African Birds Are Beautiful, But...
The Beauty Of The Birds - But They Have Problems
As a small boy I lived in Kenya, East Africa until I was 10 years old. I have so many fantastic memories, but one of the most endearing had to be that of the gorgeous birdlife.
Wherever you went - up in the hills, around the lakes or into the forests - the one thing in common was the sound of endless birdsong. Often the smallest birds seemed to sing the loudest, so once you spotted your bird, you would be in for a real treat when you were faced with a magnificent show of multicolored plumage.
Now that one of my passions is photography, I would give anything to go back to Africa and take photos of these pretty little birds, as well as the larger flamingos, storks, cranes, hornbills and even the old vultures.
Having begun this lens with 'beauty' as my inspiration, I was devastated during the research to find out how many of these bird species are endangered, and some even under serious threat of extinction. My original theme of beauty is now shared with one of threat.
Most of the photos are available from Art.com, just click on their image. Others are also available from specialist sites.
- The List of African Birds is a listing of all the bird species known from the continent of Africa, classified in James Clements' Birds of the World: A Checklist up to July, 2005. Some updates to March 2010 have been made to this checklist but mostly only in changes to the notes.
- African Bird Club works for the welfare of birds throughout the entire continent.
- Birding Africa is a specialist birding tour company customising tours for both world listers and more relaxed holiday birders. They combine interests in mammals, butterflies, dragonflies, botany and other natural history aspects and will guide you to Africa's and Madagascar's most diverse birding destinations.
- Nature Rwanda is an arm of WildlifeDirect, whose mission is to connect conservationists in the frontline with those who care about wildlife worldwide. To enable them interact and help each other, allowing anyone in the world to support the work of these conservationists.
- African Birds by Ross Warner is a stock photography site containing beautiful images of many species of african birds.
- Free Bird Wallpapers for your desktop.
Flamingos on Lake Nakuru, Kenya - Lake's abundance of algae attracts the flamingos
Established in 1961 within the Rift Valley, Lake Nakuru National Park incorporates the well known flamingo lake as well as the surrounding savannahs and mountains.
The small town of Nakuru is situated about 160 miles north-west of the capital, Nairobi, while the shallow, alkaline-saline lake stands at 1,759 metres above sea level. In Masai, the word 'Nakuru' means "dusty area".
African Mecca is one of those travel companies who offer you the chance of visiting these wonderful wild parts of the world, and can tailor a safari to suit your requirements. So, if your hobby in photography, and flamingos are your quest - this is a must-do trip. In fact, having been there when I was just a boy, I think it's a must for any serious traveller or wildlife enthusiast. It is also possible to take breathtaking balloon rides across the open, dusty plains watching the wildlife from on high.
They will organise everything from your safari lodge to your day's activities, and with so much to see, your feet wont touch the ground!
Here is an excerpt from African Mecca about their safari...
"The lake is world famous as the location of the greatest bird spectacle on earth - myriads of fuschia pink flamingoes whose numbers are legion, often more than a million maybe two. They feed on the abundant algae, which thrives in the warm waters..."
To read more go to Safari specialists
Scientists have discovered that flamingos are dying by the thousands along the Great Rift Valley lakes of Kenya and Tanzania. However, they are baffled as to the reason. Possible causes include "avian cholera, botulism, metal poisoning, pesticides or poisonous bacteria", say researchers.
Grey Crowned-Cranes - The National Bird of Uganda
The Grey Crowned Crane is found in dry savannah areas throughout eastern and southern Africa. Standing at around 3 ft tall and weighing approx. 7.5 lbs, it is an elegant bird, showing off a crown of firm, golden feathers on its head, and with predominantly grey plumage, and white on the wings.
I have vivid memories of small groups of these birds honking away while feeding in the open grassland, whilst at the same time carrying out magnificent pirouettes. These movements were enthralling as you watched the birds bow their heads, then jump and dance at the same time.
These birds roost in trees, unlike other members of the crane family, and make nests on platforms made of grass and other wetland vegetation They are able to grip tightly onto the branches as they have an extra long back toe.
Although the Grey Crowned Crane remains common over much of its range, it faces threats to its habitat due to drainage, overgrazing, and pesticide pollution.
The Grey Crowned Crane is the national bird of Uganda and features in the country's flag and coat of arms
Easy Pickings For Maribou Storks
African Malachite Sunbird - Approximately 100 species of sunbirds
Sunbirds are close relatives of hummingbirds, and feed mainly on nectar collected from certain flowers. The obvious difference between the two species is that the sunbird is not able to hover whilst feeding, like its agile distant cousin who can gain access to many an inaccessible flower trumpet.
Because of this feeding method, sunbirds frequent the more bushy, afforested areas of Africa, (they can also be found in Asia, and South Pacific) where nectar sources are easily available from a perching position. The African sunbird is larger than others of this group, and Malachite males have two long primary feathers in their long tail. which accounts for nearly half of its total length.
(The pictures accompanying the title are all sunbirds.)
FAMILY NECTARINIIDAE - See all the genus Sunbirds
African Sunbirds And Tree Tobacco - the birds 'hang around' for the nectar!
African sunbirds have found that nectar from a particular plant encourages them to hang around and want more. Mention the word 'tobacco', and you'll understand.
Tree tobacco is a plant which has made its way to South Africa from South America. The plant produces attractive, yellow tubular flowers, which in turn depend on nectar-feeding birds, such as sunbirds to pollinate it.
An astonishing find was made by Sjirk Geerts of Stellenbosch University in South Africa, where he noticed that local malachite sunbirds spent a lot of time hovering around tree tobacco flowers, in the northeastern part of the country, so he set about to investigate.
It has been known that sunbirds can hover occasionally, but now they were getting a great deal of their winter food from these tobacco tree flowers. What was the attraction?
Geerts was quoted in New Scientist magazine saying, "This is the first time we have observed them making a lifestyle of it". The birds now stay in the region in the wintertime, as the flowers continue to supply their nectar needs, rather than migrating away from it - they seem to be hooked!
At the same time, the tobacco tree plant seems to be benefiting. Researchers have found that the sunbird visits to the plant have increased, whilst the flower set has also increased threefold. It is unknown at the moment whether sunbird numbers are increasing, but this is quite likely, as nature often works on 'backscratching' methods - i.e. a plant offers plenty of food, the eater is satisfied and disperses seeds to help procreate the plant.
Geerts now wants to conduct more research to see whether the sunbirds keep hovering during the summer months, while they are raising young and expending a lot of energy at the same time.
Ref: New Scientist - April 18 2009 (malestrom). (n.d.). from Sunbirds Are Evolving On The Wing
Photo credit: Michael L. Charters - http://www.calflora.net/
Books About Africa
African Hoopoe - Upapa Africana
There is much debate about whether the African and Eurasian Hoopoe are different species or both just a subspecies of Upupa epops. In the open they can be distinguished by their overall coloration, the africana has a much richer chestnut hue without a white sub-terminal band on the main wings in the African Hoopoe. They are cavity nesters and will happily use a hollow anywhere from a pile of boulders to cavities in walls or buildings,
Hoopoes are relatively unsociable birds, often found individually or in pairs, except in the season of migration when small flocks may be seen. Their fluttering flight, reminiscent of a large butterfly, offers a distinctive sight in the woodlands, grasslands and gardens of Eastern and Southern Africa. The distinctive call of hoop-hoop, repeated many times over is a familiar sound to anyone who has spent time in the bush.
This bird is easily distinguishable by its orange-pink body plumage with bold striped wings and tail, and protruding erectile crest. It feeds mainly on the ground on insects, worms and other invertebrates.
African Birds on Video
African Grey Parrots
African Greys have a deserved reputation for extreme intelligence and ability to repeat words. Books in the Complete Pet Owner's Manuals series present advice and instruction on feeding, housing, health care, training, grooming, protection against hazards, and more.
Bleak Outlook For African Vultures - Poisoning and killing
"In South Africa conservationists are concerned that vultures could soon become extinct, as traditional healers hunt them down for their parts.
There is a belief that the vultures have the power to predict anything from winning lottery numbers even to football scores."
The Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus, is considered to be an Old World vulture, its closest living relative is the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus). Although dissimilar, Egyptian and Bearded Vultures both have a lozenge-shaped tail which is pretty unusual among birds of prey. It feeds mainly on carrion living and breeding on outcrop crags in high mountain areas.
The Lammergeier doesn't have a bald head like most vultures, but is a large bird with a massive 10 foot wingspan, which enables it to slowly circle in the thermals above the savannah whilst searching for food.
African vultures are dying of poison and are following their Asian cousins on a dangerous downward spiral.
Munir Virani, from the National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, with colleagues have reported a worrying 50% decline in vulture numbers in the area of the Masai Mara National Reserve over the last 25 years. The dramatic increase of livestock farmers around the park over a similar period could have had an effect. It has been found that these farmers have indeed been leaving dead animals strewn around, particularly goats, which have been infected with Furadan, a toxic pesticide, in order to kill hyenas and lions.
In south Asia, the griffon vulture has been driven to virtual extinction by eating accidentally poisoned cattle carcasses - these cows had received treatment before they died with drugs that just happen to harm vultures. As vultures range fairly widely and eat communally, just 1 per cent of cattle need to have been poisoned to affect the entire population. This makes the use of deliberately poisoned animal carcasses in Africa much more of a threat to the scavengers.
Chris Bowden of the UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says,
"the irony is that if the poisoned carcasses wipe out vultures, it will help the hyenas and lions that the farmers are trying to eliminate to flourish. That's because there will less competition for the carrion normally eaten by the birds."
(1) Biological Conservation, DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2010.10.024).
The Cunning Of Wild African Vultures - From BBC wildlife
What's Your View? - Mans intervention or evolution or ?
What's your opinion on the state of Africa's birds?
Samburu National Reserve, Kenya
The Red-and-yellow Barbet is a species of African barbet found in eastern part of Africa. The Barbet males have very distinctive colorings of black or spotted white, and red and yellow plumage, while the females are fairly similar but a bit more dull.
The birds live in cliff areas, around termite mounds and along riverbeds, and avoid very open or densely wooded areas. They nest and roost in tunnels, and forage close to the ground on seeds, fruit and also small invertebrates.
They are widely hunted for their feathers by some tribes, such as the Masai, but in areas where there is little or no hunting, they are extremely tame.
Communal Nesting Weaver Birds
Large Communal Nest of Sociable Weavers in Dry Country Near Sesriem, Namibia
The Weaver bird is one of natures greatest nest builders, choosing to reside in a colony, with as many as 100 to 300 pairs nesting on a single tree. There is certainly an element of 'safety in numbers' going on, but it is their nest building techniques that they are renowned for. Colonies are often found near water courses or dry riverbeds.
The males do most of the construction work, and gather nest making materials from the surrounding grassland and bushes. These come in all shapes and sizes, and different species will often use different materials including grasses, twigs, and strands of leaf-fibre. The building begins with the birds intricately weaving together the materials on the end of a branch.
The aim of the design is to form an upturned funnel shape nest with a long, narrow entrance. There's method to this technique, to make it difficult for predators to gain access, particularly snakes, as the diameter of the opening is so small as well as facing downwards. But more importantly, the nest has been built to lure prospective females - the better the build, the more likely a mate.
The Red-billed Quelea, reputed to be the world's most numerous bird has been known to cause crop damage in a large scale, (see video) of these birds in action!
A Pair of Weaverbirds Weaving
Golden Palm Weaverbird
Black-Headed Weaver Bird
Complex Nest Building
Peter Blackwell Art - Watercolors
by Peter Blackwell
by Peter Blackwell
Films From Africa
Bird Harmony & Co-Operation - Completely unselfish
African birds, Carmine Bee Eaters line up along the branches of trees, and pass fruit to other members first.
We have so much to learn from other species of the animal kingdom, many of whom have developed enviable strategies of harmony and devotion amongst its members.
This cooperation and unselfishness can be seen when flocks of these birds descend onto fruit trees to feed. When the easily accessible fruit has been eaten, the birds have a strategy of uniformity and fairness for feeding on the remaining berries at the ends of the branches.
Other birds could face starvation in this situation, as the individual bird 'who landed there first' would eat all the fruit. However, Carmine Bee Eaters don't behave like that, they go in for sharing and helping one and other. Lining up along the branch side by side, they pass the berries along the line to the next bird until the one at the end gets the meal. The next time the flock descends on a branch, the line-up order will change, so that those birds that didn't get any fruit on the last visit, shall be the first to get some on this visit.
Ref: Devotion Among Animals - Bilim ve Teknik (Science and Technology), September 1992
Carmine Bee-Eater - Found across sub-equatorial Africa
The Southern Carmine Bee-eater (Merops nubicoides) is found throughout sub-equatorial Africa. It's a migratory species, and spends the breeding season in Zimbabwe, before heading to South Africa for the summer, then migrating northwards to equatorial Africa.
Most species of bee-eater are vividly colored, none more so than the Carmine Bee Eater, which has a dominant carmine color on its body, with the top of the head and under the tail in blue. Found in river valleys and floodplains, it likes to nest in vertical banks which are ideal for tunneling into when breeding.
Like the Weaver birds they are a sociable species choosing to roost in colonies in trees and reedbeds. They make their nests in long burrows in earth banks and always assemble in large flocks, both in and out of the breeding season. They feed off bees and other flying insects from perches on branches of vegetation, or even off the backs of larger animals. Their diet also includes lizards and rodents.
Read more on Carmine Bee Eaters in Wikipedia
Rainbow Bee Eaters
Many South African Birds Are In Trouble
Of the 9,856 bird species on Earth, 1,226 are listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable. 40 of these occur in South Africa and of these 20 are endemic. Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, species are now disappearing from our planet at a faster rate, and studies have shown that human activities are mostly responsible.
1. The Wattled Crane is the most severely threatened of all cranes on the African continent. Countries thought to be the stronghold for this bird, such as Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia have recently carried out surveys which have shown that the global population is just half of what has been reported in recent years. A few of the greatest losses have occurred in South Africa, where the decline between 1980 and 2000 has been a massive 38%, leaving the national population Critically Endangered. South Africa now has only about 250 individuals remaining.
2. The African Penguin was uplisted to Endangered in 2011. The population has declined by just over 60% in the past 28 years, and as one can guess, it is through commercial fishing - inflicted by man - which has caused huge food shortages. Massive changes in fish distributions have also contributed to the decline.
3. Another charismatic bird, the Taita Falcon, is desparately in need of conservation attention, this species has suffered devastation and fragmentation to its habitat.
4. The Blue Swallow lives in undulating, short grasslands along the eastern part of the South African escarpment and north-western Swaziland. The population of the South African Blue Swallow is terribly low with awareness of only around 50 pairs, it also is classified locally as Critically Endangered. In South Africa, habitat destruction caused by afforestation, has reduced their numbers by more than 80% over the last 100 years, this is so serious.
5. 18 out of the 22 albatross species occurring worldwide are threatened with at least some level of extinction. Fishing with longline hooks (about 1 billion hooks are set each year), catch and drown 300,000 seabirds, of which albatrosses account for 100,000 of these.
Recent South African species listings are as follows:
- The Grey Crowned Crane and the Black Crowned Crane, uplisted to Vulnerable
- The African Penguin uplisted from Vulnerable to Endangered
- The Southern Ground Hornbill uplisted from Vulnerable to Endangered.
Birds Stamps Of Africa
Just a tiny selection of the many countries
Many African countries portray birds and animals on their stamps. As a boy my first stamp collection consisted of hundreds of Kenya wildlife stamps. I am not surprised that I have come full circle, as it were, to embrace their beauty once again.
Sometime I must find my collection and post an image here!
Birds of Africa
Scops Owl | Bee Eater | Monarch Cuckoo | Oriole Hoopoe | Seadcracker and much more shown in their natural habitat in the African Rain Forest
Hummingbirds - The Smallest Of Birds...
...with the fastest wing speed
The hummingbird in flight is the only bird that can fly in any direction!
Hummingbirds are among the smallest of all birds, with most species measuring just 7.5-13 cm (3-5 in).
The smallest bird in existence is a hummingbird, the tiny 2 inch (5cm) Bee Hummingbird. These aerial acrobats can hover in mid-air with such dexterity by flapping their wings at a phenomenal rate of anything between 12 and 90 times a second (depending on the species). They are the only group of birds that can also fly backwards!
Hummingbirds live off the nectar, extracted with their adaptable bill and tongue, from the inside of flowers. Similar to bees, they can tell how much sugar is in the nectar they eat, and will reject those flower types with a nectar to sugar ratio below 10%. It requires a great deal of energy to hover whilst feeding, so it's important for the bird to spend its feeding time efficiently. As the nutrient value of nectar is poor, the birds get their protein, minerals and vitamins from preying on insects and spiders.
Most hummingbirds have long virtually straight bills, but in some species, the shape of the bill has adapted for more specialized feeding. Thornbills feed from flowers with short corollas, so only have short bills, whereas Sicklebills' have extremely curved bills specially adapted to extracting nectar from the curved corollas of certain flower types.
Hummingbirds, like the similar nectar-feeding sunbirds, drink by using protrusible grooved or trough-like tongues.
How the hummingbird bill works
The two halves of the bill have a noticeable overlap, with the lower half tightly fitting inside the upper half. When the birds feed on nectar, the bill opens slightly, allowing the tongue to dart out and into the interior of the flowers.
African Pygmy Kingfisher
Secretive and unobtrusive
The African Pygmy Kingfisher is a tiny, adorable bird, just 12cm long, and found across Africa south of the Sahara, apart from those very hot regions such as the Horn of Africa, and the western regions of Southern Africa.
The birds are secretive and unobtrusive, and live on their own or in pairs. They feed on insects in flight, giving a high-pitched, "tsip-tsip" call as they flit around after their prey. Not bound to water courses, as their name might suggest, they can be found in open grassland, woodland and coastal forest areas.
Got its name from the quills in its neck
Secretary Birds are large birds of prey (about 4' tall), found in Africa, in open grassland and savannah areas. The birds avoid dense undergrowth and forests, as these cramp their style of existence. Choosing to live on the plains, giving them room to roam, and chasing their prey unimpeded, they return to roost in Acacia trees at nighttime after spending all day hunting.
I can remember watching these extraordinary birds as they stomped they way around in the grass trying to catch their prey. It was a bit like viewing a dance troupe who we unable to keep in time with each other, or didn't know the dance moves!
Sometimes they will feed on animal casualties after wildfires, and are one of the only birds of prey to hunt on foot as a matter of habit. They catch small mammals, such as snakes and lizards or even birds and birds eggs.
Portrait of Secretary Bird
With those long legs, a secretary bird stamps the ground to flush out potential victims from their hiding places. Once the prey is in sight, it's either stamped on, so rendering it unconscious - then it's eaten alive - or pecked to death with their tough, sharp beaks.
The bird appears on the coats of arms of both Sudan and South Africa.
Southern Ground Hornbill
Southern Ground Hornbill in Flight
Southern Ground Hornbills are large birds, characterized by their black body coloration, with vivid red patches on the throat and face. They live in small groups of 5 to 10 individuals in grassland, woodland and open savannah areas.
These hornbills are often confined to national reserves and national parks, due to their vulnerability in the wild. They normally feed on the ground on rodents and snakes, as well as frogs, snails, and insects.
Another of my African childhood memories, is of a neighbour owning a huge - I was small - Ground Hornbill by the name of Patrick. Any time we went to visit these friends, Patrick was summoned to show off his skills in front of my sister and me. A snake or rodent was supplied to Patrick, and with such viscious efficiency, he despatched his quarry, and swallowed it whole, in a moment.
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