the whole year.

  • Features: This sandpiper is small with short legs and features a pale eye-ring. It has greenish-brown upperparts and white underparts with dark patches on the sides of the breast. Dark brown streaks and marks adorn its upperparts, and during flight, a dark rump and a white wingbar are visible. When resting, its tail is notably longer than its wings, and its legs typically appear greener or greyer, with less yellow. The female is slightly larger on average than the male, but this difference is often not discernible in the field. Non-breeding adults exhibit faintly barred olive-brown upperparts with less streaking on the head.
  • Behavior: This species is migratory, with individuals possibly capable of undertaking single flights of up to 4000 km during the spring migration. Their diet consists mainly of adult and larval insects, including beetles and flies, along with spiders, mollusks, crustaceans, and worms, occasionally supplemented with frogs, tadpoles, or small fish, and sometimes plant material. During the breeding season, adults and young chicks often feed on grassland. They typically locate their prey visually and feed primarily by pecking and stabbing, occasionally engaging in free stalking and dashing. While foraging, they move quickly, frequently pausing with a distinctive tail movement and head bobbing. They usually hunt alone, defending their feeding territory, but may also forage in small groups. Active mainly during the day, they occasionally form nocturnal roosts with over 100 birds.
  • Habitat: During periods outside of breeding, this species can be found in a diverse array of habitats, including coastal shores, estuaries, saltmarshes, inland wetlands, riverbanks, pools, and tidal creeks within mangroves and rice fields. Occasionally, it ventures into grassland areas, along roadsides, or even urbanized environments, such as reservoirs and dam lakes. However, it tends to avoid large coastal mudflats.
  • Range: Common all over Kenya, in particular between late August and late April, although some birds can be observed through the months in between.

Rattling Cisticola (Cisticola chiniana)

This species was the first cisticola species that I learned to confidently identify based on its call. It is heard constantly in open areas and grasslands. It could be described as a gateway cisticola – once you’ve learned the call of the Rattling Cisticola, you’ll just want to learn them all.

  • Features: I’ll try to describe its appearance in detail, but know that even experts often rely on the calls of cisticolas to differentiate them. That being said, this cisticola is medium to large with streaked upperparts, especially during the breeding season. The male in breeding plumage has a warm tawny-brown crown, pale grey-brown upperparts with prominent blackish-brown streaks, and a lightly streaked rump. Its face is plain with a pale grey-brown cheek, and its underside is light buffy with a whitish throat and belly. The wings have buff margins, and the tail has a dark band with buffy-grey tips. Outside breeding season, the male’s plumage becomes more rufous with heavier streaks, while the female is smaller with a paler mouth. Juveniles resemble non-breeding adults but with a buffier upper side and pale yellow underparts.
  • Behavior: It primarily feeds on insects and small invertebrates like beetles, weevils, termite alates, grasshoppers, crickets, flies, ants, caterpillars, and snails. Additionally, it consumes the nectar of Aloe plants. This bird hunts close to the ground in grass or bushes and also on the ground itself. It catches termite alates while flying and then returns to a perch to consume them. The male sings from a high perch throughout the year, with increased activity during the breeding season.
  • Habitat: Found in clusters of bushes within savannas, dry woodlands, and semi-arid shrublands, this bird also ventures into older cultivated lands, plantations, and gardens. In Kenya, the size of its territory diminishes as the density of bushes increases, highlighting the significance of woody vegetation to its habitat.
  • Range: Kenya has as many as five subspecies present: C. c. fricki in the north; C. c. humilis in the west; C. c. ukamba in the central highlands; C. c. victoria in the southwest, near Lake Victoria; and C. c. heterophrys along the coast.

Slate-coloured Boubou (Laniarius funebris)

This all-black bushshrike is usually heard and not seen. Its call is a smooth, sweet, creamy, sugary – sorry, I got off track. Its call sounds nice.

  • Features: The nominate form of this bird has a shiny black head, neck, and throat, transitioning into dark blue-grey on its upper body and breast. Its rump has long feathers with white bases, and some have whitish spots. The tail and upper tail feathers are jet-black, while the belly and sides are a smoky bluish-grey, lighter than the breast. Its legs and bill are both black, and males and females look alike. When young, it starts off dark brown with rufous-buff tips on some feathers, gradually transitioning to its adult colors over 4 to 6 months. The subspecies L. f. degener is slightly lighter and smaller than the typical one.
  • Behavior: It primarily eats insects like grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, termites, ants, bees, wasps, and ticks, with occasional consumption of Commiphora fruits. During the wet season, caterpillars are an important part of its diet for both adults and nestlings. It searches for food by hopping on the ground under shade in dry seasons, while in wet seasons, it mainly feeds among foliage looking for caterpillars. When it catches larger prey, it often moves them back and forth against a branch before eating. They’re usually found in pairs, and though they’re shy and quiet, their song is loud and varied, with males and females often singing together in duets with different notes and sounds.
  • Habitat: This bird is commonly found in semi-arid areas with sparse thornbush and acacia woodland, typically below 1500 meters. It can also be spotted at various altitudes ranging from sea level up to 2200 meters, with most sightings occurring below 2000 meters in Kenya.
  • Range: Both forms occur in Kenya. The nominate subspecies is common in most of the country, but in the southeast you will find L. f. degener.

Threats and Conservation

In Kenya, birds face a range of threats that require conservation efforts from various organizations. Habitat loss due to deforestation, agricultural expansion, and urbanization poses a significant challenge to many bird species. Climate change exacerbates these threats by altering habitats and disrupting migration patterns.

To address these challenges, organizations like Nature Kenya, the Kenya Bird of Prey Trust, and A Rocha Kenya play crucial roles in bird conservation. Nature Kenya, the country’s leading ornithological organization, conducts research, advocates for habitat protection, and engages local communities in bird conservation efforts, and is connected to the National Museums of Kenya. The Kenya Bird of Prey Trust focuses specifically on the protection of raptors through research, rehabilitation, and community education initiatives. A Rocha Kenya works to conserve biodiversity and promote sustainable living through habitat restoration projects and environmental education programs, particularly at the coast. Collaborative efforts between these organizations and governmental agencies are essential to safeguarding Kenya’s diverse avian fauna for future generations.

Kenya Birding Resources

Citizen science and list-keeping projects used in Kenya include include eBird and Birdlasser. Both can be used to keep track of the birds you see, as well as contributing to scientific data collection that goes into the conservation of our birds.

Field Guides:

  • Birds of East Africa – Terry Stevenson’s and John Fanshawe’s great book is an extensive field guide covering 1,388 bird species in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, featuring 287 new color plates and concise species accounts. With detailed illustrations and range maps, it offers comprehensive information on identification, status, habits, and more, making it an essential resource for bird enthusiasts in the region. It was recently updated and the newest edition released in 2020.
  • Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania – Zimmerman’s, Turner’s, and Pearson’s guide showcases 124 color plates capturing all 1,114 bird species, including variations by subspecies, age, and sex, complemented by over 800 range maps and concise text covering identification, voice, and distribution. Another good option for the region, but not as recently updated.
  • Birds of Africa South of the Sahara – Written by Peter Ryan and Ian Sinclair, this guide offers unparalleled coverage of African birds in one book, detailing every bird found in Africa south of the Sahara Desert, including Socotra, Pemba, and Gulf of Guinea islands. Given its wider range of countries covered, it is not as compact and not as convenient for use in the field, but still a useful guide to have in your collection.

Phone apps:

  • eBird mobile – Offers a convenient way to record and submit bird sightings anytime, anywhere, even without internet access. Just log your birding location and time, then enter the species you observe. It can even calculate your distance traveled and time spent birding, allowing you to concentrate on enjoying the birds! Free.
  • Birdlasser – Similar to eBird in function but more specific to Africa. Your records in Birdlasser can be directly contributed to the Kenya Bird Map project which aims to map and update the current distribution of Kenya’s birds and can be used in conjunction with the broader Africa Bird Map. Free.
  • Merlin by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – The Merlin Bird ID app helps users identify birds by asking questions about their appearance and behavior, then suggests potential matches along with images and sounds. Users can also explore bird species, learn about their habits, and contribute observations to eBird. It should be noted, however, that the sound ID function is not particularly useful in Kenya yet, due to the lack of recordings. Free.
  • eGuide to Birds of East Africa – The eGuide to Birds of East Africa serves as a digital companion to Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe’s renowned field guide, Birds of East Africa (see above), ideal for birdwatchers exploring Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. Packed with special features, this app enriches your birding adventures in the region. It requires a one-time payment of about $38 USD, or 5,000 Kenyan shillings.
  • Birds of Africa – Designed for bird enthusiasts, this interactive app offers a comprehensive resource on African avifauna. With a rich array of photos, sounds, text, and maps, it facilitates bird identification and fosters a deeper appreciation for these species while supporting their conservation efforts. Free.

Conclusion

Kenya boasts a diverse bird population, with a rich tapestry of birdlife that includes both resident and migratory species. From the iconic African Fish Eagle to the vibrant Lilac-breasted Roller, the country’s varied habitats support a remarkable array of bird species. Whether found in the lush forests of the Aberdare Range, the vast savannas of the Maasai Mara, or the wetlands of Lake Nakuru, each bird plays a crucial role in Kenya’s ecosystem. While some species face threats such as habitat loss and poaching, concerted conservation efforts are vital for ensuring the continued survival of Kenya’s most common birds and preserving the country’s rich avifauna for generations to come.