Tag Archives: bird

Wild and free- not handbags

If these young ostriches didn’t live here in the wilds of Kenya, and instead on a commercial farm, they would eventually be turned upside down, stunned by electrocution, their throats slit, bled out, and then their feathers plucked to make Prada, Hermes and LV handbags. In true style- London, Paris and Gangnam- PETA protestors made the point at these flagship stores recently that ostriches shouldn’t be made into handbags.

Large families are led by Mother Hen, as this one was doing here. Along with all these beautiful, feathery youngsters, they walked peacefully into the sunset. Free from being made into handbags, and free to wander the savannah.

Wild, as they should be.

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Giddy up, Saddle Bill

The Saddle-billed stork is one of the tallest and vibrantly coloured storks around. With a 13” sharp beak in the same colour scheme as the Ugandan flag, this dashing bird has been named this way due to the yellow saddle-shaped section under its eyes. 

It can be quite a hard-to-see soul, preferring rarer places with both tall trees to nest in and wetlands nearby so they can go fishing, frogging, or crabbing. They’ll sometimes vomit water over their nest and eggs to moisten things a bit, crunch and swallow the egg shells of their babies after they’ve hatched for a quick high-calcium snack, and pair with a partner for life. Like the Sacred Ibis, vulture and the Egyptian Geese, they’re also represented in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

What a fascinating bird. Giddy up, Saddle Bill!

Misleading names

Unlike its name suggests, the vulturine fish eagle isn’t quite a vulture nor a fish eagle- it doesn’t scavenge, and its diet does not resemble that of either bird. It instead prefers a vegetarian diet consisting primarily of oil palm nuts. Its name was simply derived from the 2 other birds due to aesthetic similarities. Names sure can be misleading! This bird is quite unique, and in 1943 the other name ‘palm nut vulture’ was created- which seems a little more suitable. The birds should be happier with that, although this youngster doesn’t seem to outwardly show it.

Majestic Soarer

A Great White Pelican flies majestically through the skies.

Take off, however, may not be so majestic as there’s a lot of splashing around- but once in flight, they soar effortlessly with such grace. In flight, and if with a group, they’ll make nice lines or V shapes. The perfect airshow really, without the noise and fumes.

When it’s time to eat, usually in the mornings, they’ll employ the line approach again: if in a group, they’ll position themselves in a U shape or a ‘scare-line’ to usher fish to the shore. Together, in this formation, they’ll plunge their heads down into the water and collect fish with their stretchy bill pouches, tilt their head sideways to drain the water, then gulp down some scaly filet o’ fish to go. What a coordinated team effort.

Here’s to this beautiful big bird who soars above, has a great fishing technique and the cutest waddle ever.

A visitor from the forest

In the mornings in Kampala, I was usually greeted by the endearing cackling of eastern plantain eaters, a squawk or two from some egrets and maybe a call from a local marabou stork that had perched itself on the top of the roof. However when the Ross’ Turaco comes to visit- you know it is going to be a special day.

My blinds are drawn wide open as usual, and I am getting ready for work. I sense someone is watching- but who today? There is a curious Ross’ turaco, sporting a clearly distinctive hairstyle, peering back at me.

Usually found in forested woodlands in dense foliage, this bluish-purple bird is a sight to be seen. Photographing in dark areas is already difficult- let alone a speeding subject in dark conditions, which makes it even harder. So it was truly a treat when I saw this one perched in the morning light on an open branch, right outside my bedroom window.

With a couple of toes that are pointed backwards to ensure better gripping around branches, these beautiful and vibrant birds scurry along branches, seemingly sometimes, as though they have 4 legs. They almost sound as if they do too- their deep calls are likened to a monkey’s. They love fruit, and I left some banana slices out on the balcony railing that day, though it didn’t appeal to their palate it seemed. They probably flew back to the faraway forests before long, away from the maddening crowds and the chaos of the city. If I were a bird, I would do exactly the same.

Here’s to the birds who remain mostly hidden in the canopies of dark jungles and forests, fraternising with the mountain gorillas- but sometimes do show themselves. And when they do, we can see what beauties they truly are.

Stop! Hammer time.

Or Hamerkop time. With a head shaped like a hammer, this bird might possibly be one of the very few creatures that has more than half a dozen names. Due to their uniqueness, they have been difficult to classify. While they fall into the pelican and cormorant group, they solely occupy its own family and genus and have a class of their own- how’s that. In addition, it is the closest relative to the beautiful, unique, and somewhat intimidating, Shoebill Stork. Well, they do say the most divergent beings are invariably the more interesting ones…

In mating rituals, the hamerkop are known to run around each other in circles in groups of 10 or more; they will falsely mount each other in these rituals, sometimes even in the wrong direction; and they have a particular liking to building massive nests, up to rituals, sometimes even in the wrong direction; and they have a particular liking to building massive nests, up to 2m/6.5ft deep and wide, regardless of whether they want to breed. Though they will be loyal and have 1 partner for life.

Here’s to being unique, divergent, and not having to fit into any one category, as the Hamerkop does naturally- and very well indeed.

“Today you are You, That is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than you.”

-Dr Seuss