On our Nature Travel Birding safaris to Uganda we often spend a morning in the Mabamba Swamp searching for one of Africa’s most sought after bird species; the Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex).

The sheer surprise when this prehistoric-looking bird (also sometimes called the whalehead, whale-headed stork, or shoe-billed stork) flies up is an experience that stays with you forever, irrespective of how many world bird species you have on your list or how well-traveled you might think you are.
See the Shoebill on tour in Uganda

With its massive, highly conspicuous, shoe-like bill, and 140 cm (55 in) height this bird looks like something from the age of the dinosaurs and is utterly unmistakable. In fact, the Shoebill is a bird belonging to the group known as the Pelecaniformes and is more closely related to a pelican than a stork.


These birds are found in tropical East Africa in large swamps and marshes from Sudan to Zambia. They are equipped with a large bill which helps them catch their favourite prey: West African Lungfish. Thye will also eat amphibians, very young crocodiles and eater snakes, as well as rodents and small waterfowl.

Shoebills are masters of patience. They will stand in water, large patches of grass, and other hiding places for hours on end. They know that if they wait long enough for the right moment, they will find their next meal. At the right moment, the Shoebill will leap from cover and attack the prey. They lunge forward and with their sharp bill scoop up the creature, devouring it whole. Roughly 60% of their attacks are successful.

The timing of the breeding season is linked to local water levels. Eggs are laid at the end of the rains as the waters start to recede, and chicks fledge in the dry season. Shoebills are solitary nesters, and the nest is a grassy mound, up to 3 m wide, on floating vegetation or a small island, often among dense stands of papyrus. The clutch size is normally two eggs, and incubation takes 30 days. Fledging occurs at about 100 days and usually, only one chick survives. Individuals take three to four years to reach reproductive maturity and may live for up to 50 years.

The Shoebill has been classified as vulnerable, with less than 10,000 birds left in the wild. The bird is threatened by hunters, the destruction of their environments by humans, and cultural taboos that lead to them being captured by tribes. Many cultures believe that the birds are taboo and bring about bad luck.

Africa’s legendary bird, the Shoebill, awaits you in Uganda, the Pearl of Africa!

Streaked Laughingthrush

You know you are in northern India when you hear a fast, liquid, tinkling, chittering trill, immediately followed by a clear, thin, elastic whistle “chittititititchééter-whééeze!”. That is the song of the Streaked Laughingthrush (Trochalopteron lineatum).

Streaked Laughingthrush with Nature Travel Birding

This member of the Leiothrichidae family of Old World laughingthrushes is common in the northern regions of the Indian subcontinent, where it prefers bushes and scrubby vegetation on slopes close to rivers and forest edges, at 1,400 to 3,900 metres above sea level. It also ventures close to cultivated areas and towns and villages.

The Streaked Laughingthrush is, like most of its family, a striking bird. It is a smallish laughingthrush, mostly brown and greyish, with fine streaking all over, and with a rufous tail and a bright rufous ear patch. Five subspecies are recognised, based on geographical differences. The scientific name “lineatus” (Latin) means “of a line”, indicating the linear streaking patterns on the bird.

It feeds on insects, including moths and caterpillars, ants and spiders, but also berries, fruit and seeds. It keeps mostly to the ground and forages with others of its kin in groups of up to 6 individuals. In some western Himalayan towns it is considered a “garden bird”!

The Streaked Laughingthrush breeds from March to October, laying 2 to 4 eggs in a loose and untidy cup-type nest in thick bushes. Incubation is done by both sexes, and they have to keep a lookout, as the nests are parasitized by several local cuckoo species.

Although it is a common bird in its region, it doesn’t deter from the fact that it is still special! Streaked Laughingthrushes are generally not shy and will approach humans, allowing a fascinating insight into their behaviour and making the taking of nice photographs a breeze.



Bird of the Week: Great Blue Turaco

Many of the different species in the endemic-to-Africa turaco family are beautiful and colourful birds, but the one that takes the proverbial cake, must be the Great Blue Turaco of the canopy of the forests of west Africa.

Great Blue Turaco with Nature Travel Birding

Apart from being a beautiful turquoise-blue colour, it is also huge (up to 75 centimetres high and weighing over a kilogram!). The name really does do it justice! Unlike other species of turacos, the Great Blue Turaco does not have red flight feathers in the wings. It has a large bill that is bright yellow with a red tip and a blue-black raised crest crowning the top of the heads. The tail is long and wide, and has a broad black subterminal band.

The Great Blue Turaco might be stunning, but unfortunately it is not blessed with graceful flying moves. They sort of glide-leap from one tree to the next, climbing up and down branches to reach the fruit they crave, before moving on to the next tree. They often forage in small flocks and several birds often gather at fruiting trees.

The call of the Great Blue Turaco is very unique. There are typically two different types that they use. They are most commonly heard at dawn and dusk and during mating season. Their primary call is a loud, deep, resonant, guttural “kok-kok-kok”. A bubbling softer “prru…prru” trill may sometimes precede this.

The Great Blue Turaco is widespread and appears relatively common throughout its range. However, the species is threatened by deforestation and habitat destruction due to human developments. It is unfortunately also hunted for consumption as food, and is still trapped for trade in some parts of the range.

For a chance to see the Great Blue Turaco and many other west African specials, join us on our small-group expert-guided Ghana birding trip in early 2020.

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White-necked Rockfowl

This week’s Bird of the Week is a strange one… The White-necked Rockfowl (Picathartes gymnocephalus) of Western Africa has been keeping taxonomists busy for a long time.

White-necked Rockfowl.JPG

This odd looking avian special has, over the years, been listed with the Old World warblers, the flycatchers, the babblers, the crows and even the starlings. Currently some of the experts think its closest relative might be the rockjumpers! However it is classified, the White-necked Rockfowl is considered as Vulnerable by the IUCN as its dwindling and fragmented populations are threatened by habitat destruction.

This species is only found in West Africa from Guinea to Ghana, but is best seen in Ghana where a well-established community project allows visits to a colony near Obuasi. It prefers primary or secondary forest in hilly, rocky terrain, usually close to running water. It survives also in disturbed habitats, such as forest clearings and secondary growth, and in some cases close to human activity.

The diet of the White-necked Rockfowl is mainly forest floor invertebrates, including earthworms, spiders, beetles, termites and grasshoppers. It also sometimes eats frogs and lizards. Interestingly, it also cleverly follows columns of army ants to capture prey flushed by the insects.

They have interesting breeding displays too, forming loose circles and performing various dance-like movements. They are also quite inquisitive and occasionally approach observers once they realised they have been seen.

Amazingly, this species also helped launch Sir David Attenborough‘s career in 1954, when he was the producer on the new television program Zoo Quest. The show’s presenter, Jack Lester, was required to travel to Africa to record attempts to capture animals for display in zoos, with the focus of the series being on the White-necked Rockfowl. However, when he fell ill, Attenborough took his place, which launched him into the limelight and started his world renowned narrating career.

The White-necked Rockfowl is undoubtedly considered one of Africa’s most desirable birds by birders from all over the world, and is a symbol of ecotourism and rainforest conservation across its range.

For a chance to see this unusual avian gem, join us on a small-group personalised Nature Travel Birding tour to Ghana in early 2020. Enquire directly at to reserve your place.


Black-collared Hawk (Busarellus nigricollis)

The Black-collared Hawk is a fairly large bird of prey in the family Accipitridae. It is monotypic within the genus Busarellus. Named for its black bib, the Black-collared Hawk most easily is identified by its rufous plumage and very short tail.

Birding with Nature Travel Birding

It is found in Central and South America, all the way from central Mexico south to Uruguay, and is always close to water bodies. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, subtropical or tropical swamps, and swamps.

Typically Black-collared Hawks perch above shallow pools or marshes and drop onto prey, which most often are fish. It also eats water bugs and occasionally lizards, snails, frogs and rodents.

Interestingly, the Black-collared Hawk has the basal phalanges of the inner toe fused, which may be an adaptation to prevent the toe from bending back when catching prey. This feature is shared with Ictinia and with the group of true milvine kites and sea eagles.

Have a look at our Brazil, Peru, Guatemala and Colombia birding trips to see this amazing bird and many others.  Go to for more information.


Andean Condor

See the Andean Condor with Nature Travel Birding

Not many birds can lay claim to being the national bird of 4 countries, but the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) can do just that! It is the national symbol of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador, and plays an important role in the folklore and mythology of the Andean regions.

With a wingspan of over 3 meters (10 feet), the Andean Condor is considered the largest flying bird in the world. Fully grown adults can reach a whopping 15 kg (33 pounds) and can stand an impressive 1.2 meters tall. Even with their impressive wingspan, Andean Condors sometimes have a hard time staying aloft when in flight, due to their enormous weight. That is why this bird prefers windy areas, where it can glide effortlessly on the air currents. They can soar up to a breathtaking height of 5,500 metres (18,000 feet)!

Contrary to their names, the Andean Condors don’t just inhabit the Andean mountain region of South America. These birds can also be found in coastal areas, enjoying the sea breeze, and even some desert areas, where they take advantage of the thermal air currents. Andean Condor numbers are greatest in Argentina and Southern Chile. Their numbers are dropping in Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, making sightings of the bird in these areas increasingly rare.

As the Andean Condor is a vulture, the bulk of its diet is carrion. Because of this, these birds perform a very important ecological job, a sort of natural clean-up crew. Sometimes they will also take smaller food items, including eggs from seabird colonies, sharks, dead and also live seabirds.

The life expectancy for the Andean Condor is an incredible 50 years. However, some have been known to live up to 75 years in captivity. They have a very intricate breeding system. The adults only lay one egg every two years and take care of the young for a long period of time.

This magnificent bird was placed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 1973 and is in danger of becoming completely extinct soon. The primary factor in its demise is overhunting by humans that mistakenly believe Condors threaten their livestock. Other factors include loss of habitat, and pesticide poisoning passing up the food chain.

Take a trip to South America and see the Andean Condor fly around the Andean peaks before it is too late. For more information on birding trips we offer to countries where these awesome vultures soar, get in touch with us on or go to

Black-cheeked Woodpecker

Birding in South America

We currently have clients on a birding trip to Costa Rica in Central America, and news from our guide is that the clients LOVE the woodpecker family, and are trying to see as many of these very cool birds all over the world as they can. So with that in mind this week’s Bird of the Week is the Black-cheeked Woodpecker (Melanerpes pucherani).

This beautiful woodpecker (named after the French zoologist Jacques Pucheran) occurs from southern Mexico down to western Colombia and western Ecuador and to the extreme northwest of Peru. Like most of its family, the Black-cheeked Woodpecker is very distinctive, with a big black face mask, a white patch behind the eye, black upperparts with narrow white bars, and big white rump patch. The male also has a full red crown, whereas the female has a grayish forecrown and red hindcrown.

It prefers humid and wet evergreen forest, forest borders, scattered tall trees in clearings, and old secondary growth and abandoned plantations. It may sometimes even enter gardens.

The Black-cheeked Woodpecker feeds mainly on insects (including spiders, termites, beetles and ants), but will also take substantial quantities of fruit, berries and seeds and also drinks nectar. A varied diet indeed!

It nests in an unlined hole, usually 4 to 30 m (16 to 98 ft) high in a dead tree. The clutch is two to four glossy white eggs, incubated by both sexes, for about 2 weeks. Fledglings may return to the same nest to roost, even while the adults start a second brood.

To see the Black-cheeked Woodpecker and many other amazing neotropical birds, join us on a birding trip to central or south America.  For more information, enquire directly at or visit


Bearded Vulture

Bearded Vulture.jpg

In 455 BC the Greek playwright Aeschylus could not shake the feeling that he was going to die. A prophecy had warned him of falling objects, so he was spending most of his time outside. Unfortunately, a large bird (now believed to have been a Bearded Vulture) mistook his smooth bald head for a rock and dropped a tortoise on it! Aeschylus died instantly, and it’s unclear if the vulture ever got his dinner.

The globally near-threatened Bearded Vulture is an unmistakable bird, with black ‘sideburns’ (or beard), red rings around the eyes (a feature only shared with some parrots) and a long wedge-shaped tail. It also has black wings, with the rest of the head, neck and body a rich rusty orange. This is because Bearded Vultures rub themselves with iron oxides. Soil and mud stained with iron oxide give the bird this fiery appearance. Theories to explain this feather staining range from dominance behaviour to parasite control. It could even be purely cosmetic, or might be for camouflage. They apply the dirt with their claws and then preen for about an hour to ensure a bright orange glow. They are also attracted to other red things, like leaves and red wood. Captive birds also partake in this behaviour, which suggests the activity is instinctual, not learned.


The Bearded Vulture is sparsely distributed across a considerable range. It may be found in mountainous regions from Europe through much of Asia and Africa, including in the Alps, Pyrenees, Caucasus, Altai, Himalayas, Atlas and Ethiopian highlands. There is also an isolated population in the Drakensberg mountains of South Africa and Lesotho. It requires large open areas with little or low vegetation, and that is not continually covered with snow. It relies on thermals and wind for gliding flight, but to a much lesser extent than most other vultures. It has been observed gliding in the Himalayas at more than 8000m (26000ft) above sea level!

Unlike the myth, Bearded Vultures do not hunt live prey, and even avoid meat. Up to 90 % of the diet of the Bearded Vulture consists of bleached carcass bones, the only bird with this peculiar eating preference. The bird is capable of swallowing and digesting bones the size of a sheep’s vertebrae. If bones are too big, they are dropped onto rocks from a height of up to 100 meters, to shatter them. This unique eating habit makes Bearded Vultures an essential part of the ecosystem. Besides bones, they also eat small lizards, hares and tortoises, also dropping them onto rocks from a height. The acid concentration of the Bearded Vulture’s stomach has been estimated to be of pH about 1 and large bones will be digested in 24 hours, aided by slow mixing/churning of the stomach content. The high fat content of bone marrow makes the net energy value of bone almost as good as that of muscle, even if bone is less completely digested.

Bearded Vultures live in mountainous areas, often above the tree line. Because of the many animals that do not survive the winter, carcass supply is greatest in winter. Therefore, this is the time when Bearded Vultures breed, and chicks hatch in about two months. Bearded Vultures usually lay two eggs, but only the strongest one survives. After hatching the young spend about 4 months in the nest before fledging. The young may be dependent on the parents for up to 2 years, forcing the parents to nest in alternate years on a regular basis. Wild Bearded Vultures have a lifespan of about 20 years, but have been observed to live for up to at least 45 years in captivity.

Fewer than 10,000 pairs exist in the wild worldwide. Declines today are usually due to poisons left out for carnivores, habitat degradation, the disturbances of nests, reduced food supplies and collisions with power lines. They were formerly persecuted in significant numbers because people feared (obviously without justification) that it regularly carried off children and domestic animals!

For a chance to see this impressive and interesting bird, along with many others, join us on a Nature Travel Birding tour. We offer tailor-made private and small group birding tours across the globe, including to many countries that the Bearded Vulture can be found in. For more information, go to or get in touch by sending your query to

Stresemann’s Bushcrow

Here at Nature Travel Birding we love interesting birds. Whether it’s one that can mimic others in order to confuse predators, or one that has a dazzling courtship display, or one that can achieve incredible feats of endurance or strength, we love interesting birds. The Stresemann’s Bushcrow certainly fits in the category of interesting!
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Only discovered in 1938 and initially taxonomically moved from family to family, the species name was assigned in commemoration of the influential German ornithologist, Erwin Stresemann. It is also less commonly known as the Abyssinian Pie. As its name suggests, the species is assumed to be a member of the crow family Corvidae, but this has been widely debated in ornithological circles since the species’ first description.

Currently it sits in its own unique genus with genetic analysis revealing its evolutionary history to be more related to that of the Asian Ground Jays. It is an unmistakable pale grey crow-like medium-sized bird, with a striking black tail and black wings and bright azure-blue around the eyes.

Its evolutionary history is interesting in itself, but the explanation of its range restriction (the species is endemic to central-southern Ethiopia, in a very small area in Sidamo Province), with vast areas of seemingly suitable, unoccupied habitat existing directly adjacent to the species tight range, is nothing short of remarkable. Recent studies suggest that its current area of occupancy is delimited by a climate envelope that harbours a cooler, dryer and more seasonal climate than its surrounding area, but no one knows for sure. The bushcrows prefer flat, open-grass savanna with mature acacia and thornbush stands, with the greatest densities of birds where there are large stands of acacias close to grazing pasture or cultivated fields.

Adding to the complexity of the situation, the Stresemann’s Bushcrows appear unspecialised in their diet and rely heavily on traditional Borana pastoral rangeland for their survival. Their diet consists almost entirely of invertebrates, particularly insects, including larvae and pupae. They forage on the ground, strutting about alone, in pairs or in parties of five or six individuals. They sometimes dig vigorously in the soil, and have also been seen extricating prey from wood in the manner of woodpeckers. Increases in agricultural land, intensification of grazing regimes and a growing human population throughout its range have led to changes in land cover and subsequently to the degradation of the rangeland it depends on.

The Stresemann’s Bushcrow’s breeding usually starts in March, with the birds building their nest high in an acacia tree. The birds usually lay five to six cream eggs with lilac blotches. The nest itself is globular in shape with a tubular entrance on top. It is possible that more than just the breeding pair visit the nest and that the young of previous years help in rearing the new young.

There are currently thought to be only 9000 breeding pairs of these amazing birds left, and the species is currently listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

For a chance to see these interesting birds and many others, come join us on a Nature Travel Birding tour to the incredible African country of Ethiopia. Ethiopia is one of the most incredible birding destinations in Africa with over 860 species recorded which is about 9.5% of the world’s and 39% of Africa’s birds. For more information, visit or enquire directly at

Crimson-rumped Toucanet

Crimson-rumped Toucanet.jpg

The Crimson-rumped Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus haematopygus) is a species of bird in the Ramphastidae family. It is not the only species of Aulacorhynchus toucanet whose rump is red – but it is the only red-rumped member of the genus in northern South America; because of this, it is unlikely to be confused with any other members in its genus.

Its beautiful plumage is overall green (often faintly tinged blue), except for a maroon-red rump and tail-tip. The bill is black and maroon with a white band at the base.

Crimson-rumped Toucanets are fairly common in lowland premontane to montane evergreen forest and secondary growth, also in forest edges and dense thickets, and sometimes in isolated fruit trees in pastures and gardens. It occurs from southwestern Venezuela south to southwestern Ecuador.

It is a noisy, inquisitive, social bird; this species is usually found in pairs or small groups foraging for fruits, palm nuts, invertebrates, bird eggs, small vertebrate and other prey in the forest canopy.

Breeding is usually from January to May, with much singing, calling and chasing until a pair is established at the start of breeding. In most cases the nest is in an old woodpecker hole with rotted wood excavated out. The female does much of the incubating, but the nest is kept clean by both parents. The young develop slowly, with fledging only at 7 weeks. The young probably return to roost with their parents, and may stay together until the next breeding season.

Crimson-rumped Toucanets are fairly common in Ecuador, and you can join us on one of our Nature Travel Birding trips to see these cartoon-like coloured birds and many others in this fascinating South American country.

For more information, go to or enquire directly at