Meet the colourful and comical birds of Africa

As well as photographing elephants, lions, leopards, cheetah and baboons during my recent trip to Africa, I also managed to take a few shots of the amazing birdlife from honking hornbills to grumpy vultures.

In fact the very first photograph I took in Africa was of a yellow weaver bird on a fence. We were having breakfast at the Ole Sereni hotel in Nairobi en route to Diani for the first leg of our travels.  The weaver suddenly hopped onto the fence and kindly stood there in perfect profile while staring out at the national game reserve. I couldn’t have asked for a better photographic subject!

yellow weaver bird

Most of the birds in Africa either made me stare in wonder at their beauty or laugh out loud. The comical superb starlings bathing in the pool at the Samburu lodge in Kenya were a perfect example of the latter. They lined up and splashed about on the pool edge cleaning themselves in such a frenzy it was a wonder they didn’t fall in. I especially loved the confused look on the face of the starling in the following pictures.

superb starling looking stunned

superb starling in a pool

superb starlings

superb starling storming off

And then of course a collection of birds isn’t complete without the beautiful Saddle-billed stork (below) and Grey-crowned crane – synonymous with Kenya – that were feeding in a grassy swamp area in Samburu National Reserve. I can’t get over the extraordinary markings and colour of the stork. Its beak is like a prop from a Luc Besson or Baz Luhrman film – in other words, other-worldly!

Saddle-billed Stork

Grey crowned crane

This little Kingfisher below, complete with grubs in his beak, was hanging out above the Ewaso river in Samburu. He kept turning in different directions on this tiny branch above the brown murky river, balancing perfectly on his tiny orange feet. I always wonder how such pint-sized creatures like this can survive in such a big land filled with giant mammals.

Kingfisher on a branch in Africa

In Namibia, I saw yellow weavers everywhere building their nests, hanging from their nests, feeding their young and chattering at full bore. I was amazed by the sociable weavers which all live together in one giant nest with their own apartments and a couple of snakes as security. They really are fastidious architects and builders – we watched one yellow weaver spend an entire day putting his nest together. Not one bit of foliage was out of place!

yellow weaver flying from nest

I also marvelled at the fuchsia flamingos at Walvis Bay as they sashayed around the water’s edge en pointe like clouds of leggy pink ballerinas, crash-landed in the murky mud and spent half their time upside down slurping the ground as though it were soup. The couple below are Greater Flamingos and although they looked loved up, they have in fact just perfectly lifted their heads in unison from the murky mud below.


However nothing quite beats the comical Hornbills at Samburu in Northern Kenya. These little gangsters not only hopped around madly looking for food, beat up the ground squirrels and stole from the table, but they spent many an afternoon tap tapping at their reflection on the windows of our research office and driving us all mad.

African Hornbill

Now, feast your eyes on the bird below …. Look at his wing span and the intense concentration on its face as it hunts for food. This is a mighty Martial Eagle in the Namib Desert. I thought he was a vulture when I saw him but realised the closer he got, the bigger he became. The largest eagle in Africa, the Martial eagle weighs in at almost 14 pounds (6.5 Kg.) and has a wingspan of about 6 feet 4 inches. He was HUGE and we could only watch in awe as he flew in circles and then disappeared. A couple of days later some of the volunteers saw a Martial Eagle flying through the air with an enormous, struggling black mamba snake in its talons. It was a truly awesome and humbling experience to see these magnificent birds in the wild.

martial eagle

And last but not least, the very large and sometimes slightly scary vulture called Gomez who lives at Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary. He not only enjoyed pecking the back of my legs in annoyance when I got in his way (usually when he wanted to go up to his perch above the lapa), but one evening launched himself at my dinner and ate all of my beetroot salad.  Much to my horror he bounced on to the table in a tumble of feathers, talons and beak and gobbled everything in sight. All I could do was sit back and watch as this gigantic predatory bird attacked my beetroot chunks like they were bloodied meat and people ran around shouting ‘Grab him by the neck!”   As if!

While we were all running scared of Gomez, Wolfie the tame jackal was doing the opposite. I watched him trying to persuade the beautiful white-backed vulture to take part in a game of steal-the-tea-towels-from-the-kitchen-and-kill-them-on-the-lawn, much to the annoyance of the kitchen staff.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the two are now firm buddies. Double trouble.

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