Bird watching helping to sooth Kenyans during pandemic

By Andrew Wasike

NAIROBI, Kenya (AA) – Kenyans have been going to their preferred bird watching destinations to ease constraints caused by the coronavirus pandemic as the world celebrates World Migratory Bird Day.

Phillip Koech joined other avid bird watchers who were on their way to the Giraffe Centre nature sanctuary here in the Kenyan capital.

“I am waiting for my friends before I go, world migratory birds day is a very important day for us. Aside from the many discounted offers we receive, we get to learn a lot about our feathery friends. Birds are not like humans, they migrate from continent to continent, with almost no predators, just a cycle from generation to generation, really amazing,” said Koech.

“If there is a next life, I would want to be a bird,” he said.

“I just like the peace and tranquility that comes with bird watching, it soothes me and also excites me. Imagine missing a chance to see a bird that has traveled for thousands of kilometers to your country. My favorite migratory birds include the wood sandpiper, the Madagascar pond-heron and flamingos.”

Kenyans, like Koech, are thronging to birdwatching centers such as the Lake Nakuru National Park, home to flamingos, the Arabuko Sokoke National Reserve, Lake Baringo and Lake Boria, a salty lake on the floor of the Rift Valley in Kenya.

According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) headquartered in Kenya, birds are soothing not only Kenyans but people across the world as bird watching becomes more popular.

“Since the start of the pandemic a growing number of people have turned to nature – including visible and audible nature in urban settings in the form of birds and birdsong – to soothe the angst brought about by COVID-19,” said UNEP. “Bird watching seems to be becoming more popular. Starting in April 2020, eBird began to see a notable increase in contributions of bird observations. April 2020 eBird checklist submissions increased by 41 per cent compared to April 2019.”

Kenya holds the world-record Bird Watch, with 342 species seen in 24 hours and 494 species in 48 hours, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

– Bad time for birds –

The UN said that despite the increase in twitchers across the globe, it is a bad time for migratory birds and other birds as experts warn that species are in sharp decline.

“Globally, one in eight bird species is threatened, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List, including some of the world’s best-known migratory species, like the European turtle-dove, and the Atlantic puffin,” it said.

The challenges the birds are facing are many and everyday threats increase.

The UN in Nairobi said that for migratory birds, the threats include the expansion of industrial-scale agriculture, human encroachment on habitats, drying out of wetlands, deforestation, illegal or unstainable hunting, poisoning and electrocution by power lines.

It adds that climate change is also adversely affecting migratory birds, including reducing the availability of food at stopovers.

This year’s theme for World Migratory Bird Day is “Sing, Fly, Soar – Like a Bird!” Eleven percent of the world’s species of birds are in Kenya, which amounts to 1,089 varieties.

Some of the migratory waterbirds in Kenya include the Sandpipers — Green, Common & Marsh; Herons — Squacco, Grey & Madagascar Pond; the Northern Shoveller, Plovers — Common Ringed & Little Ringed, Flamingoes and the Ruff, according to KWS.

Migratory land birds and raptors include the Lesser Spotted and Greater Spotted Eagles, Steppe eagle, Eurasian Bee-eater, Lesser Kestrel and the Common Swift among others.