By Michael Hutchins
My work on ABC’s Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign keeps me very busy, but being a glutton for punishment, I can’t help occasionally fulfilling my deep interest in birds, photography, and international travel. That’s why I also work part-time for two of the world’s best wildlife travel companies, Safari Professionals and World Safaris, introducing our clients to spectacular wildlife and wild places around the globe.
In January or February of each year, I’ve been taking groups to Tanzania to experience the wonder of African wildlife and the Great Migration. Over 500 avian species have been recorded in Serengeti National Park and many more in the adjacent Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The following is a brief description and accompanying photographs of some of the incredible birds I’ve encountered on my many trips to the region:
Yellow-billed Stork (Mycteria ibis)
A common resident of marsh and river habitats, the Yellow-billed Stork hunts a wide variety of aquatic organisms, such as fish and amphibians. These large, photogenic birds have a bright red head and a long, recurved yellow bill.
Abdim’s Stork (Ciconia abdimii)
A small brown stork species, Abdim’s Stork, prefers grasslands and cultivated areas. Its facial skin is bluish, with red around the eyes. It’s gregarious and can sometimes be found in large flocks. On warm, clear days, it likes to soar on thermals when migrating.
Saddle-billed Stork (Ephippiorrhynchus senegalensis)
Among the most attractive of all storks, this species has a large, brightly colored yellow, black and red bill. Females have bright yellow eyes, while those of the male are dark brown. An uncommon visitor to wetlands, they are often seen wading through water or in grass searching for small prey such as frogs or catfish.
Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos t. tracheliotos)
The Lappet-faced Vulture is a large scavenger, often known as the “king of the vultures” because its size allows it to dominate other vulture species at a carcass. With its ivory bill and bare, reddish head, some people consider it ugly, but, in my opinion, it is the most regal of the vulture species and quite attractive.
Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori struthiunculus)
This large bird prefers grassland habitats. The males have large, thick-necks that they inflate when displaying to females. The male’s call is a deep, resonant boom, reminiscent of North America’s Sage-Grouse. This photo is of a displaying male in Ngorongoro Crater.
Grey Crowned-Crane (Balearica reguloum gibbericeps)
The Grey Crowned-Crane, a tall wetland crane, is also a very attractive bird with its golden head crest and bright red wattle. They can be seen in large numbers in Ngorongoro Crater, spreading their wings and dancing in typical crane courtship.
Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus)
The Egyptian Goose is one of many species of waterfowl that call the Serengeti home. Found under 3000 meters on permanent lakes, ponds and on sandy riverbanks, it is an easily recognized buff- brown color, with a cinnamon eye-patch at the base of the pink bill and circling the head.
Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax)
This large, brown eagle is a common resident of bush and savannah. Prey ranges in size from termites to dik-dik, a small forest antelope. It can also be seen competing with vultures at carrion.
Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus c. caeruleus)
This small and pale grey and white hawk is common in areas of moderate rainfall. Its wings are long and pointed, with black shoulder patches.
African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)
Like North America’s Bald Eagle, this species is a fish-eater and can be found near lakes, ponds, and river banks. Its entire head, back, and breast are white, which contrast with the dark brown body.
Von der Decken’s Hornbill (Tockus deckeni)
This is a small black and white hornbill with a large, two-toned red and ivory bill. Hornbills are well-known for their unusual breeding biology. The male uses his bill to build a wall of mud at the entrance to their tree-cavity nesting site, where the male feeds the female and chicks through a narrow slit during incubation and chick-rearing.
Speckled Mousebird (Colius striatus)
This is a common bird of garden, cultivation, and open woodland areas. Its brown crest and silvery cheeks are characteristic of the species. They climb well and are often seen hanging among branches, sometimes in awkward positions.
Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudata)
Among the most striking passerine seen on safari, these birds are of a brilliant blue and lilac-purple color on the breast and nape. These cavity nesters seek insects and vertebrate prey. The name roller is derived from their exuberant aerial displays during courtship, which involve acrobatic diving and rolling.
Superb Starling (Lamprotornis superbus)
Another highly attractive, gregarious and common bird in East Africa, this starling is brightly iridescent blue, with cream colored eyes. The white band that separates the blue upper breast from the orange lower breast is characteristic.
Hildebrandt’s Starling (Lamprotornis hildebrandti)
This common starling has a rufous-colored breast and has no white on the breast. It has bright red eyes. It’s darker in coloration than the Superb Starling, but has iridescent violet-blue on the head and upper breast.
Fischer’s Lovebird (Agapornis fisheri)
These small, brightly-colored parrots with powerful hooked bills are highly gregarious and often seen in flocks. The face is orange and red and the eye is surrounded by a white orbital ring. They breed in tree cavities and vocalize loudly in a high-pitched twitter both when perched and in flight.
Little Bee-eater (Merops pusillus)
This bright green bird with a long black mask bordering the eye and a yellow throat is the smallest of the bee-eaters. They are aerial feeders and most are colonial breeders, often building their cavity nests in exposed soil banks and cliffs.
Rosy-breasted Longclaw (Macronyx ameliae wintoni)
A denizen of open, wet grasslands, this bird has a distinctive bright rosy red chin, and yellow breast with a large black patch between the red and yellow. Longclaws are small ground birds with sharp, pointed beaks. Their name is derived with the extremely long hind claw on the feet.
Yellow Bishop (Euplectes capensis crassirostris)
Bishops are highly polygamous species. Males defend a territory, mate with several females and help to build a nest for each. The Yellow Bishop is black with a distinctive bright yellow coloring on the back and rump.
African Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
The African Hoopoe is easily identified, as its appearance is very distinctive. The color is primarily tawny or cinnamon with a pointed black-tipped crest, often fan-like when raised. The wings are black and white. The bill is long and sharp and used to probe for insects.
From a birdwatcher’s point of view, it’s great to be able to enjoy these birds. However, there are also real conservation implications in wildlife tourism.
The future of East Africa’s wildlife, including its spectacular bird life, is tenuous at best. This region is under constant threat of development and is one of the last remaining large, intact ecosystems on earth. For example, despite worldwide opposition, the Tanzanian government has been pushing for a paved road to bisect Serengeti National Park. In addition, the human population in the area has been growing exponentially, thus cutting off many corridors for wildlife movement between nearby reserves, such as Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Parks.
Habitat loss is the toughest challenge facing birds. For many places, both in the Americas and in Africa, ecotourism helps provide the funding needed to support habitat protection for birds and other wildlife. In Tanzania, this lesson has been critical: ecotourism is the primary reason that places like the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater still exist undeveloped.
ABC also believes in this model of enjoying birds while contributing directly to their conservation. ABC and its partners have created a Conservation Birding website that allows birders to find lodges that contribute directly to bird conservation in the Americas. For a more detailed discussion of the role of wildlife tourism in promoting conservation, check out the online interview I did for National Geographic. Your passion to see wildlife can have a positive impact on protecting it for future generations. Happy trails.
Dr. Michael Hutchins is ABC’s National Coordinator of the Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign. He has traveled to over 30 countries and six continents to pursue his passion for wildlife and nature conservation. Prior to joining ABC, Michael held leadership roles at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and The Wildlife Society. He has authored over 220 articles and books on wildlife science, management, and conservation – including many on birds.