For passionate birdwatchers, Kenya is the ideal spot in Africa! The country boasts an astonishing 1,154 confirmed bird species as of 2022 October. 11 of these endemic beauties are native to Kenya while the other 4 were introduced by humans. Kenya’s avibase is remarkable, and birders can spot all sorts of feathered friends from white storks to yellow-necked spurfowls.
Just to clarify, birding is a specialty type of safari and is one of the 21 types of safaris I described here.
What is a birding safari?
Birding safaris offer travelers the opportunity to observe birds in their natural habitat and experience the wonders of nature. These tours are tailored to the specific interests of each individual, including a range of activities such as bird-watching, photography, and guided hikes. A knowledgeable guide will help you spot rare species while offering valuable insight into their behavior and environment. During your safari, you’ll be able to explore a variety of habitats and discover different species.
What makes Kenya unique as a birding holiday destination isn’t just because of birds endemic to the area, it’s also because of over 60 bird species that migrate annually from the tropics or from Europe. The migration season usually starts in December and runs through May, when the country is dotted with brilliant yellow-billed storks, swallows and flycatchers.
Birders or birdwatchers?
In different literature I found online, birders is a fairly new name and was formerly called “birdwatchers,”. Bird watching is a pastime that appeals to people of all backgrounds and ages; whether you’re a doctor, lawyer, teacher, police officer, executive or truck driver – everyone can enjoy the world of birding. From young children starting their outdoor journey to senior citizens looking for adventure – it’s an activity that brings us together in our love for nature. No other outdoor activity is capable of this or is able to be as cosmopolitan in its appeal.
Why go on a birding safari? what’s appealing?
Beauty and exceptional extravagant plumages are among the most commonly expressed reasons why birders go out and enjoy their hobby.
The color and diversity of birds make them some of nature’s greatest creations, and there are many species to be discovered in Kenya.
In addition, birding safaris give you the opportunity to explore different parts of the country while learning about its ecology, culture, and history. Birds in flight are often quite difficult to catch with your eyes alone, so having a knowledgeable guide on hand can help you identify and experience different species.
Finally, birders also cite the social interaction that comes with birding safaris as one of its appeals. Birdwatching is a great way to bond with like-minded individuals, and in many cases, it can lead to lifelong friendships.
Captivating complex behavior:
The complex behavior of birds is endlessly captivating, and their melodious songs are both delightful to the ear and evocative. You will learn about the social behavior, mating rituals, and communication techniques of different species.
How to birdwatch and tips:
Don’t let your day-to-day activities limit you – break up the mundane with birdwatching! Whether in your own backyard, amidst nature on a stroll or jog, at work or even from the kitchen window, birds can be observed without interfering with other tasks. Let these feathered friends bring some joy and variance to an otherwise repetitive routine.
Birdwatching is an activity that requires patience, observation, listening and knowledge. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your birding safari:
• Use a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope to get a better view of birds from a distance.
• Be aware of the environment – look for natural or man-made structures that can potentially provide shelter and food for the birds.
• Scan the area for any movement, sound or behavior that might indicate the presence of a bird.
• Listen carefully to bird calls – many species have distinct songs and calls which help you identify them more easily.
• Get yourself familiar with the different field guides available in Kenya which can help you identify the various species found in the country.
• Take photos or videos of birds – they serve as a great reminder of your journey and will help to educate novice birders.
Benefits of birding: 10 key benefits:
1. Connecting with nature: Birding gets you outside and connected to the natural environment. For city dwellers, birding is a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and explore wild spaces.
2. Physical exercise: Walking around for hours in search of birds can be quite physically demanding – so it’s a great form of exercise.
3. Mental Stimulation: Birding is a great way to keep your mind sharp and active! Not only do you get to use your powers of observation, but also develop an understanding of the behavior patterns of birds.
4. Relaxation: As well as being physically stimulating, birding can be a great source of relaxation. Taking the time to stop, observe and appreciate birds in their natural habitat is a therapeutic experience.
5. Education: Birding gives you an opportunity to learn about different species of birds – from their behavior, diet and songs to their breeding habits and migration patterns.
6. Social Interaction: Birding is a great social activity, enabling you to build relationships with like-minded individuals. You can also join birdwatching clubs or meetup groups that organize regular trips and walks.
7. non-consumptive and nondestructive to the environment: Birding is a non-consumptive and nondestructive activity, so it can be enjoyed without causing lasting damage to the environment.
8. Sense of purpose: Birding gives you a sense of purpose – striving to spot new species and understanding the behavior patterns of different birds provides excitement and motivation to keep going.
9. Improving bird conservation: By observing birds and studying their behavior, you can give valuable insights into how best to conserve and protect them.
10. Stress reduction: Birding is a great way to reduce stress – the process of spotting birds, enjoying their songs and movement, has been associated with increased positive emotions that help reduce anxiety levels.
As this guide points out good birders do not just have a keen eye and good hearing, but also have extensive knowledge of their environment. With the right guidance, you can maximize your birding experience while in Kenya and connect with nature in a whole new way.
How to get better as a birder:
You can get good quality binoculars for as low as $50. Make sure to buy something that is comfortable to hold and not too bulky.
Join a birding group:
Joining a birding group will give you access to experienced members who can help guide your learning process. The more time you spend in the field, the better you’ll become at spotting bird species.
Get familiar with bird songs:
Taking the time to learn the different calls and songs of birds can greatly increase your chances of spotting a species. Many apps are now available that can help you identify bird sounds.
Get a compact notebook to record observations and bird names: Keeping a notebook of your sightings, with sketches and notes on behavior patterns can help you develop an understanding of the individual bird species.
Don’t give up:
Birding is not an easy process – sometimes it takes a lot of patience and perseverance to spot a bird. But, with time and effort you will get better at it – so don’t give up!
Where to go on birding safari in Kenya
Lake Nakuru National Park is renowned for its abundance of water and land birds, so it’s the perfect place for those seeking a variety of species. Lake Nakuru National Park is a spectacular bird-watching destination in Kenya, home to over 500 species of birds that nest and inhabit various areas of the park – most notably around Lake Nakuru.
The lake itself covers part of the national park, creating an extraordinary environment for observing diverse avian life. In particular, it is renowned as one of the best places in Kenya to observe long-tailed widowbirds!
Lake Nakuru National Park is a haven for birds of all kinds, from endangered to near-endangered and globally threatened species. Endemic inhabitants like Gray Crowned Cranes, White-backed Vultures, and Rueppell’s Griffons still reside here today.
There are also vulnerable species such as Abyssinian Thrushes, White Headed Vultures, Lappet Faced Vultures; Greater Spotted Eagles; Imperial Eagles; Maccoa Ducks; Lesser Flamingos; Black Tailed Godwits; Great Snipes Bateleurs Crowned Eagles Pallid Harriers European Rollers Sooty Falcons and Gray Crest Helmetshrikes that live in the park.
Amboseli National Park
My second favorite birding safari destination is Amboseli National Park which has up to 370 confirmed bird species including raptors and the grey-crowned crane. Raptors such as the augur buzzard, tawny eagle, and lammergeyer soar in the skies above Amboseli. The grey-crowned crane can be found in the open plains of Amboseli.
The park also has a wide range of waterfowl including white-winged black tern, great white pelican, cattle egret, and common tern.
The park also offers excellent bird-watching opportunities in its swamps and lakes with resident species such as the African fish eagle, white-backed duck, yellow-billed stork, egyptian goose and little grebe.
Amboseli National Park is not only an excellent bird-watching destination if you are planning a safari to Kenya, but it also offers plenty of other exciting activities. You can take part in nature walks or game drives that will give you the opportunity to see some of Africa’s most iconic wildlife species such as elephants, giraffes, zebras and lions.
Some 4-hour drive to the North West of Amboseli lies The Ngulia Hills which are an important flyway for migratory species. The Hills located within Tsavo West National Park is home to over 100 species of birds, including the Abyssinian ground hornbill and the Hinde’s babbler which can only be found in this region. This post on safaribookings.com has a list of birds you can expect to see here.
Tsavo West National Park is a birdwatcher’s paradise, boasting an impressive 400+ species of birds. Ngulia Hills is one of the park’s signature landmarks and sits on one of the busiest avian migration routes in the world; making it a must-visit destination for annul bird ringers during October to January each year! As Africa’s premier site for Bird Ringer studies, Ngulia offers unrivaled opportunities to observe some truly remarkable species.
Tsavo West National Park’s Ngulia Hills area serves as an important flyway for migratory birds while Saiwa Swamp National Park houses 370+ bird species in 15 sq km space or less! Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve has lush indigenous forest and abundant avian life whereas Lake Baringo has been documented to hold one-third of Kenya’s total bird population!
Situated in the breathtaking Rift Valley of Kenya, Lake Bogoria is renowned for its annual show-stopping display of flamingos that gracefully dance across the lake’s surface and captivate visitors from around the world. The National Reserve extends over 107 square kilometres with 34 square kilometers covered by water.
It is home to over 100 species of birds including the white-breasted cormorant and the African skimmer. It is also a great place to spot aquatic birds such as pelicans, storks, kingfishers, lapwings, and flamingos.
Kakamega National Forest
If you are willing to travel far west to Kakamega National Forest, you’ll appreciate more than 370 recognized bird species that inhabit the forest. The distinctive birds of Kakamega include African Grey Parrot, Ross’ Turaco, Narina Trogon, and Puvel’s Illadopsis. Get more details on KWS website here.
Kakamega Forest Reserve Rainforest is a massive habitat with 330+ species present. Some of the common species you can expect to see here include;
- Cinnamon-chested bee-eater.
- Crested guineafowl.
- Giant kingfisher.
- Great blue turaco.
- Vieillot’s black weaver.
Hell’s Gate National Park
Finally, one of the best places to go for birding in Kenya is Hell’s Gate National Park which is home to over 100 species of birds like the Augur Buzzard, Lanner Falcon, and Rosy-breasted Longclaw. The park is also home to some of the world’s rarest raptors and vultures like the Verreaux’s Eagle and Egyptian Vulture.
From November onward, escaped Northern migrants settle down for winter. At Lake Nakuru National Park and Amboseli National Park respectively – you can expect to see flamingos (possibly), pelicans, raptors, grey-crowned cranes as well as an additional 400+ combined varieties of birds.