Bird Ringing in 2021 Nairobi National Museum Gardens

Ringing sessions (and training), take place weekly at the Nairobi National Museum grounds. Nature Kenya members and the general public are welcome to come and appreciate birds at close range. 

The passage of migratory Willow Warblers, Garden Warblers, Red-backed Shrikes and Lesser Grey Shrikes was outstanding this year. On one April morning, the Nairobi Ringing Group caught, ringed and released 29 Willow Warblers at the Museum grounds in the heart of Nairobi. 

The Nairobi Ringing Group was started in June 1994 in recognition of the demand for training in the techniques of bird ringing, and monitoring bird distribution and movement around Nairobi. It is a practical and participatory means through which both scientists and bird enthusiasts have been encouraged to support conservation initiatives. The main objective of the group is to recruit and train bird ringers to a high ethical and scientific standard. Trainee bird ringers are drawn from both professional ornithologists and amateur bird watchers who are keen to learn the skills and techniques to be competent and independent in handling and ringing birds. 

With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, ringing activities were put on hold from March last year. Ringing activities slowly resumed in early October 2020. This coincided with the opening of the Michuki Memorial Park, now managed by the Kenya Forest Service, and enjoined to the Museums botanical garden as a single ecosystem. A fence, providing security for birders and the general public recreation area around the Museum, now encloses the park. Since the President declared the site a park, with full protection, we have realized an increase in species diversity and some species have even increased in numbers at our ringing site. 

In a span of five months from October 2020 to March of this year we captured – and released – a total of 241 birds, out of which 47 were recaptures. A total of 33 species were captured and ringed within Nairobi National Museums ground during this time. 

As usual, the most captured species were Baglafecht Weaver (167 individuals), Red-billed Firefinch (144 individuals) and for the first time, Willow Warbler (75 individuals — the highest number of Willow Warblers captured at the Nairobi Museum ringing site). This was followed by Streaky Seedeater (48 individuals) and Northern Olive (Abyssinian) Thrush (37 individuals). Sunbirds are the most species-rich group of birds in the Museum grounds, with eight species captured. None of these have been recaptured at the site. 

Besides Willow Warblers, a good number of other Palearctic warblers were captured from November until May, with many recaptured. These included Marsh Warbler (35 individuals), Blackcap (8 individuals), and Garden Warbler (23 individuals). A Common Rock Thrush was captured for the first time on the Museum grounds. This first year (immature) bird was among early southward migrants. Most (82%) of the migrants were captured in March and April, including three Sedge Warblers, which were all captured in April. Our last migrants were captured in late mid-May. 

Some special Afrotropical species have included Green-backed Honeybird and Lemon Dove. One amazing record was of a Blue-spotted Wood Dove, a species that was not just new for the Museum grounds, but also new for the entire Nairobi region. 

All these success stories, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, show how consistent bird ringing at a common site can provide important ecological information on both local and migratory bird species. 

(We want to express our appreciation for interns at the Museums’ Ornithology Section, who regularly turned out to put up nets in the evening even during rainy days in readiness for the morning’s ringing) 

This article by Titus Imboma and Fleur Ng’weno appears in the current issue of Kenya Birding magazine.