Mapping the birds of Kenya

Kenya has some of the richest bird diversity in Africa with over 1,100 species. The Great Rift Valley is consistently listed among the top bird-watching destinations in the world.

The Red-faced Crombec Sylvietta whytii was recently atlassed in the Dakatcha Woodlands inland of the port of Malindi in south eastern Kenya. This is the first recorded sighting of the coastal race of this African warbler for 40 years. A Kenyan endemic Hinde’s Babbler Turdoides hindei was recorded in Nairobi suburbs 50+ km away from its previously known distribution. A Blue-spotted Wood-dove Turtur afer in Mau-Narok on the western edge of the Rift Valley is the most easterly record of the species in Kenya.

These sightings have been recorded by a major conservation project set up to describe the current distribution of bird species in Kenya. Using data submitted by members of the public, the Kenya Bird Map (KBM) is a joint initiative between A Rocha Kenya, the National Museums of Kenya, Tropical Biology Association, Nature Kenya and the Animal Demography Unit of the University of Cape Town.

The only other bird atlas was published in 1989 and since then, there have been dramatic changes in habitats across Kenya and Africa. This re-mapping exercise will enable scientists and conservationists to better understand changes in biodiversity and identify key threats to it.

The KBM started with funding for five years from the People Programme (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union and the Natural History Museum of Denmark. As a citizen science project it has plans for long term monitoring. To date, more than 400 people have registered for the project since it started in 2014. Each registered bird mapper notes all birds they can see or hear in a an atlas square during a minimum of two hours birding over five days.

Beyond simply describing bird species distribution, KBM hopes the findings will help detect decline in species, the effect of changing climate or human land use which can direct future avian research and conservation.

Waders in Kenya. Photo: Ben Porter

Waders in Kenya. Photo: Ben Porter

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