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Living with the Hinde's Babbler

Kenya is home to +1080 species of birds, many of which are easy to see as they occur in huge numbers, are distributed over a wide range or their colors and behaviors make them stand out for easy observation to novice as well as veteran birders.

Regardless of one's ranking in the bird watching hierarchy, every birder has the bird that brought the WoooW moment - when you nearly dropped your binoculars and said "this is the one".

Often we expect the moment to come with planning of an excursion or an expensive holiday but rarely do we expect a bird to literally fly into our face and say "Here I am". But birds and bird watching is seeing nature at play, no choreography - only pure pleasant surprises. This is how the vulnerable endemic Hinde’s Babbler flew into my life.

Endemic birds in Kenya: Hinde's Babbler

When a bird is classified as an endangered species, it means that it is threatened and in the case of the Hinde’s Babbler the threat comes from loss of habitat due to intensive farming. The ‘endemic’ term means that the species is only found in a specific geographical area. Therefore a species that carries the two tags is actually harder to see than one that is just endemic and this makes the Hinde’s Babbler one of the most sought out species to birders in Kenya.

Going by the records of the distribution of the Hinde’s Babbler in Kenya - it is found in Central Kenya ranging from the southern side of Mt. Kenya to the lower parts of the Aberdares.

Since '96 we have lived in the same locale as the listed range of the Hinde's Babbler, around 30 kms from Wajee Park, in Mukurweini which is a conservation area for the babbler.

But despite this proximity, it was not until July '09 that I got my first clear sightings of the babbler right in my compound! Initially there were sneak visits by 2 scouting adults and possibly on giving the ALL-CLEAR sign we now have a flock of up to 6 birds that make daily prolonged visits to our compound.

Hinde's Babbler, a Kenya endemic bird species

But why did it take this long for the Hinde’s Babbler to spread to my area? One exciting theory would be that conservation efforts are winning and the flocks at Wajee Park have multiplied to allow for further dispersal of a whole family. The other which is of course open to debate is the climate change. We are experiencing one of the driest periods ever seen in my area. The lawns are completely dry, leaving termite tunnels exposed to birds.

In addition, our live hedge has shed a lot of leaves creating a deep carpet of mulch on which the babblers like to skulk. Could these be the factors that have brought these endemic birds over to our compound? If yes, is it as a positive effect of the climate change and should we expect the babblers to move away with the onset of rains?

Baglafecht Weaver and Speckled Mousebirds

Not all residents in our compound have welcomed the new intruders with open arms or rather open wings; The Hinde’s Babblers have to fight their way for a foot hold on the Candle Bush and the Prickly Pear which are the favorite perching sites for our residential species such as Baglafecht and Holub's Golden Weavers, Speckled Mousebirds, Greater Blue-eared Starling, Red-billed Firefinch, Red-eyed Dove and Northern Pied Babbler amongst others.

So far the babbler is not winning many wars but it tops the charts for noise making which surprisingly, sends most competitors away.

On social etiquette the Hinde’s are so far "well behaved" - I haven't caught them perching on fresh washing on the clothes line, a never ending battle that I’ve had with all other residential species, Mousebirds being the most notorious. It is a battle I could win by cutting down the Prickly Pear and the Candle Bush, but if stains on fresh washing are the price that I have to pay for the joy we get from all the birds that are attracted to these two bushes, well, nature wins!

For the advice that I relocate my clothes line, I hear you but space, space is very limited.

Ok, we are not conducting a full scale research on the Hinde's Babbler and possibly what we are considering new is already long documented but blame it on the "1st-time-parents-syndrome", every minor action is a milestone and a camera is kept at hand.

On this we were blown off when the Hinde’s Babbler took to eating the Prickly Pears, the all time favorite fruits and the source of most of the major battles for our residential flocks. Numbers help in the fruits fight and the Hinde’s Babblers have no chance with Mousebirds, Weavers and Common Bulbuls. But see, every small bite is a win!!

Whatever the reason why the Hinde’s Babblers are now common sightings in our compound, we are grateful and truly appreciate the experience. We have helped countless numbers of visitors to enjoy birding in Kenya, but to hear our 10 years old son say “Tela (his dog) is chasing the Hinde's Babblers”, deep down we know this is very, very special. May the moment last.

Bird watching is a way of life at Ontdek, we invite you to consider birding in Kenya with us. See our approach to designing and delivering tours.

Read more of Anne's articles about Kenya.

A Non-stop Show at the Prickly Pear Theater

birding in Kenya | Geese
Quack Mate, what did Isaac what's-his-name say about fruits and gravity?

Prickly Pear
Oh, never mind, these are the fruits
of our patience!

bird watching in Kenya
Not to mention my wisdom....
Told you not to join in the fruit fights.

birdwatching in Kenya
Say that one more time.

More pictures of our Hinde's Babblers

Bird Pictures: the Hinde's Babbler

Kenya birds pictures

Have a look at our photo gallery of endemic birds and more common species.