Kenya’s bird watching is probably the best worldwide now with 0.13% of the world’s birds thanks to its unique weather and diverse habitats that include open grasslands, rift valley escarpments, crater lakes, forests and woodlands and others that make Kenya, a birder’s paradise. On a short one day or two day birding trip, you are certain to see around 500 to 600 different birds from a few sites that you’ll visit. Visit Kenya at the time of the annual birding watching week organized by Nature Kenya and you’ll have splendid morning stroll through a variety of sites. More than 50% of Euro-Asia migrants flock Kenya every year as they seek refuge from harsh winter conditions.
Birding in Kenya is a lucrative activity because of the various1089 different species found in the different parks. Birding in Kenya is made easy due to the availability of good bird habitats and weather which allows proper growth of the birds.
There are various bird species in Kenya from flamingos to ostriches and other species, you are bound to see some of them even in the city centre as you take a walk or drive to your hotel. It should be noted that Kenya has 11% of the world’s bird species in the world and it has the best birding spots in the whole world.
These birds can be seen at the different various habitats like forests, grasslands, the Rift valley, lakes and swamps and you will be able to at least see 120 species a day and more than 600 bird species even for a short trip to Kenya.
So grab those binoculars, magazines and birding books as I take you through the best destinations for birding and the different bird species that you will see once you decide to take a trip to Kenya and you should note that birding in Kenya can be done all throughout the year.
Best time to visit Kenya for birding
If you want the indigenous bird species that are extremely rare in Kenya, it’s recommended you go to highland grasses and forests. Visit Kenya from April to November since this is the rainy season and it happens in the same time when birds migrate from Asia and Europe to Africa. Most birds can be seen during the rainy season.
Bird species in Kenya
The birds that migrate into Kenya make up 1% of the total bird species in Kenya and some of the birds to see include the barbets, go-away birds and others.
Other rare bird species found in Kenya include the spotted Ground Thrush, Clarke’s Weaver. Scops owl, Easy coast Akalat, Amani sunbird and Sokoke pipit and these endangered species are found in Arabuko- Sokoke Forrest which is near Malindi.
Other endangered species include the Aberdare Cisticola, the Sharpe’s Longclaw which are native birds in Kenya and can be found near Abredare mountain range in the highlands. The papyrus Gonolek, papyrus canary, papyrus yellow warbler and white- winged warbler are papyrus endemics and these are found along the swamps found in Lake Victoria.
Birding destinations in Kenya
There are various birding destinations in Kenya that have different bird sightings and some of these destinations include the following:
This is one of the best birding destinations in. Kenya and some of the bird species found in Masai Mara include the Lilac Breasted Roller, Yellow billed ox Roller, corncake, secretary bird, saddle billed stork, ostrich, Grey crested Helmet shrike, Martial and crowned Beagles, Madagascar squacco Heron and the lesser kestrel.
The Chyulu and Taita Hills
Taita Hills are located in what most Kenyans refer to as the forest Islands and this is where voi is located and it is a home to one of the endangered bird species which includes theTaita Falcon Taita white eye, Taita Apalis and Taita Thrush.
The Chyulu hills also a big spot for birding is a habitat to bird species like the Ayre’s Hawk Eagle, Martial and crowned Eagle, Shelley’s Francolin, Abbits starling and the orange ground Thrush.
Lake Victoria has a lot of swamps surrounding it and these act as habitats to the different Bird species in the country. Some of the bird species found in Lake Victoria include the papyrus Gonolek, papyrus canary, papyrus yellow warbler and white- winged warbler and it is the only place where the migrant Blue swallow can be sighted in Kenya.
Found in the western part of Kenya, Kakamega major tourist attraction is birds. It harbors the Turner’s Eremomela which is an endangered species, the Hornbills and Turacos. Kakamega also harbors species like the Blue headed Bee-eater owlet, Angsore’s Greenbul, Chapin’s flycatcher, Great blue Turacos, Banded snake Eagle and the least honeyguide.
The Turkana River Delta
Turkana Delta has a population of about 20,000 water birds making it a good spot for birding. The Bird species that can be found in Turkey include the pel’s Fishing owl, southern banded snake Eagle, scaly babbler, Tana River Cisticola, East coast Akalat, Basra Reed Warbler and the violet wood Hoopoe which can be seen in the forests surrounding Turkana and the water birds include the Geese, shorebirds, Egrets, pelicans, Flamingos and storks..
Other species found in Turkana include the sur winged plover, African skimmer and the little stint.
Magadi is known to be the breeding ground for Flamingos in Kenya and once you visit this place, it is a sight to see. Although the beautiful pink and white birds dominate the area, there are a few other species and these are the Avocet, African spoonbill, Great Egret and cape Teal.
Nairobi is the capital city of Kenya and you are bound to see different species of birds as you stroll through this urban center. These birds habitat within the acacia trees found in the city, Lake Naivasha and Nairobi National park. Some of the species found in Nairobi include the Marabou storks, Mouse birds, secretary birds, the tiny iridescent sunbirds, yellow Weaver’s and Bustards.
The Arabuko- Sokoke Forest
This houses most of the endangered bird species in Kenya and it is an important spot when it comes to birding. The species that can be seen in Sokoke include the rarest owl in the world known as the Sokoke scops owl and it is only found in the Sokoke forest and this makes it a great opportunity for those who travel to see it.
Other bird species in this forest include the plain backed sunbirds, Fisher’s Turacos, Clarke’s Weaver, Amani and the southern Banded snake Eagle.
The whole of the Naivasha is a birding spot and the presence of the lake attracts many birds to the area and some of the bird species found in the area are the saddle billed stork, Rare Maccoa Duck, African jacana, Red knobbed coot, pied and malachite kingfisher, spoonbills, African Darters and the Goliath heron.
The notable bird species found in mountain Kenya are Jackson’s Francolin, lesser kestrel, Jackson’s widowbird, Hunter’s Cisticola, Abbots starling, cape Eagle owl, crowned Eagle and the African Grass owl.
Amboseli National park
Amboseli National Park has over 400 bird species that can be viewed at any time of the year and some of the bird species found at Amboseli include the Martial Eagle, ducks, Heron nest, Darters and the lesser flamingo.
This is famous for being a home to the Flamingo and the best way to see all these birds is by moving around the lake for s better view. It’s visited by different birders. Other bird species include the African Darter, African Fish Eagle, white necked vulture and the Black necked Grebe.
Nakuru is a place that is horded with a lot birds probably because of the presence of water body and this makes it a good spot for birding. The species found in the area include the lesser flamingo, Martial eagle, lesser kestrel, Madagascar sqaucco Heron, Great white pelican and the Black necked and little Grebe.
Samburu and Buffalo springs
Samburu is popular with specialist biding safaris and birders at large with a population of over 380 birds’ species that have been recorded. The bird species that you can expect to see include the Williams lark, vulturine guinea fowl, Migratory kestrels, Taita Falcon, shining sunbird, Bristle crowned starling and the Donaldson smith’s sparrow weaver.
The different bird species that are found in shimba hills are the Sokoke pipit, Eurasian cuckoos, Fischer’s Turacos, southern banded snake Eagle and the Akalat cuckoos. It is a good destination for those who want to see some endangered bird species.
This is a popular birding spot and the common bird species that can be seen at Meru include the African Fin foots, Saddle billed stork and the Pel’s Fishing owl which can be seen lazing around the swamps that are found in Meru and along the Meru river.
The notable species found in Tsavo park include the crowned Eagle, Friedman’s lark, violet wood hoopoe, martial Eagle and one of the rarest bird species known as the Basra Reed warbler.
Mountain Elgon is found both in Kenya and Uganda but it should be noted that the Kenyan side is known to be a top spot for birding activities. The different bird species found in Mountain Elgon include the Red Chested owlet, purple throated cuckoo shrike, Ring necked Francolin, crowned eagle, Thick billed Honeyguide, Toro olive Greenbul and the striped Ruff tail.
This is a well known birding spot and the commonly viewed bird is the Bristle crowned starling. Other bird species in the area are the African fish eagle, Hemp rich’s Hornbill, African Darters, African skimmers and the white backed Duck.
Birding sites in Kenya
In central Kenya, there are a number of places to visit on your birding safari which will not disappoint. Nairobi the capital has more than 500 resident and migrant birds that live in Nairobi National park, in the National Museum gardens and in Ol Donyo National Park. Regular sights include secretary birds, long tailed moose birds, sunbirds, yellow weavers and the marabou stork in the acacia trees in the streets and garbage centers. The variety of birds seen all year long is actually continuous, however includes Rollers, Guinea fowls, Barbets, Hinde’s Babbler, Friedman’s Lark and the like, most noticed from the parks grasslands of Tsavo national park and Mt. Kenya National park.
The most renowned habitat for birds in Kenya is the rift valley escarpment that stretches from north to western Kenya. The crater lakes of Lake Nakuru, Lake Baringo, Lake Elementaita and Lake Naivasha are some of the birding sites that any naturalist or birding fan can never miss on a bird watching safari in Kenya. A total of more than 450 birds will been here on any day and these include the pink flamingoes of Lake Nakuru that camouflage the soda lake, black herons, pelicans, Fish Eagles, Pied Kingfishers, Long-tailed and Great Cormorants, Grey-backed fiscal, Yellow-Collared Lovebird among other notable species
From the Masai Mara grasslands, you will also encounter a long bird list of more than 500 species such as the Egyptian vulture, hooded vulture, Griffon vulture, golden woodpeckers, Nubian vulture, White-backed and White-headed vulture, Ostrich, Cardinal Quelea and the little spotted woodpeckers among others. The Mara River regularly collects mixed flocks of vultures and Marabou feeding on the animals that failed to cross the river during the annual migration of wildebeest.
It is recommended that any birding enthusiast needs to check out forests of Arabuko forest reserve and Kakamenga for some woodland and forest endemics. In Arabuko-Sokoke Forest reserve near the coastal town of Malindi, you’ll find a few remaining species of Clarke’s weaver, Scops Owl, Amani Sunbird, Sokoke Pipit, Spotted Ground Thrush as well as coastal Akalat. The Abedare ranges host the endemic Sharpe’s long claw and Cisticola. Similar sites including the Taita Hill woodlands, close to Voi, nest the extinct Taita Thrush, the small White-eyes not to mention Taita Apalis.
Kakamega rain forest around the shores of Lake Victoria is an endemic host to the endangered Turner’s Eremomela, the Turacos, the Hornbills, yellow warbler, gonolek, white winged warbler, papyrus Canary and other incredible forest and papyrus endemic varieties.
When to visit
The dry season of November to April brings in some 100 migrants from the north such as Forbes Watson’s swift, sooty falcons and others. This season’s rewards are in Tsavo National park and at the coast near Mida Creek and Sabaki Estuary that host several water birds. During July to August, it is the annual wildebeest migration that draws in several species of preying vultures that feed on the carcass left by predators. The Mara River hosts thousands of these besides its spectacular wildlife.
The migration of birds from Europe, neighboring islands like Madagascar and Asia correlates with the rainy seasons of April up to November every year bringing in around 12 species of migrants. The rains are an important breeding time for many birds, for the forest and papyrus endemic species for example the warblers. Its is a colorful season of birds tossing here and there if you take a boat ride on one of the soda lakes from the rift valley region.
The heavy rains of March to June leave many roads muddy and impassable thus you’ll need a robust 4WD to get you to the desired destination. There will be guided tours to any site arranged by tours and travel operators. Local guides are also available any time of the year whose efforts are geared towards bird site conservation, besides getting supplementary incomes from birders and tourists.