The Masai Ostrich, also known as the Pink-Necked Ostrich or the East African Ostrich, is one of the 4 species of ostriches. It’s found in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Somalia. It is one of the largest birds in the world, second only to the Northern-African Ostrich. It has loose, soft, smooth feathers, which are black with white on the male, and grey brown with white on females.
The Masai Ostrich has a pink neck and thighs, that become brighter in males during the mating season.
It’s a flightless bird, as its wings are too small to lift its heavy body into the air. But it’s fast, reaching speeds up to 45 miles an hour.
Like other ostrich species, the top hen lays her eggs first, then other females put their eggs in her nest. After that, she discards the extra eggs from the nest and gives hers the priority. In most cases the nest doesn’t contain more than 20 eggs although every hen can lay 7 – 10 eggs.
The male Masai ostrich usually incubates eggs during the night shift and the female does the incubation during the day shift.
Masai ostriches are almost entirely herbivorous. Their diet consists mainly of grasses, bushes, herbs, succulents, and leaves. Occasionally they will consume flowers, fruits, seeds and small lizards.
Today the Masai Ostrich is hunted and farmed for eggs, meat, and feathers. Interestingly, a 2009 study found that illegal hunting of ostrich meat did not significantly affect the Masai Ostrich population density within the Serengeti National Park.
The Masai Ostrich is listed as a species of “least concern” under the IUCN Red List, although the wild ostrich populations are acknowledged to be in decline.
* Why feature the Masai Ostrich?
A couple of posts this week centered on Maasi handiwork, so I picked a bird with the word “Masai” in its name. Simple as that.
These big birdies are straight out of Jurassic Park. Check out the bill.
Shoebills use their massive, powerful bills to kill and eat their prey, which is usually fish and sometimes small rodents. Shoebills clatter their bills to communicate with one another, but may also make mooing sounds as a form of communication.
Previously they were associated with the same order as storks and herons, but they have most recently been moved into the pelican grouping.
The shoebill usually gets to a height of 40 to 50 inches. Male shoebill birds weigh around 12 pounds. All shoebill have massive spoon-like bills and feature grey plumage that is brown when they’re younger. They have short necks and a large wingspan meant for soaring.
* Why feature the Shoebill?
There’s no particular reason why I decided to pick on the Shoebill this week. Perhaps it’s because I was feeling a little cross concerning the coronavirus confinement and the shoebill exemplified my frustration.
Some years ago, conservationists recognized what an important marketing draw the term “Big Five” had for safari agencies and camps. Wanting to bring attention to East Africa’s wonderfully diverse wildlife (little as well as big, feathery as well as furry, ignoble as well as dominate), they compiled a list of animals they called The Little Five. They chose animals whose names aligned with the names of the already famous Big Five.
Antlions live most of their lives underground (Good luck spotting one!) and are actually the larvae stage of a winged insect that, in adulthood, resembles a dragonfly.
The antlion digs a funnel-shaped crater in sandy or loose soil. When potential prey approach, the antlion will pretend to fall down the funnel so as to lure the prey in, thinking it has found an easy meal. Once its prey falls in, the ferocious little devil literally sucks its prey dry and discards the empty husk outside the hole.
Some species are considered endangered.
2. Buffalo Weaver
There are three species of buffalo weaver. All three are found in Kenya.
Like most weavers, the white-headed buffalo weaver is a social bird who forages on the ground for insects, fruits and seeds. It’s noisy, with a wide range of cackles and squeaks.
The white-headed buffalo weaver is listed as threatened.
The white-billed buffalo weaver is a dark little bird with a light-colored beak. The red-billed buffalo weaver has, not surprisingly, a red beak. Buffalo weavers are known for their rather messy communal nests that appear to be nothing more than a mishmash of grasses and twigs.
The buffalo weaver is the easiest among The Little Five to find and observe.
3. Elephant Shrew
This tiny insect eating mammal gets its name from its elongated snout. It sniffs out ants, termites, crickets, beetles and caterpillars, and uses its tongue to catch its dinner. With its long legs, it hops in search of small bites to eat.
The elephant shrew is food for snakes and birds of prey, so this little rodent has learned to be extremely cautious. It’s very shy and very speedy! It’s been seen running up to 17 miles/hr.
They are listed as vulnerable.
4. Leopard Tortoise
The leopard tortoise has beautiful leopard-like markings on their shells with perfect symmetrical black and yellow patterns. As they mature, their tortoise shell color changes from dark brown to yellow.
The largest ones can grow up to 18 inches in length and weigh up to 40 lbs. They can easily live for 80 – 100 years. In both very hot and very cold weather they may dwell in abandoned fox, jackal, or aardvark holes. Leopard tortoises graze extensively on mixed grasses, succulents and thistles.
Although most tortoises exported from Kenya and Tanzania originate in captive breeding programs, the United States banned their import because of the risk posed by heartwater, an infectious disease that could impact the livestock industry.
5. Rhinoceros Beetle
Entomologists estimate there are over 300 species of beetles worldwide that are considered rhinoceros beetles.
Rhino beetles are one of eastern Africa’s largest beetles. The male beetle sports a large horn atop its head. This horn is used to dig and burrow for food. and to fight during mating season. They don’t kill their rivals, but lift them up with their horn and toss them off the branch instead. Pound for pound they are said to be the strongest creatures on earth, with the ability to lift 850 times their own weight.
Female rhinoceros beetles don’t have the prominent horns that the males do.
These insects are nocturnal, which makes them difficult to spot. As fierce as they look, they are safe to pick up and examine, as they do not bite or sting.
A Marabou Stork is about as unattractive as a bird can be, with its head covered in scabby black spots, inflatable air sacks, and poop covered hollow legs. Yes, that’s right – poop covered hollow legs. You see, coating their legs with their own feces regulates their body temperature. Their legs aren’t actually white at all – it’s just poop.
They can reach a height of nearly 5 feet. To put that in perspective, imagine a toddler standing next to one.
The Marabou Stork’s coloring (It appears to be dressed in a black tailcoat and white collared shirt.) and its creepy looking head have earned it the nickname Undertaker Bird. But bless its spooky carnivore heart, it does mate for life.
Marabou Storks are carnivore carrion (dead animal) eaters, consuming termites, snakes, flamingo chicks, baby crocodiles and other reptiles in the wild. They’re often seen feeding with vultures, which they dominate.
In cities and villages, they hang around garbage dumps, slaughterhouses, and fish processing establishments, acting as the city’s unofficial garbage collectors. As annoying as this may seem, Marabous actually help to keep diseases from spreading.
Tourists used to visit the Masai Mara/Serengeti in order to see Marabou Storks in very large flocks. Nowadays, the birds have become a big city, town and village attraction.
In Nairobi, one can easily spot flocks of Marabou Storks on Mombasa Road, a busy thoroughfare near a place known as Nyayo Stadium, as they stand or perch motionless on trees and buildings.
They are seen all over Kampala, Uganda as well.
The president of Uganda tried to have them relocated once, but all efforts failed.
In Uganda, corruption is considered to be a way of life. Like Marabou Storks, corrupt officials feed on anything that comes their way. That’s why Ugandans have honored the Marabou with the dubious title of Unofficial National Bird of Uganda.
Some believe the Marabou’s numbers are rising due to the increasing human population which is accompanied by the increasing number of garbage dumps. They’re classified as “Least Concern” in terms of endangerment.
* Why feature the Marabou Stork?
There’s a bit (very small bit) of an urban theme going on this week, what with the city restaurant write-up and the matatu posts, so it seemed appropriate to feature one of Nairobi’s town birds – the Marabou Stork.
**The Ugly Five, by Julia Donaldson, is a children’s book that celebrates inner beauty and accepting who you are, while also informing kids about African animals. Our friend the Marabou Stork is one of The Ugly Five.
There are roughly 11,000 species of birds in the world. During this week in which we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, it is especially alarming to hear that nearly 40 percent of the world’s birds are facing significant decline. Among the threats to these creatures are habitat loss, deforestation, climate change and severe weather, plastic and pesticide pollution and illegal trafficking.
Despite Covid-19’s grip all around the world, professor, author and ornithologist Dr. Drew Lanham finds that birds give us one of the best tools we have for coping in today’s oppressive environment: hope. When speaking of his bird/hope connection, Lanham will sometimes cite a first line of Emily Dickinson. “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers.”
In 2018, Lanham was the recipient of the National Audubon’s Lufkin Prize for his tireless advocacy to protect birds, his lifelong dedication to environmental health and his efforts in building a new generation of conservation leaders.
Some might view an Earth Day celebration amid a worldwide pandemic as a nonsensical, pointless exercise, but Dr. Lanham sees an optimistic future from back of his binoculars. He observes his beautiful birds, knowing that the things they need to survive (clean air, pure water and healthy, balanced ecosystems) are the same things upon which people rely. So he continues the work of protecting our planet, believing that it is a solid, smart investment that will pay off for generations.
“Conservation really means feeling deeply enough for something that you’re willing to save some for others. I think the word for that is ‘love’. And I think conservation is ultimately an act of love.” – J. Drew Lanham, PhD
Birds symbolize wisdom. Just ask an owl. Birds define grace and strength. Watch as they lock their outstretched wings and soar effortlessly overhead. Birds epitomize freedom, migrating to where they please, when they please. Birds are our first musicians, and they all play a different tune. They’re our link between heaven and earth.
We should be doing a better job maintaining that link.
“Stop and listen for the birds,” instructs Lanham. “If you can’t hear the birds, something is amiss.”
* Why feature all birds?
It’s Earth Day Week. That’s why.
BirdLive International is on a campaign to make a healthy natural environment a human right.
In an open letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Birdlife International marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day by calling for the UN to take a bold and unprecedented step: declare a healthy natural environment a fundamental human right. The letter calls on the UN, as part of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, to add an ‘Article 31’ to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – enshrining a universal right to a healthy natural environment, guaranteed by public policies, governed by sustainability and by scientific and traditional indigenous knowledge.
I can answer that question. The White-Bellied Go-Away-Bird gets its name from the distinctive call it uses when it feels threatened — g’way, g’way!
Go-Away-Birds are semi-zygodactylous. Didn’t know that, did you?
Let me explain. Zygodactyly is an arrangement of digits in birds with two toes facing forward and two back. Go-Away-Birds are semi-zygodactylous, meaning their fourth (outer) toe can be switched back and forth.
The bill is black in the male, pea-green in the female. They often have prominent crests and long tails.
The White-Bellied Go-Away Bird feeds on fruits, flowers, nectar, leaves and seed pods. It’s considered a pest in some regions, raiding orchards and plantations of fruiting trees and vegetable crops.
* Why feature the White-Bellied Go-Away-Bird?
Now, who wouldn’t be at least a little bit curious about a bird whose official name is Go-Away?
You’re probably wondering what they eat. . . . . . . . OK, maybe not.
There are about 20 species of brightly-colored bee-eaters in Africa.
Cinnamon-Chested Bee-eaters have bright green heads, upper parts, and tails. Their chins are outlined in black. Their diet consists mainly of honeybees. Little Bee-eaters have green upper parts, yellow throats and brown upper breasts fading to ocre on the belly. Their beaks are black. They’re the smallest of the African bee-eaters. White-Fronted Bee-eaters have white foreheads, square taisl and a red patch on their throats. They nest in small colonies, digging holes in cliffs or earthen banks.
The Northern Carmine Bee-eater has bright red feathers and gathers in large colonies of hundreds or thousands of individuals. It makes quite a dazzling spectacle. In quite a few of their regional homes in Africa where the birds are known to nest in large numbers year after year, they are a major tourist attraction.
Besides eating bees, bee-eaters chow down on lots of different insects, especially wasps and hornets. Before eating their meal, a bee-eater removes the stinger by repeatedly hitting the insect on a hard surface. Bee-eaters don’t just fly around catching insects willy-nilly. They target a particular insect, follow the movements it makes, and hunt it down by following its twists and turns. Despite its slight appearance, its bill is quite strong and chomps down on prey insects’ hard shells with a loud snap.
Bee Eaters are a competitive bunch. To find and woo a mate, they need balance and skill.
* Why feature bee-eaters?
As it turns out, there is a tiny connection to this week’s Zebra Theme. Bee-eaters have a habit of using large, moving animals as temporary perches. This can be any number of local animals, such as storks, ostriches, warthogs, giraffes, and (?) . . . . . . . . you guessed it, zebras. When they do this, not only does it provide them with an elevated lookout, but as other animals pass by, they stir up insects for the birds to go after as they move along.
The following is part of a Birdlife International Newsletter dated April 9, 2020, 7:05 am
A Look Back at BirdLife Africa’s World Wildlife Day Celebrations 2020
On 3 March every year, people across the world gather to raise awareness of the world’s wild flora and fauna. From films and exhibitions to nature walks and face paining, Birdlife International looked back at the diverse ways its various partnerships marked the day across Africa. Special mention was made of the activities in Zambia, the island nation of Mauritius, Nigeria and Uganda (our last stop before returning home).
Nature Uganda, in conjunction with conservation groups and local governments celebrated World Wildlife Day with special focus on the Grey-crowned Crane. The Grey-crowned Crane is Uganda’s national bird. It is facing extinction.
The celebrations included a Conservation Conference in the Kampala, a Crane Festival in Kabale Town, primary school competitions and the launch of the National Species Action Plan for the Conservation of the Grey-crowned Crane.
“As our city streets quiet, as people hang back from parks and paths, and the busy noise of daily life recedes, listen for the birds.” David Arnold, President of the Nat’l Audubon Society
Cattle Egret *
The cattle egret has a relatively short, thick neck, a sturdy bill, and a hunched posture. It spends most of its time in fields rather than streams. The cattle egret’s breeding plumage highlights its beautiful peach feathers, and it often appears to be wearing spiked topknots. Its legs and feet even change from black to a dramatic orange.
Cattle egrets feed on a wide range of prey, particularly insects, especially grasshoppers, crickets, flies (adults and maggots), and moths, as well as spiders, frogs, lizards and earthworms. They forage at the feet of grazing cattle, heads bobbing with each step, or ride on their backs to pick at ticks.
* Why feature the Cattle Egret?
This is the last day of what has turned out to be Elephant Week, and elephants have a special relationship with the cattle egret. The cattle egret, while relieving the elephant of parasites, receives a free meal and a free ride as the elephant walks along. But the egret enjoys this same kind of relationship with a number of different mammals. Elephants, on the other hand, aren’t involved in any other symbiotic relationships except that of the cattle egret. For the elephant, it’s the cattle egret only.
Aside from the Sahara and Antarctica, doves are found all over the world. Kenya has more than a dozen species of doves. Doves have stout bodies, short necks and short, slender bills. Their colors are mostly dull in nature.
Doves feed on seeds, fruits, and plants.
Pigeons and doves are in the same family and are sometimes referred to interchangeably. As a rule, doves have longer tails than pigeons. “Dove” tends to be used for smaller species and “pigeon” for larger ones.
Both doves and pigeons are incredibly swift flyers. Most doves are thought to mate for life.
* Why feature doves?
It’s a bit of a circuitous route. Trees Week > W. Maathai, mother of trees > W. Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate > Nobel Peace Prize > peace > peace symbols > doves
The dove is often associated with peace* – and peace is a natural extension of the successful tree planting programs promoted by Wangari Maathai in the fields of Kenya.
“Trees are living symbols of peace and hope.” Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace laureate
Update, April 14, 2020: I have subsequently learned that doves are not associated with peace in African folklore. Apparently, the lilac-breasted roller is thought to bring peace and happiness. Well, darn.
* Update, April 14, 2020: I have subsequently learned that doves are not associated with peace in African folklore. Apparently, the lilac-breasted roller is thought to bring peace and happiness. Well, darn.
Adult Secretary Birds have a featherless red-orange face and black coloring on the wings, thighs and elongated central tail feathers. They also have very long eyelashes. The Secretary Bird gets its name from its crest of long feathers that look like the quill pens office workers tucked behind their ears in the 1800s.
Secretary Birds walk up to 20km a day in search of vipers, cobras and other snakes. They are good fliers and nest and roost high up in acacia trees at night.
Researchers in Hampshire, England have been studying the kicks of a male bird called Madeleine. They’ve found that when a secretary bird kicks a snake in the head, the killer blow can transfer five times the bird’s own weight in a hundredth of a second. They say that studying extreme examples of animal movement could help design fast-moving robot limbs or prosthetics.
*Why feature the Secretary Bird?
I was drawn to the bird because it reminds me of how one of my aunts used to apply her make up.
The Saddle-Billed Stork is one of the more easily identifiable birds in Kenya. Instant identification is made possible by its brilliantly colored kneecaps and bill.
The beak is red with a black band going around the middle, and on the upper side is the yellow “saddle” that includes small wattles that hang below the underside of the beak at the base that look like stirrups.
It is the tallest stork in the world with an 8-1/2 ft wingspan.
The saddle-billed stork has a diet based on fish, crustaceans and amphibians. Because the storks will use their beaks to stir up the water to flush out the fish, this causes the water to become muddy as well as the fish so they often wash their fish before consuming them whole.
The saddle-billed stork is silent because it doesn’t have a syrinx (the vocal organ of birds). Baby chicks must make a hissing sound when wanting their parents’ attention, but in adulthood they are mute. The following video a very quiet view of the saddle-billed stork.
*Why feature the Saddle-Billed Stork?
Even for a novice birdwatcher, this bird should be fairly easy to identify.
Plus, you’ve got to love its built-in orange knee pads.
There are two species of oxpecker, the yellow-billed and the red-billed. The Yellow-billed Oxpecker (image 1) is the more common of the two in Kenya. Both species, also called tickbirds, have olive-brown or grey-brown bodies, wide bills, stiff tails and sharp claws. They cling to cattle and big-game animals to remove ticks, flies, and maggots from their hides. When alarmed, the birds hiss, alerting their hosts to possible danger. Though they rid animals of pests, oxpeckers also take blood from the sores, which may be slow to heal.
The oxpecker populations have been adversely impacted by relentless poisoning, but they live in such a wide range across Africa that they have not approached the classification of Vulnerable.
The Curious Case of the Giraffe and the Oxpecker
Oxpeckers are commonly seen riding along on large mammals while they search their hosts for ticks or open wounds. What’s not so common are the camera-trap images of giraffes at night with these birds using them as movable roosting spots. It is thought that this habit is an adaptation to save the birds time looking for the right animal the following day.
Night images of giraffes show that yellow-billed oxpeckers seem to prefer settling between the hind legs of the giraffe. This may be because it’s a warm spot in winter and keeps them safe from any nocturnal predators.
*Why feature the Oxpecker?
This week’s posts have a sort of Giraffe Week feel to them. Oxpeckers, having a rather important connection to giraffes, fit the theme.
There are 24 species of hornbills found throughout Africa. They are characterized by a long, down-curved bill which is often found to be brightly colored. Hornbills are omnivorous and use their beaks to pluck fruit and forage for seeds, small insects and spiders on the ground. Most all species of hornbills are monogamous. A pair will bond for a single season. Upon bonding, the male will courtship feed the female with either solid items or regurgitation. (Yucky, but true.)
They nest in natural cavities in trees and sometimes in cliffs.
* Why feature Hornbills?
Zazu, the prim and proper bird in The Lion King, was a red-billed hornbill. His character, who acted as advisor to the king, had a great sense of self-importance. Hornbills can’t be overlooked after one of their species has found Hollywood stardom.
The Red and Yellow Barbet is a smallish bird with black, red and yellow plumage. It lives in low woodlands, scrubby savannas and rugged, semi-arid terrain. It’s omnivorous, feeding on seeds, fruit, and invertebrates.
Red and Yellow Barbets are very tame wherever humans feed them.
* Why feature the Red and Yellow Barbet?
It has polka dot wings for heaven’s sake! Hard to beat that.
The Pied Kingfisher, with its black and white plumage, hovers over clear lakes and rivers before diving down sharply to spear a fish with its beak. The video below shows this amazing skill in slow motion. Males have a double band across the breast while females have a single patch of color on the throat that is often broken in the middle. They’re usually found in pairs or small family parties. When perched, Pied Kingfishers often bob their heads and flick up their tails.
The Pied Kingfisher is the largest bird in the world that can hover in still air.
* Why feature the Pied Kingfisher?
This bird is one smart athlete. The whole hovering/split-second timing/vertical diving thing is incredible. He’s shaped a little like a blue jay which might help me to recognize him in a perched position.
The Lappet-Faced Vulture is Africa’s largest bird of prey. It has a pink head, blue and ivory beak, and heavy wings. The feathers on the upper part of its legs make it look as though it’s wearing a pair of white trousers. Like many vultures, it has a bald head, which is advantageous, because a feathered head would become spattered with blood and other fluids, and thus be difficult to keep clean. The Lappet-Faced Vulture is a scavenging bird, feeding mostly on animal carcasses, which it finds by sight or by watching other vultures. Its vision is practically unmatched in the animal kingdom. Ranking among the world’s most powerful flyers, the Lappet-Faced Vulture is capable of soaring on upward air currents for hours.
The Lappet-Faced Vulture is the most aggressive of all the African vultures, and other vultures usually cede a carcass to the Lappet-Faced if it decides to assert itself. The first few seconds of this video remind me of Hitchcock’s The Birds.
Lappet-Faced Vultures are considered endangered, mostly due to habitat loss. In some cases, dozens at a time are poisoned by poachers who fear the presence of vultures will alert authorities to their illegal killing of protected species.
* Why feature the Lappet-Faced Vulture?
These guys are the stars of every safari movie’s After-the-Kill Clean-up Scene that has ever been produced. Their ill-gotten fame shoots them to the top of the Friday Flyer List.
We’ll be visiting a country that boasts 1,137 species of birds. I can identify an ostrich, a penguin, a chicken and a flamingo. Clearly, I’m going to need a bit of preparation to take advantage of this birdwatcher’s paradise.
Every Friday, a single bird, said to be common to Kenya, will be highlighted on this blog. I don’t imagine for one minute that I’ll be able to shout out, “Look! There’s a Northern Long-Crested Hornbill on our left!” But I’m thinking that some familiarization with just a few of these winged creatures might cause me to stop and take in the beauty of all that I see. I’ll start with the National Bird of Kenya.
The Lilac-Breasted Roller is considered one of the most beautiful birds in the world with its pastel colors and long tail streamers. Although mostly silent, it announces itself with a harsh, raspy call during the breeding season or when it feels its territory is threatened. These large-headed birds are often found in a grassy clearings, atop a tree that serves as a hunting perch.
The Lilac-Breasted Roller does not migrate. It stays right in Kenya and breeds there. I guess what happens in Kenya, stays in Kenya. It nests in a natural hole in a tree where a clutch of 2-4 eggs are laid. Both parents incubate the eggs.
All rollers, including the lilac-breasted, are known for their acrobatic, agile flight, aided by their tail streamers which they use as rudders while flying.
Source: YouTube, SafariLive 10 30 How the Lilac-breasted roller got his name