Bird watching in Ethiopia, East Africa

    Birds of Ethiopia, East Africa - Greca & Philippe Durant

Birds of Ethiopia, East Africa – Greca & Philippe Durant

by Greca Durant,

Birding Addis Ababa, Gheralta, Mekele, Negash, Wukro Tigray

Ethiopia is an ornithologist’s dream destination, with 861 bird species and 30 endemics shared with Eritrea. Best time to visit–November to February. According to Jose Luis Vivero Pol, ornithologist and author of “A Guide to Endemic Birds of Ethiopia and Eritrea,” Ethiopia, situated in the Horn of Africa, plays host to 861 avifauna species and 30 endemics, which it shares with neighbouring Eritrea.

With each onset of the Northern Hemisphere winter season, the bird population increases due to migrants, making the East African country one of the most significant birding sites this side of the globe.

Bird Watching in and around Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, the third largest city in Africa, and the third highest capital city in the world at 2,500 metres above sea level, offers amazing bird watching. With no known predators and no harmful treatment from locals, Ethiopian birds are fairly domesticated, with some species bent at ‘posing’ for the cameras, and have no qualms about approaching humans for titbits.

From dawn till dusk, several species can be viewed, either soaring up in the thermals such as Kites, Falcons and Lammergeyers, or perching on ledges, high tree branches or tall buildings, like the Wattled Ibis (Bostrychia carunculata/Rüppell), White-collared Pigeons (Columba albitorques/Rüppell), White-winged Cliff Chat (Myrmecocichla semirufa/Rüppell), and Vultures.

Many can be heard singing or seen feeding in trees and bushes, like the Seedeaters, Black-winged Lovebirds (Agapornis taranta/Stanley), Bulbuls and Weaver Birds, or on the grounds, like the Thick-billed Ravens.

In a clearing next to a huge construction site, by the Bole Ring Road, especially after the rains, one may see small flocks of Sacred Ibis mixed-feeding with other Storks, Cattle Egrets and tiny Seedeaters. Kites and Vultures can also be observed.

At the Slaughtering site, on the Ethio-China Road, an incredible sight presents itself. Hundreds of large, long-legged, grey-black-winged Marabou Storks vie for space on the roofs and grounds of the abbatoir.

Bird Watching in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia

However, a visit to Tigray, in the northern part of the country, will provide amateur and serious birders with a bounty. Upon landing at Mekele’s international airport, in the capital of Tigray Province, one is met by the sight and sounds of the beautifully hued White-winged Cliff Chats. The birds dart all over the arrival lounge and would even hop onto café tables, to pick on crumbs.

A drive along the Mekele-Wukro-Gheralta Road gives one glimpses of glossy blue-black Starlings calling out from building rafters or from branches of prickly acacia trees.

While in Tigray, a good place to stay is Gheralta Lodge, not just for its peaceful ambiance and perfect location, but here, the guest gets to meet more White-winged Cliff Chats plus Seedeaters, Sunbirds, Weaver Birds, Pigeons, and Owls. With the lodge as base, one may drive through little villages along the Adigrat-Wukro-Mekele Road, where more of the species await the visitor.

One should watch out and pay attention to farmland, wadi (dry river beds), or lake activities. At any given moment, one may catch sight of enormous Abyssinian Ground-Hornbills (Bucorvus abyssinicus) feeding on low grass, or pass by a pair of Blue-winged Geese (Cyanochen cyanopterus/Rüppell), now considered ‘Near Threatened’ by IUCN. There are also Crows, Storks, and Wattled Ibis, whose loud hoarse callings signal their presence.

If traveling on a Tuesday, a stopover in Negash, one of the historic places in Ethiopia, is a must. Tuesday is the town’s main market day; the big birds come by the dozens. Kites and Lammergeyers adorn the noonday sky, showing off their daring airborne acrobatics, a veritable feast for birders’ eyes.

Although visitors to Ethiopia may encounter birds all year round, the best times for birding are from November to February, when the country experiences a dry spell.

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