It’s easy to think of the Maasai Mara as simply a game reserve, a place to see the large cats, the antelope, zebras, buffalo and the like: yet it is also a great place to watch a huge range of birds. The largest of these are the common ostrich which behave so much more like the other mammals that it’s hard to think of them as birds at all. At the other end of the spectrum are the smaller birds such as the yellow-throated longclaw that was seen feeding in the parched grassland.
Large conspicuous birds are not uncommon with the sturdy southern ground-hornbill patrolling the ground and covering large distances in their search for a wide range of food. White-bellied bustards were also to be spotted on more than one occasion. Slightly smaller were the crowned lapwing on the grassland and the spur-winged lapwing that we spotted by the river.
The birds of prey are perhaps the most striking of the Mara birds from the bizarre secretary bird that stalks across the grassland looking for snakes, which it stamps to death, to the more recognisable Montagu’s harrier or the aptly named lesser kestrel. However, it’s probably the vultures that are the most distinctive birds of the area. They are helpful indicators of a lion’s kill where they hang around waiting for their chance. The largest group contained one large lappet-faced vulture as well as Ruppell’s griffon vultures and African white-backed vultures.
Amongst some of the grazing animals oxpeckers were common, sitting on the back of a giraffe or buffalo and feeding on the ticks they found there. The animals tolerate them although how useful they are to the animal is open to question as they often keep wounds open and even drink the blood of the host.
Perhaps the most memorable bird, however, wasn’t due to its size or oddity but more due to its prominence perched on the local trees and its vibrant colours. The lilac-breasted roller is a hunter that uses its high perches to drop down onto prey on the ground below.