Kenya’s top ten rare birds

Today, Taita Apalis is clinging on to just four (4) square kilometres of space, the size of Westlands shopping centre in Nairobi.

When this bird sings its last, it will be tragic because it will mean that the few remnants of the indigenous forest have been destroyed.


Nature Kenya – the East Africa Natural History Society – and research scientists affiliated with the National Museums of Kenya are working to secure patches of farms or plantation forests that were planted on steep slopes between the remaining indigenous forest patches in order to increase the natural forest.


2. Kilifi Weaver

Until 2013, the Kilifi Weaver, also known as Clarke’s Weaver, was shrouded in mystery.

Male & Female Kilifi Weaver. Male with food for young at Arabuko Sokoke forestt, Kenya. Copyright Colin Jackson

Found only in the coastal forests of the amazing Dakatcha woodlands and Arabuko-Sokoke, it was only in 2013 that a team led by the indefatigable Fleur Ng’weno and the Dakatcha Woodland Site Support Group saw the birds building their nests in a seasonal wetland in the woodlands. Until then, their known habitat was the Brachystegia trees. Nobody had associated them with the wetlands until Ng’weno heard of another species that lived in the forest but moved to the swamps during breeding time. That was her eureka moment.


Dakatcha Woodland north of Malindi is threatened with illegal clearing, charcoal production, pineapple plantations and rising human encroachment. Nature Kenya which is Kenya’s oldest natural history organization dedicated to connecting people with nature has bought some land in Dakatcha to protect the natural space of the bird. If all the natural vegetation especially the Brachystegia trees are cleared, there will be increased soil erosion as the soils are naturally sandy and thin. Hence in Dakatcha you will find the amazing natural eroded sand city, Hell’s Kitchen.

3. Grey Crowned Crane

The Grey Crowned Crane is the world’s fastest disappearing crane. Found only in sub-Saharan Africa, the Grey Crowned Crane was once common in the wetlands of Democratic Republic of Congo through to Eastern Africa and stretching down to South Africa.

Grey Crowned Crane. Courtesy of Wanyoike Wamiti

Today, Kenya is its stronghold. But even here, populations have halved in the last five decades.

Today, there are fewer than 10,000 Grey Crowned Cranes in Kenya, a 50 per cent decline over the last five decades. Kenya is home to 45% of the population this African endemic species.

Conservationists and scientists are alarmed at the drastic drop. The reason for this decline is manifold. The Grey Crowned Crane lays its eggs in wetlands, forages in grasslands and roosts on tall trees. As wetlands are drained and grasslands converted for infrastructure and agriculture, the stately bird is losing its habitat. The dilemma is exacerbated by poaching for the illegal and barbaric trade in live cranes on the international market for exotic pets and locally for bush meat.


Crane Conservation Volunteers work with the community around Lake Ol’ Bolossat the only fresh water lake in central Kenya that is a stronghold of the birds. In recent years, CCV has successfully converted many former ‘poachers’ who stole the eggs from the swamps into protectors.


4. Vultures

Bedevilled by bad press until recently, Kenya’s different species of vultures have declined by up to 90 per cent in the last two decades. These magnificent birds soar over vast distances without a wingbeat, using the rising hot air thermals to great height. Once thought of as lowly scavengers, their role in cleaning up the savannas by feeding on carcasses cannot be ignored. If it wasn’t for the vultures the savannas would be full of rotting carcasses and prone to disease outbreaks of anthrax, to say nothing of the unbearable stench. Unfortunately, vultures have been the innocent victims of wildlife poisoning. When lions attack livestock, herders poison a carcass with lethal poison to bait the lions. Vultures attracted to the carcass dig in but their digestive system which can handle rotting carcasses cannot handle chemical poison. Thousands have tragically died in this way. In addition, their flight paths are being interfered by wind farms for clean energy.

Lion feeding on cow calf by Jolai Hill oin Soysambu Conservancy in company of Silver-back jackals and vultures,. By Rupi Mangat


The Peregrine Fund East Africa is launching a plan to put an end to poisoning of wildlife in Africa through a network of specially trained conservancy rangers, partnering with wildlife, humanitarian, and advocacy NGOs, and first-responders to provide swift response to poisoning incidents.


5. Raptors

Martial Eagle by Shiv Kapila

Eagles like the Martial and the African Crowned once ruled the African skies.

Today, the tropical forest belt is the most threatened ecosystem, and the African Crowned Eagle is a key indicator species, relying on quality forest with plentiful animals to feed on. Deforestation and the increasing bushmeat trade in forests are turning them into virtual deserts for eagles like the African Crowned. The African Crowned Eagle is the flagship of a healthy forest.


Kenya Bird of Prey Trust is committed to rescuing, caring, conserving, researching and educating on raptors. Led by Simon Thomsett who has handled more than 3,000 raptors since the age of six when he nursed his first raptor, he is one of the world’s highly acclaimed raptor experts. 


6. Papyrus Gonolek

This bright bird lives in the papyrus swamps around Lake Victoria.  It’s threatened due to the papyrus being overharvested and cleared for farms. It’s a beautiful bird with black, red and yellow plumage and lives its entire life in the papyrus swamps including building nests for the next generation. However, the papyrus swamps lack formal protection. Yala Swamp which is papyrus-rich is Kenya’s largest freshwater wetland covering 200 square km and acts as a filter for waters that flow into Lake Victoria.


Nature Kenya is working with the local communities and the Counties to protect Yala Swamp. It has developed a Land Use Plan with local partners for the wise use of the swamp. Funds are required to support Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group to monitor the swamp and the birds.


7. Abbott’s Starling

This pretty little starling is found in the moist montane forests of Mount Kenya, Kilimanjaro and the Aberdare Range. It is threatened by habitat loss, and its population is estimated between 2,500 and 10,000. The Abbott’s Starling feeds on insects and fruit. As the forests are decimated, the bird is moving to higher altitudes but it may not survive the cold for long.


The Mount Kenya Biodiversity Conservation Group is monitoring the forest including reforesting degraded areas to increase the bird’s habitat while working with the local communities to raise the profile of the rare bird. A nest was photographed in Gatamaiyu Forest in 2005 by Chege Kariuki. He is the first to document its nest.


8. African Grey Parrot

The African Grey Parrot is only found in the equatorial rainforest that belts across Africa’s waist. In Kenya, it only occurs in Kakamega Rainforest in western Kenya. The online trade for exotic pets threatens this lovable bird which makes an attractive pet because it can mimic people. African Grey Parrots can be raised in captivity, but are still caught in the wild.

African Grey Parrot Copyright: World Animal Protection

Unfortunately, the yen for exotic pets is on the rise — a report by World Animal Protection and World Parrot Trust titled “Illegal online trade in endangered parrots: A ground-breaking investigation” shows the horrific increase in the trade. The population of the African Grey Parrot has crashed by 90 and 99 per cent between 1990 and 2010.


The World Animal Protection is calling for an end to the illegal trade.


9. Great Blue Turaco

Another beauty from the Kakamega Forest is the Great Blue Turaco. Turacos are only found in sub-Saharan Africa.  Although it is not hunted in Kenya, in parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Great Blue Turaco is actively hunted for meat and feathers. In Kenya, it is threatened by the forest being illegally felled.

Great Blue Turaco in Kakamega Forest. Copyright Julia Fulcher


The Kakamega Forest local conservation group works with the forest edge communities to lessen their dependence on the forest. Some of these are simple projects like buying solar lights and solar cooking stoves to stopping cattle from sneaking into the forest especially during the dry season.


10. Sharpe’s Longclaw

This dainty little bird is a Kenyan endemic (found nowhere else) and listed as ‘endangered’. Its population is about 10,000, which is thought to be a 99 per cent drop from the population a century ago. Its habitat is clumps of tussock grasses in vast highland spaces. But much of the grasslands are disappearing under large-scale agriculture, human settlement and, ironically, afforestation projects. Its long claws work like snow-shoes to walk on the grasses and it uses the tussock clumps as an observation point, a hideout, for foraging and to lay its eggs. It is a strict grasslands specialist.


Nature Kenya working with Friends of Kinangop Plateau  is acquiring grasslands in central Kenya and working with sheep farmers to conserve and extend its habitat. Sheep graze the grass around the tougher tussock grass leaving Sharpe’s Longclaw space alone. It’s a win-win situation working with farmers and promoting a cottage industry of spinning and weaving, based on sheep wool.

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