Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Collection of Birds (Africa Series)

Red-billed Hornbills

The Red-billed Hornbills shared a tree in Kenya’s Maasai Mara.  Hornbills are monogamous birds and this pair may be looking for a suitable cavity to serve as a nest site when that time comes.

The female will seal herself into a nest cavity with a mixture of mud, fruit pulp and droppings in what seems to be a protective strategy.  Protected inside, within 4-5 days she’ll lay her eggs and start a complete molt...losing all her feathers.

Cocooned inside with only a small opening for food deliveries, she’ll incubate the eggs alone.  As it gets crowded inside with growing chicks, she’ll chip her way out.  Now fully feathered, she reseals the entrance again, leaving only a small hole to allow for feeding the chicks. 

(Click any picture to enlarge)

An oversized bill with a unique casqued projection (a raised hollow projection on the upper mandible) makes ID’ing a hornbill easy.  Some hornbill species sport an enormous, almost grotesque, casque, but the Red-billed Hornbill’s bill is nicely understated, yet still rather impressive. (female left, male above)


I was hoping to see more of Africa’s brightly colored bee- eaters, but it never happened.  This single Little Bee-eater was my only encounter.  Bee-eaters are common in Africa with the Little Bee-eater being the most widespread and most common of all. 

Perching on prominent branches with good sightlines in all directions, the bee-eater darts directly at a bee or wasp.  The bee could easily be 200 feet away (two-thirds of a football field), so good eyesight is essential.  Good vision is a common trait in bee-eaters. 

While not immune to the stings of bees and wasps, young bee-eaters learn quickly how to dispatch an angry bee by whacking it on a branch several times to make it give up its venom.  Discarding the stinger…a quick flip and a catch in the air…the meal is served.

Oddly, bee-eaters don’t recognize bees or wasps once they’ve land on the ground.  They only take them out of the air.

The Black-bellied Bustard is a bird of the tall grasses in 
Sub-Saharan Africa. Patrolling with his head held high, he swivels  it constantly as he walks, both to detect prey items like grasshoppers and lizards and to guard his own personal safety. 

Threats can come from any direction and one must be flexible to remain secure.  

An impressive bird in neutral shades, this Kori Bustard was either showing off or projecting a threat in our direction. 

We meant him no harm, for we only wanted to take his picture.  He reacted with some bluster at first, but settled down shortly.  

Goliath Heron

Aptly named, the Goliath Heron is the world’s largest heron. Rather shy and preferring to be alone or only with his mate, the Goliath Heron values privacy dearly.  

He’s reluctant to fly over large tracts of dry land, instead preferring to follow rivers and waterways with adequate cover.  

This one hid in a tree on the far side of the Mara River.  He suffered our presence only briefly.  

A brief glimpse was all he’d allow before receding on lumbering wingbeats. 


The Mousebird get its name from its resemblance to a mouse scampering in a tree. Mousebirds move along tree branches with mouse-like ease. 

There may be a dozen or more Mousebirds hanging together in this tree.  They were too huddled to count.  

They are social birds and hang together…upside down, spread-eagle or vertical, whichever pleases them. This allows for foraging on delicate fruits and berry bushes…their favorite food.

The White-backed Mousebird’s
hair-like feathers encourage a comparison to the rodent even more.    

Fruit growers and home gardeners don’t particularly care for the Mousebird for the crop damage they inflict.   

They have a place in the pet trade though...for better or worse.

Black-chested Snake Eagle

Lucky for me, this Black-chested Snake Eagle was gracious.  

I was preoccupied photographing a Short-toed Snake Eagle and a Tawny Eagle nearby when our driver, Lucus, spotted him. 

I was hoping the Black-chested Snake Eagle would remain on his perch until we got there and he did. 

(If this were golf that would be 
three-eagle day!)
 He was perched on a snag of a tall tree, but the tree was at the bottom of a ravine, so that put us eye-to-eye. He twisted backwards to see where the flashes of light were coming from, as it was now getting dark and I needed a fill-in flash.

He saw everything from his vantage point. He knew we were there and he wasn’t bothered by the truck’s slow approach…not enough to leave anyway.

Now that was gracious!