Monitoring the Abbott’s Starling in Mt. Kenya

 Kenya is home to 46 globally threatened bird species. These birds live and breed in various sites scattered across the country; or spend time in Kenya during their migrations. Monitoring of threatened bird species is a critical conservation action Nature Kenya is undertaking with the assistance of local community volunteers referred to as site support groups (SSGs). 

The Mt. Kenya Biodiversity Conservation Group (Mt. KEBIO) is the SSG for Mt. Kenya Important Bird Area (IBA), now considered a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA). This SSG is actively engaged in numerous activities to conserve the site’s unique habitats and species. 

Abbott’s Starlings are among the threatened bird species that call Mt. Kenya home. This rare blue-black and creamy white bird only lives in some tropical moist montane forests in Kenya and Tanzania, with its population on a decline. In 2021, the Abbott’s Starling was uplisted to Endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. According to BirdLife International, between 1,000 – 2,500 individuals are remaining. Forest loss and degradation are listed as the major threats to the bird’s survival. 

Last year, Mt. KEBIO conducted monitoring of the Abbott’s Starling in Castle forest on the southern slopes of Mt. Kenya. The objective was to establish the status of the bird’s estimated population and the condition of its habitat in the forest block. A monitoring team, comprising of members of Mt. KEBIO and Castle Community Forest Association (CFA), Nature Kenya and Kenya Forest Service (KFS) officers, and birders and guides from Castle Forest Lodge, undertook the exercise on four separate days in August, September and December 2021. 

Interactions with local bird guides proved helpful. The guides provided invaluable insights into the Abbott’s Starling’s behaviour patterns. From their observations, Abbott’s and Waller’s starlings are commonly spotted together in Castle forest. The two species prefer nesting in cleavages of dead trees. According to the local bird guides, the best times to see the Abbott’s Starling at Castle forest are 7:00 to 10:00 in the mornings and 3:00 to 5:00 in the evenings. 

Other birds observed during the monitoring exercise included African Green Pigeon, White-headed Wood Hoopoe, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Kikuyu (Montane) White-eye, and Mountain Wagtail, among others. 

Famous for its breathtaking landscapes, the Mt. Kenya ecosystem is also a significant contributor to Kenya’s economy. Its forest catchment is a source of water for domestic use, agriculture, hydropower generation and industrial use. Deforestation remains the greatest threat facing the Mt. Kenya forest. 

 Established in 1999, Mt. KEBIO has been championing the conservation of biodiversity in the Mt. Kenya ecosystem. The group is undertaking several conservation activities such as forest habitat restoration, biodiversity monitoring and environmental education and awareness creation. Mt. KEBIO plans to make monitoring of the Abbott’s Starling at Castle forest a regular activity.