Raptors of the Athi-Kaputiei Ecosystem, southern Kenya

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

Roosting adult

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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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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6 months ago

Thanks a million shema and you’re bringing our community into knowledge about this very unknown resource which we must prepare and learn to protect

Sidney Shema
Sidney Shema
6 months ago
Reply to  David

My pleasure David. It is indeed very much worth protecting