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Tanzania Ornithology

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Bird Watching in Tanzania

Over 300 species of birds have been recorded in the Park, some of which are Eurasian migrants that are present from October to April.


Mkata Flood Plain

Ground Hornbills are often seen in small parties crossing the plain, feeding on insects and reptiles. Although these large black turkey-sized birds spend much of their time on the ground, they will fly slowly and heavily to perch in a tree, at which time their white primary feathers are conspicuous. Ground hornbills have a muted grunting call, which can sound very like human voices in the distance. They nest in hollow logs, old stumps and among boulders, or occasionally in holes in trees some height from the ground. More than two parent birds have been seen to feed the young in a nest. A common and beautiful turquoise and purple bird, the Lilac- Breasted Roller, is often seen perching on dead branches.

These birds feed mainly on insects which they will take on the wing and when doing so are capable of some remarkable aerobatics. Their call is a series of harsh chattering notes. Bird species at the waterholes vary but you can usually catch a glimpse of a malachite kingfisher. This small colourful bird is recognised by its conspicuous blue and black barred crest, rufous underparts and bright blue wings. A Verreauxs eagle owl, one of the largest of the African owls, sometimes rests in the acacias or you may also hear the insistent tapping of a cardinal woodpecker. This is a small unobtrusive bird, but the male with his bright scarlet nape and crown may be spotted.

Miombo Woodland

Interesting birds are found in the ‘miombo woodland, particularly Shelleys double collared sunbird, the violet-crested turaco and the pale-billed hornbill. The latter is very similar to the grey hornbill, which is also found here, but may be distinguished by its pale creamy-yellow bill.

Lake Manyara

Over 380 species of birds, some migratory, have been recorded in the Park.The best birdwatching months are from Jan-March. Although bird life is comparatively scarce in the forest, possibly as a result of predation on eggs and fledglings by the monkeys, you are likely to see and hear the Silvery – Cheeked Hornbill. This large bird, with its conspicuous casqued bill, flies with creaking wing beats and often sits at the top of trees making a raucous noise.

Hippo Pool

The hippo pool is part of the Simba River. With its large collection of water birds present and the lake shimmering in the background, it is a lovely spot to pause for a while. Mto Wa Mchanga after Sand River you will soon leave the cover of the forest and find yourself in light bush country where you may see a Ground Hornbill, which is a large turkey-like bird. Although these big birds spend much of their time on the ground feeding on insects and reptiles, they will fly slowly and heavily to perch in a tree, at which time their white primary feathers are conspicuous. At a distance the call of the ground hornbill sounds very like human voices in conversation and a Maasai folk story translates the sound as a man speaking to a woman saying "I want more cows" to which she replies, "Youll die before you get them".

Two other species of hornbill are common in this area. Von Der Decken's Hornbill, with its black and white plumage, is often seen perched on a tree or in undulating flight. Superficially similar to Von der Deckens is the grey hornbill, although the bill is duller and the plumage more drab. Both species live almost entirely on fruit and berries but they may eat an occasional grasshopper.

Hamerkops or hammer-headed storks are frequently seen in this area. They are brown birds with dark bills and feet and can easily be distinguished by their off hammer-shaped head. Many legends surround these birds, and it is considered unlucky to kill one. They live on frogs and other aquatic creatures. Their nests are very large structures of sticks and grass built in the fork of a tree, often near water. On the left, after the bridge, is a loop road to a picnic site by the lake shore. Many of the birds found at the hippo pool can also be seen here. White and pink-Backed Pelicans are also seen here. The white pelican is larger than the pink-backed but has, despite its name, a pinkish tinge. Both species live mainly on fish which they catch in their pouches and then swallow with an upwards toss of the bill. Pelicans are strong flies and often soar on thermals above the rift wall escarpment.

Depending on the level of the lake you may see Flamingos. The lesser flamingo can be distinguished from the greater, not only by its smaller size but also by its very dark red beak and more crimson colour of its body. Lesser flamingos make up 90% of the East African flamingo population. They feed on algae whilst the greater flamingos eat small crustacea, which they sieve through their bills. These different diets mean that the two species can coexist. Flamingos move about in large flocks from one East African soda lake to another, so it is not possible to say with certainty when they will be at Manyara. When present, they provide an unforgettable spectacle, not only when feeding in the lake but also as they fly with their long necks and legs outstretched. You may also see a pair of Crowned Cranes. These slate-grey, white and chestnut birds, with their distinctive gold crest, are the national emblem of Uganda , and found throughout East Africa.

Arusha National Park

With it's wide range of habitats almost 400 species of birds have been recorded in the Park. Some of these are migratory and present between October and April, others are permanently resident in the forests. The waterbirds around the lakes are particularly abundant between October and April because of the presence of many migrants from the northern hemisphere.

A conspicuous forest species is the Silvery-Cheeked Hornbill. This large bird with its casqued bill, flies with creaking wing beats and often sits at the top of trees making a raucous noise. It is not known what purpose the casque serves but it probably helps to amplify the sound of the birds cries. Like most species of hornbill, the female is walled into her nest while she incubates the eggs. The nest entrance is sealed with mud and the male feeds the female through a small hole. Hornbills eat fruit and their serrated upper mandible helps them to forage efficiently.

Black rough-wing swallows and Cinnamon-Chested Bee-Eaters nest in holes in the roadside banks, and may often be seen coming and going.

Several birds soar high on updraughts of warm air around the Ngurdoto Crater rim. The Verraux's Eagle is a large black eagle with the centre of the back and rump white. These magnificent raptors nest in large nests of cliff edges at the beginning of the rainy season. A smaller bird is the White-Necked Raven, which is entirely black except for a crescent-shapes white patch on the back of its neck. The Peregrine Falcon is a bird of prey recognised by its streamlined built and pointed wings, as well as its dark brown crown and black moustache patches. Lake Longil is a beautiful spot and is full of Tilapia fish, a main source of food for fish eagles. The brown and white Fish Eagle is easily recognised. Its lonely cry, which will often be heard echoing across the water, is one of the most characteristic and evocative sounds of the African wilds. The bird thrown its head backwards when calling, even in flight. It is possible to see on Tululusia Hill Tawny Eagles which are a uniform brown with a relatively short rounded tail. The plumage can vary from dark to pale brown, but the latter is not seen in Arusha.
Tawny eagles are abundant in East Africa and they feed on small mammals and gamebirds, such as francolins and guineafowl.

Momella Lakes

Because of their different mineral contents each lake supports a different type of algal growth and this gives each a different colour. No doubt for this reason, bird life also varies from one stretch of water to another, even where the lakes are only separated by a strip of land a few yards wide.

Bird life on the lakes also varies enormously according to the time of year. From October to April the lakes are alive with waterfowl which have migrated down from the northern hemisphere. For the remainder of the year the resident birds have the lakes to themselves. The commonest water bird on the lakes is the little grebe, a small greyish brown bird with a chestnut-red face and throat, with a high pitched trilling call. Also present but in fewer numbers are great crested grebes, recognised by their chestnut and black head-frills and black crown-tufts. Another common bird is the Southern pochard. The male is a very dark brown with a dark chestnut head and slate-blue bill. The female is paler, with a white mark on the side of the head.

Easily distinguished birds are the flamingos. Lesser flamingos are smaller than the greater flamingo, and their plumage is much pinker. The bill is dark red in the lesser and pink with a black tip in the greater flamingo. Lesser flamingos feed on algae whilst the greater flamingos eat tiny crustaceans which they filter through their bills. These different diets enable the two species to coexist in the same habitat.

One of the most easily recognisable birds is the Egyptian Goose. It has a brown plumage with contrasting white shoulders. There is a chestnut patch on the centre of the belly and one around the eye. Geese are grazers and will often fly long distances every day from their roost sites to good grasslands. In the agricultural settlements around Arusha National Park, Egyptian geese often cause damage to newly planted crops like maize.

On the upper slopes of Mt Meru a lammergeyer, although never common anywhere, may sometimes be seen soaring effortlessly over the crater. This bird of prey is well known for its habit of dropping bones from a great height onto rocks in order to break them open. Because it is rare and lives far from human habitation, this bird seems to epitomise the wild, haunting beauty of the upper slopes of Meru Mountain.

Montane Forest

Scaly francolins dart away from the road verge as you pass through the forest. Olive pigeons, which feed on the juniper berries and wild olives, may be recognised by their dark colouring and the noisy wing-flapping which is so characteristic of their flight when taking off from a tree. They are present in both the lower and higher forest. Even though flocks of noisy red-fronted parrots are also common in the juniper forest, these birds feed mainly on Podocarpus fruit. Also present are the two beautiful species of trogons Narinas and the bar-tailed. Trogons are medium sized forest birds with long broad tails, brilliantly green soft plumage above with vivid red on the belly.

Although brightly coloured they are often overlooked and are best located by their calls. In Narinas trogon it is a series of soft coos all on one note. Whereas the bar-tailed emits a series of clear double whistles. The Bar-Tailed is smaller and darker, with tail feathers barred black and white and is less common.

Serengeti

Nearly 500 species of birds have been recorded in the Park, some of them Eurasian migrants which are present from October to April. During the dry season vast numbers of Yellow-Throated Sandgrouse congregate on the short-grass plains. They are very noticeable as you are driving along the road, because they frequently wait until the last moment before springing into the air and flying away. They usually sit in pairs, the male being distinguished by the black-brown band on the foreneck. Sandgrouse feed on seeds and shoots, and are often seen congregating in huge numbers at available watering places. In the Serengeti there is an interesting partnership between the ratel (honey badger) and the black throated honey-guide. As its name suggests the bird leads the ratel to a bee hive, and perches nearby while the hive is broken open, hopping down to feed on the wax of the comb as soon as demolition is completed.

Grassland Species

The tall Secretary Bird is often to be seen pacing through the grassland in search of snakes and other reptiles, which it kills with a powerful stamp of its foot. It also eats large insects such as locusts ad the eggs and young of ground nesting birds. The crest of feathers behind this birds head is said to resemble the quill pens which used to be carried behind a clerks ear.

Secretary birds lay two large whitish eggs in a massive nest built of sticks and turf high in a flat-topped tree, often a considerable distance from the ground. These nests are used year after year, merely being renovated as the egg-laying season approaches.

The ostrich is the worlds largest bird and the only flightless bird native to Africa. Males are conspicuously black and white with naked necks and thighs which turn upright pink during courtship. The breeding season extends from around August to December. Single males defend large territories, court females who enter, singly or in small groups, and guide them to a nesting hollow, where several different hens may way up to 30 eggs, at the rate of one every other day. This is too many eggs for one ostrich to cover and the extras are left around the nest and fail to develop.Incubation is divided into day and night shifts, the black male by night, the The female who incubates the nest is known as the ‘major hen and is the first to lay an egg in the nest scrape. The young that hatch in December or January tend to band together and adult pairs may crèche their young together making flocks of up to 60 chicks.

Ostriches are very fast runners and are able to maintain their pace for a considerable time. This, together with the fact that they have the ability to swerve sharply, sometimes enables them to outwit predators such as lions, which are very fond of their flesh. Female by day when her neutral colour makes her harder to see.

Around Seronera Lodge

Among the smaller birds the starling are, perhaps, the most obvious, with their glossy plumage and iridescent colours. Commonly seen at the lodge is the Superb Starling, which can be recognised by the narrow white band which separates the deep blue of the chest from the chestnut of the thighs. Also seen is Ruppells long-tailed glossy starling, which can be distinguished by its long tail, and Hildebrandt' starling is superficially rather like the superb starling but without the white band on the chest and with red, not yellowish-white eyes. The starlings are very busy birds, always chattering and whistling. Also found here are vultures, Marabou Storks and white-necked ravens, whose cawing calls is typical of settled areas in Africa. Other common birds around the lodge include speckle-fronted, grey-headed social and masked weavers, Swahili sparrows, cordon-bleus, petronias and ashy flycatchers. One of the most entertaining and interesting birds of the Serengeti is a regular resident of the lodge area.

This is Darnaud's Barbet, which is easily recognised by its speckled brown, white and yellow plumage. The male bird is extremely aggressive and will not tolerate another male in his territory, it can sometimes be seen attacking its own reflection in the hubcaps of cars! The mechanical sounding song, constantly heard around the lodge is, in fact, a duet. The male bird bobs and bows to the female while repeating his part, the female meanwhile bobs and twitches her tail as she sings the monotonous chorus.

Kopjes

The inaccessible tops of some of the rocks in the kopjes make secure nesting sites for birds of prey, such as the splendid Verreauxs eagle, which has been known to build nests in the Moru Kopjes in the southwest of the Park. This magnificent solitary raptor kills hyraxes, hares and even some of the smaller antelopes. It lays one or two white eggs in a huge nest at the beginning of the rainy season.

Species of aloe as well as the tall lions ear Leonotis nepetaefolia grow in and around the kopjes and are pollinated by Sunbirdsas they fly from flower to flower. Blue or yellow hibiscus may also be found near the foot of the rocks.

Forest Species

Gallery forest, including huge fig and mahogany trees, line the watercourses. In the forest live brightly coloured birds of the turaco family, especially Hartlaubs and Rosss, which are green or blue with crimson wings. This family are noted for their harsh call and habit of running and hopping along the branches of trees. Beside the river banks several species of kingfisher are to be seen as well as the brown and white Fish Eagle whose lonely cry will often be hear echoing above the riverine forest.

Mbalageti Valley

Known to nest in tall trees in the Mbalageti valley are Martial Eagles, another of the great birds of prey of the Serengeti, being second in size only to the crowned eagle. This bird, ashy brown above and on the wings, has a distinctive white belly dotted with brownish spots. Martial eagles are powerful hunters, able to kill game birds, hyraxes and small antelope.

Tarangire

With more than 550 species of birds, the park is an ornithologist's delight. Among the frequently spotted variety are the yellow collared Lovebird, Goliath Heron, Hamerkop, Baleleur, Helmeted Guinea Fowl, Kori Bustard, Long-toed Lapwing, Brown Parrot, White-bellied Go-away bird, Madagascar Bee-eater, African Hoopoe, and a variety of Owls, Weavers, Kingfishers, Doves, Ostrich, Plovers, sandpipers, Francolins and Ducks. These birds with their brilliant, iridescent, plumage, add colour to the park. It has been observed over the years that most tourists visit the park only during the dry season. The park has a lot to coffer in the rainy season too. In fact, park authorities say that a bird-lover can easily sperid three days watching only birds in the park.

Mt Kilimanjaro

Birdlife is especially plentiful where cultivated areas and natural forest meet on the lower slopes as there is a large and varied food supply and many nesting sites. Usually seen are the Common Bulbul, a brown bird with a black crest and yellow beneath the tail; the White-Browed Robin Chat, grey above and orange below with a black and white head, who pours out a crescendo of repeated melodious phrases at dawn and dusk; the Tropical Boubou, a shy black and white shrike with pure flute-like notes. Fruit trees attract hordes of Speckled Mousebirds, scruffy brown with crests and long tapered tails; and in flowerbeds you may see a variety of Sunbirds, small nectar feeders with curved bills and iridescent plumage.

In the forest birds are more common than mammals but can still be hard to identify in thick forest vegetation. Fig trees and other fruiting trees attract some of the larger and more noisy forest birds, such as the Silvery-Cheeked Hornbill-a black and white bird with a loud braying call, and Hartlaub Turaco. Like most turacos this bird has a well-camouflaged green body, but when it flies, it flashes vivid crimson wings. The bar-tailed trogon is beautifully coloured, leaf-green with a scarlet belly, however it sits very still in the foliage and can be very hard to see.
Birds are not particularly abundant in the moorland zone, but one of the most commonly seen is the unusually friendly Alpine Chat, a small dusky brown bird with white side feathers in its tail. Also seen is the Streaky Seed-Eater, a brown streaky sparrow-like bird often around Horombo Hut.

You may see two types of buzzard soaring overhead. The Augur Buzzard is a large hawk with rounded wings and reddish tail and an underside that may be either mostly white or mostly black. The Mountain Buzzard is similar to the Augur Buzzard in size and shape but is brown and barred. Larger birds which are sometimes seen here are the Crowned Eagle and the Lammergeyer, a rare vulture with long wings and a wedge tail, that has a habit of carrying bones, up to a great height and dropping them on rocks to crack them open. You are more likely to meet another scavenger, the White-Necked Raven, which is a huge crow, black with a white patch behind the neck, that makes a harsh croaking cry. It is a clever, bold bird and is seen around the huts waiting for a handout.

The Alpine swift, appropriately enough, finds these high altitudes to its liking. It is a large brown swift with a broad brown chest band and white underparts. In bushy, rocky parts of the moorland you may see a Stonechat perched atop a bush; the make is black and white with a chestnut breast, the female full brown. By far the most beautiful bird of the moorlands is the Scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird. The male is metallic green all over, with a long tail and a small scarlet patch sometimes visible on each side of the chest. It feeds on nectar from the flowers of giant lobelias. You may also see the eastern double-collared sunbird, metallic blue-green on the back and head with a red breast band flanked by yellow patches. The yellow-crowned canary has a yellow and greenish plumage and lovely song which it sings from the heather clumps. Two distinctive ground birds are Shelleys francolin and the Cape quail. The francolin looks like a partridge or grouse - a dark mottled bird with chestnut and black markings and a white throat. It emerges form the bushes with a clatter of wings when startled, and makes strident noisy cackles at dawn and dusk. The quail is a much smaller, rounded brown bird whose distinctive call of a series of short, sharp whistles carries for some distance.

Gombe Stream National Park

Forest provides a rich home for a great variety of birds. Food in the manner of fruits, seeds, flower nectar and insects of all kinds abound. The birds stay in their small patch of forest and may seldom venture into open country except when crossing from one valley to the next. Thus, the birds you will see in forests are mostly different from those which you see in other habitats. If you are on a ridge overlooking forest, you might see the Crowned eagle, a very large brown bird with much barring and streaking, that preys on monkeys. You will probably see black Roughwing swallows, hawking insects over the canopy, and Palm-nut vultures stand out conspicuously white against the forest greenery. A loud three-note whistle "wip, wip, wiu", especially at the start of the rains, is the Red-chested cuckoo, dark grey with a rusty-red breast. Cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds nests.

A raucous cawing call, "raaaa, raaaa," will be a turaco, a large fruit eater with vivid crimson wings. Livingstons turaco is mostly leaf-green with a tall pointed green crest while Rosss turaco is dark blue with a yellow face and red crest. One can also expect to hear the flute-like phrases of the Tropical boubou, a black and white shrike that duets in dense foliage and the bubbling call of the White-browed coucal, descending then rising in tone.

Ruaha

Over 370 species have been recorded including the rare migrant Eleanoras falcon. Pels fishing owls can also be seen in the densely wooded reaches of the Ruaha River while the Long crested eagle, a blackish brown eagle with a long lax crest, often perches in the top of trees and large bushes looking for rodentsAmong the largest of the birds commonly seen on the river are Goliath Herons. Of the eight kingfishers seen in the park the Pied is the most obvious. Other common birds include Hamerkops, Yellow-billed storks and Spur winged geese. Great white egrets can be seen cracking oyster shells in the river and Saddle-billed storks are also often seen. African fish eagles and Egyptian geese are also seen along the river. Along the Ruaha river drive there are several birds of prey. The Long-crested eagle is a blackish-brown eagle with a long lax crest.

The most common of the vultures is the White-backed. Of the 37 species of starling in East Africa, 6 have been recorded in the park. The most common are the Superb, which has exceptional plumage, and Ashy, which is comparatively plain.

The Ostrich is the worlds largest bird and only flightless bird native to Africa. They are seen throughout the park and the breeding season is from August-December. Two species of dove are seen along the road to Lunga. The Namaqua dove is easily recognised by its long tail. The male has a black face and front and greyish brown under parts. The female lacks the black colouring. Both sexes shoe cinnamon-rufous wings in flight. The Emerald-spotted wood dove is easily recognised by its large metallic green wing spots. Another colorful, though much larger bird often seen is the Bateleur eagle, which has black underparts, white wings and short tails. It has a chestnut back and tail and bright red face and legs. In the riverine forest the colorful Violet-crested turaco, with its iridescent violet head and crest, iridescent green forehead, grey legs and belly, violet and blue tail and azure and crimson wings can be seen.

When to visit

November to March are generally the best bird watching months. Other areas to consider Selous, Amani, and Udzungwa. Also Rubondo National Park , situated in Lake Victoria, which is unique in birdlife. Birds from east, central and southern Africa can be observed breeding at the 'bird island'.

Last Updated on Thursday 26th November 2009

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