NDEGE WETU: A Tribute to the Birds of Kenya (Part 3 – The World Record Holders)

There are some birds in Kenya that stand out among all other birds globally. They have characteristics or behaviours that set them apart from the rest and even people who are not particularly interested in birds will often admire them with awe. On this episode of Ndege Wetu, we will take a look at some of these world record holders.

Without furthe ado, here are 5 of the most notable ones:

Ostriches (Struthionidae)World’s largest birds

Ostriches can weigh over 120 kg and stand up to 2.7 m tall. They are by far the largest birds on earth. There are two species of Ostrich, both of which occur in Kenya: Common Ostrich (Struthio camelus) and Somali Ostrich (Struthio molybdophanes). They are very similar in size, although the Common Ostrich is slightly larger/heavier.

A male Common Ostrich of the East African race massaicus (Masai Ostrich) in Nairobi National Park. Ostriches are only found in Africa. There used to be an Asian race of the Common Ostrich on the Arabian Peninsula, it was called the Arabian Ostrich (S. c. syriacus), but it went extinct in the 1960s due to excessive hunting by people. Today, apart from the Masai Ostrich, the other races of Common Ostrich are the North African Ostrich (S. c. camelus) and the Southern Ostrich (S. c. australis).
Distant shot of a Somali Ostrich in Meru National Park. Notice the blueish neck and legs, which distinguish this species from the Common Ostrich. This species is a specialist of arid and semi-arid areas,. It is endemic to (only found in) the horn of Africa, with its Kenyan distribution being in the dry north/north-east.

Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori) – World’s heaviest flying bird

Ostriches are the heaviest birds in the world but they can’t fly. Among flying birds, the Kori Bustard is the heaviest, weighing up to 20 kg. If you think about it, that’s quite heavy if you need to lift yourself into the air and fly using nothing but pure muscle power! The Great Bustard (Otis tarda) of Eurasia and north Africa weighs almost the same as the Kori and there is debate over which holds the true world record, but the Kori has a higher average body weight than the Great Bustard.

Kori Bustard on the Athi-Kaputiei Plains, southern Kenya

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) – World’s fastest animal

The Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is the world’s fastest running animal. But among all animals, the Peregrine Falcon is the true king when it comes to speed. Its main hunting technique involves swooping down on its prey at an incredible speed that can exceed 320 km/h!! The prey often dies on impact. This falcon is like a living bullet! They mainly eat medium-sized birds like doves, waders and ducks.

Peregrine Falcon at Ngulia Safari Lodge, Tsavo West National Park. Peregrines are extremely versatile and are the most widespread bird of prey on earth, occurring on every continent except Antarctica, and in almost every habitat from woodlands to semi-deserts to coastlines to cities.

Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppellii) – World’s highest-flying bird

Vultures are highly efficient flying machines that are able to soar on air thermals or updrafts for huge distances with barely the beat of a wing. Rüppell’s Vulture has been recorded flying at heights of over 11 km, which is higher than any other bird is known to fly. Sadly, this species is now Critically Endangered, the main threats in Kenya being secondary poisoning when they feed on poisoned carcasses targeted towards big cats and hyenas.

Rüppell’s Vultures after taking their daily bath – Nairobi National Park

Goliath Heron (Ardea goliath) – World’s largest heron

This enormous heron stands 1.5 m tall and has a huge spear-like bill that it uses to catch big fish that can be nearly half a meter long! It also eats other small animals it can catch like snakes, toads and small mammals. Herons are important predators that help keep the populations of aquatic animals like frogs and fish in balance with the environment.

Goliath Heron in the Tana River Delta

Kenya is privileged enough to have some of the world’s most incredible birds. The 5 listed above are just a few examples and there are many others. The best way to appreciate Kenya’s birds is to go birding with a professional guide. Feel free to get in touch with me if you would like recommendations for good bird-watching guides, or suggestions of the best places in Kenya to see some of these amazing birds.

If you enjoyed this episode of Ndege Wetu, don’t forget to check out Part 4 next Thursday. And if you are out there birding, please submit your bird observation to the Kenya Bird Map project to contribute to the research and conservation of birds in Kenya as a citizen scientist!

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Sidney is a Kenya-based ornithologist and photographer specializing in the birds of Africa, with an especially keen interest in the birds of prey (raptors) of Kenya.

About Sidney Shema

Sidney is a Kenya-based ornithologist and photographer specializing in the birds of Africa, with an especially keen interest in the birds of prey (raptors) of Kenya.

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