Ethiopia Ornithology

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Bird Watching in Ethiopia

No other aspect of Ethiopia's biology typifies its unique situation more than does its bird fauna. Twenty-three species of birds exist nowhere else in the world, and in addition Ethiopia benefits from the incredible variety and abundance of African bird life as well as the presence of species which have migrated from Europe.


Well over fifty species of birds have been positively identified in the Semien Mountains National Park. This includes an unusually large number of birds of prey and carrion-eaters. One of the most spectacular of these is the lam-mergeier, or bearded vulture. This magnificent bird with its three-meter wing spread is unusually common in the Semien, though it is found also in other parts of Africa, Asia and Europe. Its diet makes it one of nature's rare phenomena: it eats bones and bone marrow. When an animal dies, the lammergeier waits until the bones have been picked clean by other scavengers, then it eats the smaller bones. The bigger bones it carries away. to a flat, rocky spot over which it sails like a bomber and drops the bone from a height sufficient to shatter it to bits. When the bone is broken to manageable size, the lammergeir eats the pieces. Lammergeirs have been known to fly as high as 25,000 feet in the Himalayas, and they have been clocked at 79.5 miles per hour flying speed.

The Augur buzzard is another species commonly seen in the national park. It occurs in several color variations. Adults are characterized by dark grey or almost black upper parts and a bright chestnut-colored tail. That' underside may be completely white, white with a black throat and upper breast, or entirely black. The latter form - the melanistic phase - is somewhat more common in the Semien than elsewhere. Another interesting bird is the Egyptian vulture, which has joined man, the chimpanzee, the sea otter and a few others in an exclusive clique of creatures who use tools. Eggs form a part of the diet of the Egyptian vulture. If the egg is large and difficult to crack, the vulture picks up a stone with its beak and throws it at the egg until the shell cracks. Egyptian vultures have been seen in Tanzania opening ostrich eggs in this fashion.

Other large birds which may be seen include the Ruppell's griffon vulture, the hooded vulture, and the lappet-faced vulture. Of the species endemic to Ethiopia, the most readily observed are the thick-billed raven, the wattled ibis, and the white.collared pigeon.
The thick.billed raven is unmistakable. It is one of the largest of the ravens and its bill seems to be aspiring to the proportions of a toucan's beak. This raven has a deep, wheezing croak, like a frog with asthma. It often frequents campsites, looking for garbage. It may be joined there by some related birds, the fan-tailed ravens, Cape rooks and pied crows.

The wattled ibis is another noisy bird, especially when it cries up in alarm. Its call is a hoarse honking, reminiscent of the call of a goose-with amplifiers. The bird is dark brown with white wing patches. It has long legs and a long, tubular bill. It frequents the grasslands and meadows.

The white-collared pigeon has a soberly colored grey body with a white crescent on the back of its neck. During the daytime these pigeons seek food among the barley fields. In the evening, they assemble near the cliffs in great flocks - sometimes several thousand individuals - and then plunge down the precipices to roost in caves in the cliff walls. During the rains, the spot-breasted plover (Vanellus meianocephaius) visits the cultivated areas of the highlands. The white-billed starling, Onychognathus albirostris, is fairly common. The black headed siskin, Serinus nigriceps, which is rare elsewhere, is fairly common in the Semyen. The white-backed black tit ( Parus ieuconotus) may also be seen. All of these birds exist only in Ethiopia.

In addition to these species, the golden-backed woodpecker, Dendropicos abyssinicus, and the blackheaded forest oriole, Orioius monacha, both endemic to Ethiopia, may be found in the valleys. But again, they are not likely to be seen by any but the most persistent naturalists.
Some of the birds readily seen include the following: the tawny eagle; Lanner falcon; chough; Tacazze sunbird; red-breasted wheatear; hill chat; short crested lark; ground-scraper thrush; Abyssinian long-claw; black wheatear; streaky seed-eater.

Last Updated on Wednesday 25th November 2009