Of Kenya’s 1100 or so species of birds, over 200 are migrants – birds that are only in Kenya for part of the year and spend other months somewhere else. Migrants live some very fascinating lives. They are born in a certain part of the world, and then travel huge distances (sometimes across entire continents or oceans) to some other part of the world, spend several months there and then they return back to where they were born, and if they’re mature they then breed and produce their own young, and the next year they repeat the cycle again.
Usually, breeding happens in warm or wet months and then they migrate to escape the harsh cold/dry season before returning when the weather improves again. Some birds are so specific that they will return to the exact same tree/bush/cliff to breed, fly along the exact same routes when travelling and spend their winters in the exact same places every year for many years (their whole lives in some cases)!
Today’s ‘episode’ is dedicated to this incredible group of globe-trotting birds.
Most of Kenya’s migrants are from the Palearctic region (Europe, Asia north of the Himalayas, northern Arabia and Africa north of the Sahara). They breed in the Palearctic during the northern summer and then migrate south to spend the winter in the Afrotropical region (Sub-Saharan Africa and southern Arabia).
(This book is a great guidebook for identifying many of the Palearctic migrants that we see in Kenya.)
Some of the ones we see in Kenya spend the winter here while others only pass through the country on their way further south. We also get a few other types of migrants in Kenya, including intra-African, Malagasy and Oriental migrants. Some birds are also altitudinal migrants, performing small-scale local migrations between high and low altitudes. Some birds do a complete migration, where the entire population migrates, while others are only partial migrants with some individuals staying put.
Kenya, being on the equator, receives migrants from both the southern and northern hemispheres. This is a privilege that relatively few countries enjoy and is one of the many things that makes Kenya one of the top bird-watching destinations in the world.
Maintain some natural habitat on your piece of land and you’ll be surprised at how many birds even a small patch of natural habitat can attract. Look out for some of the beautiful migrants as they pass through your area. By keeping some of your land natural, you are helping them to survive and refuel as they undertake their incredible journeys. Migratory birds are one of the wonders of the natural world. They have inspired people for centuries. Many cultures also use migrants to track seasonal and environmental changes. We should all do our part, no matter how small, to conserve migrants so that we and future generations can continue to marvel at and benefit from them.
If you’d like recommendations on good birding guides that can help you spot many migrants in Kenya, feel free to get in touch. And while you’re out birding in Kenya, consider submitting your bird lists to the Kenya Bird Map project to help monitor the distribution and movements of migratory birds in the country.
Tune back next Thursday for the next episode of Ndege Wetu!
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