I’ve been studying raptors (birds of prey) in the Athi-Kaputiei Ecosystem of southern Kenya for a few years now and recently published a
paper on the findings of my research so far in SCOPUS: Journal of East African Ornithology. In the paper I share a lot of info on the abundance, distribution and status of raptors in the area. Being a scientific publication however, the space available for photos was limited. I’d therefore like to share more photos of the raptors I’ve recorded as a way of highlighting the beauty and diversity of the raptors, and wildlife overall, in this incredible but highly threatened part of Kenya. The paper focuses on resident raptors but here I include photos of migrants as well. All photos were taken within the greater Athi-Kaputiei Ecosystem. Names used here follow the Checklist of the Birds of Kenya – Fourth Edition (Bird Committee, the East Africa Natural History Society, 2009). I’ve also included alternative names for some birds.
Falcons ( Falconidae)
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Male of the Palearctic migrant race F. t. tinnunculus in Olerai Conservancy
F. t. tinnunculus female – Olerai Conservancy
Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus
A juvenile near Swara Plains (Game Ranching)
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
The only photo I ever managed of a Peregrine in the entire area. Not exactly award-winning! They are hard to find and even harder to photograph! This one is an adult from a pair of the resident race F. p. minor.
Diurnal Birds of Prey other than Falcons ( Accipitridae)
Secretarybird Sagittarius serpentarius
An adult on the prowl in Nairobi National Park
Sub-adult attacking prey. It was unsuccessful on this attempt. They are however lethal predators, capable of tackling an impressive array of prey including scorpions, snakes, rodents, hares and hedgehogs.
A pair hunting together – Nairobi National Park
In flight over the Kisaju Valley
Drying off after being hammered by a storm …
… and having a stretch while at it
African Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus
The bright red eyes of this kite are striking!
Hunting individuals are entertaining to watch as they hover in search of prey
Talons ready to engage
Black Kite Milvus migrans
The Afrotropical race M. m. parasitus (also called the Yellow-billed Kite) is common in towns and other human settlements.
An adult of the Palearctic migrant race M. m. migrans gliding high over Olerai
African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer
Adult male perched along the Empakasi (Mbagathi) River
Adult from the Hyena/Nagolomon Dam pair in flight – Nairobi National Park
1st year (juvenile) at Hyena Dam – Nairobi National Park
2nd year bird along the Mokoyeti River – Nairobi National Park
White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus
Adult with a full crop after a good feed
Contrary to popular belief, vultures are very clean birds. The White-backed Vultures of Nairobi National Park bath daily after they’ve had their meal.
Drying off after a bath
Marabou Storks Leptoptilos crumenifer often join them at the bathing pool
Adult in flight
Immature bird in flight – Machakos Ranching
Rüppell’s Vulture Gyps rueppellii
Rüppell’s Vultures also bath regularly
Drying off, wih a juvenile White-backed Vulture preening itself close by
Soaring near Oloosuyian
Coming in to roost at dusk
Waking up at a roost (with juvenile White-backed Vultures)
Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotus
A pair in Nairobi National Park
Black-chested Snake Eagle Circaetus pectoralis
Adult in Olerai Conservancy
Immature bird near Olooloitikoshi
Adult in flight
Brown Snake Eagle Circaetus cinereus
A distant sighting on Kapiti Hill
Partial silhouette of a bird hunting over the Isinya River
Bateleur (or Bateleur Eagle) Terathopius ecaudatus
Adult male in flight over Silole
Montagu’s Harrier Circus pygargus – Palearctic Migrant
An immature bird near the Rift Valley escarpment
African Harrier Hawk (or Gymnogene) Polyboroides typus
Attempting to raid Speckle-fronted Weaver nests in Olerai Conservancy
In flight – Kapiti Plains Estate (ILRI Research Centre)
Eastern Chanting Goshawk Melierax poliopterus
Adult near Lenchani
Adult in flight
Looking less than amused after an unsuccessful attack on a Red-headed Rock Agama lizard
Juvenile near Emarti
Gabar Goshawk Micronisus gabar
Adult in the riparian woods of the Olkejuado River
Pair along the Isinya River
Dark morph female on its nest. The ‘normal morphed’ male was keeping watch nearby.
Augur Buzzard Buteo augur
The unmistakable broad-winged orange-tailed raptor
Soaring with its wings held in the typical slightly upturned shape
Tawny Eagle Aquila rapax
Typical adult – Nairobi National Park
Pale adult – Lukenya Hill
Moulting adult in flight – Olerai Conservancy
Sub-adult in flight – Silole Sanctuary
Together with White-backed Vulture in Machakos Ranching. Both have full crops so had clearly fed recently. Tawnys scavenge regularly and often associate with vultures at carcasses, making them one of the most vulnerable eagles to secondary poisoning (the main cause of the steep decline of African vultures).
Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis – Palearctic Migrant
Sub-adult near Olerai
Part of a small kettle rising on a thermal on their southward migration
Verreaux’s Eagle (or Black Eagle) Aquila verreauxii
As seen from above.
Hunting for hyraxes on the rocky slopes of Lukenya Hill. This massive unique-looking eagle is one of my favorite birds.
African Hawk Eagle Aquila spilogaster
Adult male at Game Ranching
Adult female – Game Ranching
Adult in flight
Pair hunting in tandem
Adult with full crop after a good meal
Juvenile in Olerai Conservancy
Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus
Adult male in Nairobi National Park
Adult female from the NNP pair – Silole Sanctuary
Male checking out a potential branch to add to a new nest they were building …
… decides the branch is suitable …
… breaks it off …
… and takes it to the nest.
A juvenile in Olerai Conservancy
Barn Owls ( Tytonidae)
Barn Owl Tyto alba
Typical Owls ( Strigidae)
Spotted Eagle Owl Bubo africanus
This individual had an injured left eye. Very possibly from having stones thrown at it. Persecution as ‘bad omens’ is a major threat to owls in most of Kenya. It’s important to change people’s attitudes towards owls. They are key to healthy ecosystems.
Verreaux’s Eagle Owl (or Giant Eagle Owl) Bubo lacteus
Africa’s largest owl. It can take prey as large as dik-dik, young warthogs and Great White Egret! Though hedgehogs tend to be its favorite prey.
A roosting pair
I hope you enjoyed this selection of images. Feel free to share this post with anyone who might also enjoy it. Note that these are only the birds that I’ve managed to photograph so far. For a full list of the 46 raptor species recorded in the area, and to learn more about the Athi-Kaputiei Ecosystem, see the
published paper (titled “Current status of diurnal breeding raptors in the greater Athi-Kaputiei Ecosystem, southern Kenya: an assessment of abundance, distribution and key areas in need of conservation” ) .
This research was supported through funding from the National Geographic Society and The Peregrine Fund.
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