Safety in nesting

One Saturday afternoon, I took my five-year-old to a shopping mall. As usual, there were a lot of sale items on display at the mall. One, in particular, caught her attention: a dome tent. Curiously, she peeped inside the tent and asked me if she could have it as her home. I promised to buy her the tent the following week. The time came, and she came asking for her promise. Oops, it had slipped off my mind! She reminded me I had promised to get her a nest. A nest? I pondered. Yes, she insisted, saying I had promised to get her a house that looked like a bird’s nest for her to live in, referring to some weaver bird nests we had seen on a farm. Oh, I recalled amid some laughter. She meant the tent!

Talking of homes, it’s everybody’s dream to own one, a place to call their own. The array of numerous architectural marvels dotting our landscape exhibits the dynamics of modern building trends and designs. But what inspires all these home designs? Is it creativity? Is it necessity, functionality or the desire to fit?

A Village Weaver constructing a nest. PHOTO CREDIT :PETER USHER

For birds, it is a different notion altogether. Each species has a basic standard approach to nest building. Some birds seem to have mastered this art better than others. The nest-building skills, details and effort they display are beyond human imagination.

But what particular factors do birds consider when constructing their nests? Security is a prime consideration. Birds need to safeguard themselves and protect their eggs and young ones. They achieve this by strategically locating their nests.

An African Paradise Flycatcher nest. PHOTO CREDIT: PETER USHER

Many passerines (“songbirds” or “perching birds”) conceal their nests in thick bushes and lay ‘camouflaged’ eggs. Other birds resort to building numerous nests only to use one. The decoy nests serve to confuse predators. Some birds have nests with multiple false entrances.

Placing nests in hard to reach areas is another trick employed by birds for security. Some species build nests at the tips of thin branches that cannot support the weight of potential predators. Many birds of prey nest in inaccessible cliffs. Barbets, hornbills and woodpeckers find safety in holes on tree trunks, while bee-eaters prefer to burrow in the ground.

A nest Spot-flanked Barbet. PHOTO CREDIT: FRANCIS MUNGAI

Communal nesting for many of the weavers provides strength in numbers in mobbing predators and deterring them from accessing the nests. Some perch their nests’ entrances on thorny barricades.

Sparrows and some weavers have learnt the trick of securing their nests by building them close to human habitation. Interestingly, some birds engage ‘external protectors’ for their nests. They do so by building them near colonies of dreaded insects like ants, wasps or even bees!

Plovers simply gather small rocks or loose soil to lay and conceal their eggs.

All in all, nest building is a fascinating phenomenon, a marvel of our natural world, so to speak. Let’s go outdoors and enjoy nature’s thrilling experiences.

Do you know that:

Contrary to popular belief, birds don’t generally sleep in nests. While actively incubating eggs or raising chicks, birds may occasionally sleep on their nests. Once chicks are grown, the parent birds don’t return to their nesting sites to spend the night.

Birds uniting people

On Saturday, May 8th, Kenya joined the rest of the world to appreciate birds around them during the eBird Global Big Day. More than 51,000 people from 192 countries took part in arguably one of the biggest global bird watching event. The day saw a record one billion bird observations registered!

Kenya ranked 6th in the world with 811 bird species recorded, reaffirming its position as one of the global birding giants. In the top ten country list, Kenya was the only non-Americas (South and North). It was indeed a fantastic day for the birding fraternity in the country.


Appreciation goes out to the Nature Kenya Site Support Groups (SSGs) members from South Nandi Forest, Lake Elmenteita, Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, Mida Creek, Taita Hills, Mt. Kenya forest, Kinangop grasslands, Yala Swamp, Mumoni Hills and Tana River Delta for their outstanding contributions.  Kudos to Henry Ole Sanoe (Lake Elmenteita) and Ibrahim Ogolla (Yala Swamp) for making it to the country’s top ten eBirders list with 235 and 197 recorded species, respectively.

A special mention also goes out to Nature Kenya staff for their submissions to boost the Kenya list. They include Emily Mateche and Moses Nyawasa (Yala Swamp), Jennifer Adero (Tana River Delta), Juliet Mbaka (Loresho swamp), Paul Gacheru (Gitathura dam), Richard Kipngeno (Nairobi National Museum grounds) and Peter Muriithi (Paradise Lost).

It was great to see such enthusiasm from birders of all walks of life. Salute to you all. You made Kenya proud.

All in all, the Global Big Day in Kenya was a great success. The next event is on October 9th. It may sound far off, but early preparations are necessary.


Now you see me, now you don’t

The ‘Birds of East Africa’ second edition by Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe describes this bird as a ‘tiny secretive quail-like birds, usually only seen when flushed (and hard to flush a second time)’. I must confess that the Common Buttonquail aptly fits this description.  


We bumped into this elusive bird on our way to the footbridge over the Nairobi River at Michuki Memorial Park. The unmowed lawn adjacent to the walkway provided perfect cover for the buttonquail. In an instant, the startled bird flew and shortly landed about three meters away. We caught a glimpse of its streaked sandy brown upperparts. 


Unfortunately, that was the last we saw of it. Our second attempt to flush the buttonquail bore no fruits. None the less, we entered the sighting in the eBird mobile app for the Global Big Day. As it turned out, this was the first eBird record of the Common Buttonquail for the Nairobi National Museum/Michuki Memorial Park hotspot!



The Global Big Day is a bird sighting event. On that day (second Saturday of May and October), birders observe and submit their sightings on the eBird website. 


Our team, comprising nine volunteers, chose the Nairobi National Museum grounds and Michuki Memorial Park as our birding sites. Saturday Nation columnist Rupi Mangat was among the participants. 


For close to six hours, we scoured the grounds in search of birds. The usual ones included Hadada Ibises, Pied Crows, Black Kites, Common Bulbuls, African Paradise Flycatchers, Singing Cisticolas and Bronze Mannikins. There were some unusual sightings too. They included the Common Buttonquail, and a few migratory Willow and Marsh Warblers, late to depart for their nesting sites in the North. 



Another highlight of this bird walk was the sighting of an un-identified raptor. We came across the mysterious raptor perched on a tree. It had an entirely white head, with black eyes and beak, and all dark above. John Mwacharo managed to get some shots of the raptor. A review of the images left us even more confused. The photos were shared experts, who identified it as a Great Sparrowhawk with an unusual white head – perhaps leucistic. Then Sidney Shema of Kenya Bird Map informed us that he had photographed that bird two years earlier at the Museum! It will be interesting to track it in the future, with that distinctive face.



All in all, we covered 5.2 kilometres and managed to enter 49 species as part of Kenya’s impressive total on the Global Big Day. 


Croc here to stay?

In February, we reported the sighting of a Nile Crocodile on the banks of the Nairobi River at the Michuki Memorial Park. Interest, fear and skepticism greeted news of this unusual sighting in equal measure. Guess what, our reptile friend is still around, at the very same spot!

Today we stumbled on the croc, doing what it loves doing: basking by the river bank. It was not alone, though. Four Hadada ibises stood next to the croc, evidently maintaining a social distance.

Surprisingly, the recent rains seem not to have swept the crocodile further downstream. Interestingly, it also appeared to be well-nourished.


Crocodile aside, we were fortunate to spot a Great Sparrowhawk. The raptor flew in and perched high on a tall eucalyptus tree, a short distance from the nesting site (see the previous post). Eagerly, we waited to see if the sparrowhawk would fly to the nest. Well, it did not. The bird stayed put on the same spot for over 20 minutes.  By the time we left, it had not budged a single inch.


Our walk took us on almost a similar path to last week’s. There were many birds to listen to and watch. We started at the courtyard. Several Pied Crows were on the courtyard’s cabro-paved floor, pecking on termites that had flown out of their mounds the previous evening. Moving towards the Peace Path, we came across some White-eyed Slaty Flycatchers and Variable Sunbirds. Down near the Nairobi National Museum-Michuki Memorial Park boundary, we encountered Willow and Grey-capped Warblers, Holub’s Golden and Baglafecht Weavers, Northern Olive Thrush (now also called Abyssinian Thrush), Streaky Seedeaters, Bronze Mannikins, Singing Cisticolas, African Citrils, among others.


At Michuki Park, we spotted Village Indigobirds, Spectacled and Village Weavers, Montane White-eyes, Silvery-cheeked Hornbills, a Lesser Honeyguide, to mention a few. Today’s count was 29, plus of course, the crocodile.

Sighting a Rare Leucistic Ring-necked Dove

Ring-necked Doves (Streptopelia capicola) are common birds in our gardens, parks and even in towns in dry country. They are grey in colour, with darker colours on their back, the iconic black feathered collar and black eyes.

Sighting a leucistic Ring necked Dove in the bushes of Ilekunyeti village (2 degrees south and 37 degrees east) in the Amboseli Ecosystem was thrilling. We immediately noticed the grey collar which drew our attention. A few seconds later, it started calling, which ascertained that it’s a Ring-necked Dove. This individual had all white feathers, grey collar and dark eyes.

What are Leucistic birds? – These are birds with a genetic mutation that results in a total or partial reduction of colour in a bird’s feathers. Due to this mutation, pigments are inadequately fixated or fail to be deposited properly in the feathers.

Leucistic birds have a normal coloration of the eyes, bill, legs, and bare parts which make them different from albino birds that totally lack melanin (this is what gives the feathers and eyes their colour). Albino birds are always pure white and have reddish or pink eyes.