Busy town, busy lives, everyone going on with their day to day activities. Hardly do we notice these other creatures that are coexisting with us as we live and work in our urban areas. If I was to ask an average of 10 city dwellers if their notice any bird around them at any time during the day or even any day of the week, 3 out of 10 would say they notice them, the other 7 would say it never even crosses their mind or they don’t even care if a bird fly’s past or above them at any given time or moment.
These birds, even if not evident, have managed to coexist with us humans in our towns. They feed and breed right under our noses in crevices of buildings, electricity light poles, building ventilation areas and some of the minimal trees found in our cities. They have been able to adapt to our smog and polluted water and our waste food. They have faced death by being electrocuted with live wires, breaking their necks as they fly right towards a clear glass window or by being hit by a moving vehicle. Their numbers, though, have not reduced but are ever increasing and territorial battles have become the norm among birds as each fights for space in an ever changing environment. Some of these species have survived because of their numbers and living in large colonies, others, however, have preferred a more solitary life.
When the town is quiet and clear, you will always here random calls and songs of these remarkable species of birds.
- House Sparrow (Passer domesticus indicus)
Probably the most common bird you will see in our urban areas. They may be a tad smaller than most of the birds yet to discuss but one cannot miss their call. The first sighting of this bird in Nairobi, was in 1992 as it was introduced in Mombasa, Kenya in the 1900s. It’s a very common urban sparrow found in most parts of the world. Males have a black face and throat with cheeks and sides of their necks while females have buff superciliary stripes and wing-bars. The house sparrow mostly roasts in building crevices. You will spot them on sidewalks as they feed on crumbs of waste food near garbage cans or restaurants. Their brownish color makes them inconspicuous and they blend easily with the urban background.
- Crow (Pied and House Crow)
This is one loud urban avian with the house crow taking the lead. The house crow is more of a coastal town bird as it was earlier on introduced to the country and is displacing the pied crow in our urban areas with their highly antagonistic behavior. More on the crows discussed here. Always seen on top of buildings either solitary or in pairs and in large groups as they fly in our skies. Prominent in large garbage deposit areas.
3. Feral pigeon (Columba livia)
Pigeons are plump, small headed birds with dense plumage, pointed wings, short tarsi (legs) and short bills. Their strong swift flight is quite easy to hear and one cannot fail to notice when a pigeon flies nearby. Large number of pigeons assemble at food sources.
Feral pigeons are blackish birds numerous in Nairobi and Mombasa and are the most common city pigeons. You will always see them in a row on the edges of building and on top of billboards on a hot sunny day. At dawn and dusk, they are visible in large numbers as they fly across the skies.
- Speckled pigeon (Columba g. guinea)
Unique to this bird is a large red eye patch and a vinous-chestnut/maroon upper parts, boldly marked with triangular white spots on wing coverts. They are grey from head to neck, streaked with white and cinnamon. Common around buildings and at times together with their cousins the feral pigeon on billboards.
- Common bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus)
Possibly the most common African bird. Found in most parts of Kenya except 3000m above sea level. Most popular in dry regions of Kenya. The common bulbul is also a common town bird, though it has a preference for greener areas of the town compared to the concrete jungle. Their yellow vents is a unique characteristic to this bulbul. Their call is ‘Doctor quick Doctor quick Be quick Be quick’ sound.
- Black kite (Milvus migrans parasitus)
The only raptor drifting the skies in our towns in brown plumage, with a forked tail, yellow bill and dark brown eyes. Commonly and untruly referred to as hawks by most people. They are quite opportunistic feeders and are often found around human habitation. More on the black kite seen in my previous post here.
- Marabou stork (Leptoptilos cruminiferus)
Most likely one of the largest town birds with a wing span of 3.7m. Frequently seen nesting in colonies on tree tops. Their feeding spots are garbage dumps in the city as discussed here.
- Lesser striped swallow (Hirundo abyssinica unitatis)
A common city swallow often seen around buildings. Its rump and most of its head is Rufous. Its entire underparts are boldly streaked black on white. Tail has long narrow outer feathers and shows large spots when spread. The lesser striped swallow, like all other swallows, builds its nests using mud in the corners of building in urban areas.
- Rock martin (Hirundo fuligula fusciventris)
Common near tall buildings. It’s the only brown backed swallow showing white spots in the spread tail. It has a pale cinnamon throat and upper breasts. Its tail is slightly forked. Flight appears leisurely with much gliding.
- African Pied Wagtail (Moticilla aguimp vidua)
A common black and white wagtail found around towns. It’s mostly black above.
- Speckled Mousebird (Colius striatus kikuyuensis)
Mousebirds are endemic to Africa. The speckled mousebird is common in towns. It has a distinctive brown crest and contrasting whitish or silvery grey cheeks.
This list of town birds are not only found in our urban jungle but also in our country sides. Thus, keep a look out for them whether in the city, forest and even in your farms and/or gardens. This list is also not conclusive.
Which other town birds have you observed?
References – Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania by D. Zimmerman, D. Turner, D. Pearson
Photo credits – Google