Red-billed oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorhynchus)

Red-billed Oxpecker.Buphagus erythrorhynchus.
Photo taken by Jan Van Duinen

Oxpeckers will sit on certain mammals and target the ticks and other small parasites found on the skin and in the coats of these animals. Oxpeckers’ bills are especially adapted to their lifestyle. The bills are pointed as well as laterally compressed which helps the birds work their way through the coats of the mammals in a comb-like fashion and to pry out well embedded parasites.

The birds are also known to help clean-up open wounds. What they are after around the open sore is the rotting wound tissue. Oxpeckers are quite efficient at cleaning these lesions.

Their legs are also well adapted to a life spent perched on mammals. The legs are shortened to enable them to grip onto their moving hosts. Powerful toes and sharp nails further benefit the Oxpeckers in their quest to feed and as a spin off keep their mammal hosts’ parasite numbers under control.

The birds are also known to help clean-up open wounds. What they are after around the open sore is the rotting wound tissue. Oxpeckers are quite efficient at cleaning these lesions.

Their legs are also well adapted to a life spent perched on mammals. The legs are shortened to enable them to grip onto their moving hosts. Powerful toes and sharp nails further benefit the Oxpeckers in their quest to feed and as a spin off keep their mammal hosts’ parasite numbers under control.

The Redbilled oxpecker Buphagus erythrorhynchus, is one of only two species of birds in the family Buphagidae. It is a fairly common bird, found in the savannah grassland and semi-arid regions Kenya. The only other species in the Buphagidae family, the yellowbilled oxpecker, is far less common.

Redbilled oxpeckers only occur where there are animal hosts for the species of insects – mostly ticks – that the birds eat. The hosting animals are generally antelope like impala or kudu, or larger mammals such as zebra, giraffe, buffalo and rhino. In farmland areas, the hosts can also be domestic stock such as cattle. Elephants and a few species of small antelope will not tolerate the birds at all.

The Red-billed Oxpecker is a starling sized-bird. Although it is a fairly plain olive-brown with creamy under-parts, the bird is very easy to identify. Adults have totally red beaks and distinctive yellow rings around their bright red eyes. They have strong legs and long, particularly sharp claws which enable them to cling onto the sides and backs of their hosts at precarious angles. They also have short, stiff tails which are used as props. Aside from the colour, it is in the shape and action of their beaks that one sees the biggest differences between the two oxpecker species. The yellow billed oxpecker uses its stout beak to pluck parasites off its hosts. The red billed cousin uses its slimmer, flatter beak in a scissor-like motion to remove its meals. This same sharp beak is also used to peck at any sores or scabs on the host.

Yellow-breasted Apalis (Apalis flavida)

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Yellow-Breasted Apalis is the commonly encountered Apalis in the field especially if you are birding arid-semi arid areas of Kenya. Its widespread distribution makes it an easy target if you are also birding mid-altitude elevation and in this context it can be true for areas like Nairobi national park, Naivasha, Lake Nakuru, Masai Mara and Amboseli.

The much sort after Apalis is the Karamoja Apalis Apalis karamojae which is a range-restricted species, is found in Masai Mara national Reserve where acacia drepanolobium dominate the vegetation. Taita Apalis Apalis fuscigularis is a globally threatened species is endemic to Taita Hills in South East Kenya. Grey, Chesnut-throated and Black-throated Apalis are easy to pick species in montane dominated habitat of central Kenya e.g Mt.Kenya, Aberdare, Mau forest. While Buff-throated and Black-collared Apalis is commonly recorded in Kakamega forest, the only remnant tropical rain forest patch in Kenya.

 

Great Blue Turaco (Corythaeola cristata)

Jan Van Duinen
Jan Van Duinen

Great Blue Turaco is the largest species of the Turaco family. The adult has turquoise-blue upperparts, including wings and tail. The tail is long and wide, and shows a broad, black subterminal band. Most birds have narrow blue tips. The outer rectrices are partially edged yellow. The wings lack the crimson primaries of other turacos.On the underparts, neck and upper breast are turquoise-blue. Lower breast and belly are greenish-yellow, as the undertail feathers. The tail has black subterminal band. Lower belly, undertail-coverts and tibial feathers are chestnut.
On the turquoise-blue head, there is a conspicuous blue-black raised crest on forecrown and crown. Chin, throat, cheeks and outer eye-ring are greyish. The large convex bill is bright yellow with red tip. The eyes are reddish-brown, surrounded by bare dark turquoise-blue eye-ring. Legs and feet are blackish. Sexes are similar.
Great Blue Turaco have territories which are maintained throughout the year. Like many of the turacos, Great blues are rather shy and seldom descend to the ground except for drinking and bathing. They are quite agile when climbing throughout the branches. Seldom alone, they may be in pairs, family or social groups of up to seven individuals, with several groups often gathering at a single large fruit tree. These turacos are not good fliers, flying short distances and soaring to lower levels of the forest. Courtship involves calling, chasing, feeding each other, raising the crest and the long tail. They call early in the morning and late in the afternoon. They best seen only in Kakamega forest in western Kenya and all the forest in Uganda.