NDEGE WETU: A Tribute to the Birds of Kenya (Part 9 – The Waterbirds)

Waterbirds, those birds that live near water and depend on it for food and breeding sites, are in my opinion the easiest group of birds to observe. If you are still very new to bird watching and want to quickly improve your identification skills, you should probably spend a lot of time around lakes, dams, swamps and other wetlands. This is because waterbirds are (mostly) large, operate right out in the open and often spend long periods of time in the same general area, which gives you a lot of time to closely observe them and learn how to identify the various species. Some are of course shy and difficult to observe but that’s besides the point. Learning how to identify waterbirds is usually a good foundation for learning the other, more difficult birds quicker. Plus they offer great photographic opportunities ;).

A congregation of waterbirds at Lake Naivasha

Kenya is very well-endowed in waterbirds and their diversity is stunning. Some are year-round residents, some are migrants. Some migrants are from Eurasia, some from Madagascar, others from North Africa and others from southern Africa. They range in size from the huge pelicans and storks to tiny plovers and sandpipers. Some dive for fish like darters while others snatch the fish from the water’s surface like fish eagles. Some don’t eat fish at all and feed on the insects instead or on the aquatic vegetation. Some most of their time gliding over the water yet their feathers barely ever touch it, while others are almost constantly floating on it. Some like fast-flowing rivers, others like still lakes. Some like dense reedbeds while others like open water. Some wade through the shallows while others stick to flat muddy shores. Some like fresh water, some prefer it salty. Some gather in huge numbers, some operate solo. They are a fascinating group of birds indeed!

Without much explanation and in no particular order, here is a collection of some waterbirds that you might come across in Kenya:

Saddle-billed Stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis)
African Open-billed Stork (Anastomus lamelligerus)
Woolly-necked Stork (Ciconia episcopus)
Yellow-billed Stork (Mycteria ibis), African Spoonbill (Platalea alba) and Ruff (Calidris pugnax)
Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis)
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) and Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) and Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)
Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
Great White Egret (Ardea alba) and Yellow-billed Stork
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta), Black Heron (Egretta ardesiaca), Spur-winged Plover (Vanellus spinosus) and Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybrida)
Striated Heron (Butorides striata)
Reed Cormorant (Microcarbo africanus)
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) and Blacksmith Plover
Three-banded Plover (Charadrius tricollaris)
Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii)
Chestnut-banded Plover (Magadi Plover) (Charadrius [pallidus] venustus)
Spur-winged Goose (Plectropterus gambensis)
White-faced Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna viduata)
Knob-billed Duck (Sarkidiornis melanotos)
White-backed Duck (Thalassornis leuconotus)
Southern Pochard (Netta erythrophthalma) being eaten by a small Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus). Can you see the crocodile’s jaws?
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) mother and chick
Red-knobbed Coot (Fulica cristata)
Grey-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus cirrocephalus)
Sooty Gull (Ichthyaetus hemprichii)
Mixed flock of Lesser Crested Terns (Thalasseus bengalensis) and Swift Terns (or Greater Crested Terns) (Thalasseus bergii)
Flock of non-breeding White-winged Black Terns (Chlidonias leucopterus)
Giant Kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima)
Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)
Malachite Kingfisher (Corythornis cristata)
Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum)
Black Crake (Zapornia flavirostra)
Pink-backed Pelican (Pelecanus rufescens)
Great White Pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus)
Lesser Flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor)
Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) among Lessers
African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)
African Marsh Harrier (Circus ranivorus)
Western Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)

These are just a few of the vast array of waterbirds that can be seen in Kenya. Take time to explore the various wetlands around your area and see what you can find. A good guide can help you identify the birds you see and search for some of the rarer ones. While you’re at it, make sure to submit the birds that you record to the Kenya Bird Map project to help map their distribution in Kenya. And of course, conserve the wetlands around you so that you and others can continue to enjoy the beautiful waterbirds that call them home.

Make sure to tune back in next Thursday for the next ‘episode’ of NDEGE WETU: A Tribute to the Birds of Kenya!

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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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