Kenya Bird Watching Safaris – From the dull and drub finch to the beautiful sunbird and from the mythical Hamerkop to the steady and no-nonsense bustard bird… Hey, this is Kenya. Let’s go birding!
Of vistas so immense that they touch your soul for nature and awake your birding spirit. With a checklist of over 1100 species of birds, Kenya is well known as a birding safari destination and this already adds more value to the wildlife attractions in our parks alongside more than 42 tribes that call Kenya home. Isn’t this fantastic that birds inhabit almost all habitats that are equally teeming with the BIG game and other wildlife in equal measures!
Looking at the country geographically, we end up with five different but all significantly important geographical zones. These are namely, the Western Plateau, the Highlands, the Rift Valley, the Northern Plains, and the Coastal Region.
In Kenya, Highlands consists of two major divisions on either side of the Great Rift Valley. Being on the windward side and experiencing annual rainfall and cooler temperatures than the rest of the country, this region tends to have more to offer. This geographical zone consists of Nairobi which is located on the eastern side of the Great Rift Valley, alongside Mount Kenya. On the other hand, the Mau Forest, being the largest forest block in Kenya, is located in the highlands on the western side of the Great Rift Valley.
Because of the high rainfall, these highlands are prone to mass agricultural and other human-related activities that greatly threaten these habitats together with a number of bird species. Luckily, some birding habitats in the eastern highlands lie in protected areas namely; Nairobi National Park, Mount Kenya, and the Aberdares Mountains National, which includes the Gatamaiyo Forest Reserve. On the western side, birding sites include the Molo Grasslands, the Mau Narok region to the south, and the Kongelai Escarpment to the northwest of Kitale.
Looking into the Great Rift Valley system in both Kenya and Tanzania, encompassing more than half of the African Rift Valley system. In Kenya, the valley extends southward from Lake Turkana in northern Kenya into northern Tanzania. It’s in the heart where a collection of freshwater and alkaline lakes are found.
The alkaline lakes attract large numbers of flamingos, especially at Lake Nakuru but also at other soda lakes as well. The major freshwater lakes namely; Naivasha and Baringo, which is actually slightly alkaline. These attract different aquatic birds than those found around the soda lakes. Much of the surrounding habitat is bushland and scrub.
With an extension, the Great Rift Valley is also, where Tanzania’s Serengeti Plains is located along with its northern extension into Kenya, as Masai Mara. These sweeping plains with rolling hills are home to vast herds of migratory Wildebeest, zebras, giraffes, and many species of antelopes. Apart from the already mentioned animals, big cats such as lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, and other mammals call these plains home.
This habitat is also home to many bird species. The savanna includes grassland but also bush, open woodland, scrub, rocky hillsides, ridges, and valleys, and this diversity of habitats results in a great diversity of birds. For instance, over 500 species have been recorded within the boundaries of Masai Mara National Reserve alone by experienced and amateur birders.
Another geographic zone of great interest in the Western Plateau the region around Lake Victoria. Sandwiched between the eastern and western branches of the African Rift system, this zone is fissured by numerous faults and escarpments with valleys in between. The last remaining equatorial rainforest in Kenya is located there.
This zone is unique in that 80 species of birds in the Kakamega Forest are found nowhere else in Kenya. Away from the high altitude of the Kongelai Escarpment onto the Western Plateau adds to the diversity of bird species that are unique and therefore are restricted to this region. The dense Papyrus swamps and other lakeshore vegetation around Lake Victoria and its satellite lakes are home to specialty species. Moving a little to the north from Lake Victoria with its super aquatic species, the Busia Grassland near the northeast shore of Lake Victoria is home to several localized bird species.
The Coastal Geographic zone covers the entire eastern half of Kenya. Characterized by the low altitude that renders it a higher humidity rate in a rather featureless countryside. The region is endowed with several river floodplains and low plateaus that gradually rise in elevation. Near Kenya’s border with Tanzania are Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks south of coastal city Mombasa is Shimba Hills National Park, notable for its iconic Sable and Roan Antelope as well as several range-restricted bird species not found elsewhere in Kenya.
Finally, the Northern Plain’s geography stretches from Uganda to Somalia and is quite arid. Lake Turkana constitutes this part, semi-desert savanna west of Lake Turkana, and the Chalbi Desert to the east. Of all the already described geographic zones, this is the only one that is less populated. From the Somali border lies, Samburu National Reserve and still in the extent of this geographical location, and is quite far from the Somali border. This reserve is home to the Samburu tribe and is home to birds of semi-arid savanna and bush as well as some interesting mammals such as the Reticulated Giraffe, Beisa Oryx, and Grevy’s Zebra.
If your time would allow you to visit Africa, don’t miss an opportunity to come to Kenya. With good spotting and hearing ability, it’s possible to see over 500 species on a 3-week birding holiday and possibly, 800 species on a 4-week birding holiday. The varied geography of Kenya is the reason for such species diversity, and basic knowledge of its geography is helpful in understanding the birding opportunities.