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A Bird Watching Safari in Kenya - the African Purple Gallinule and the Saddle Billed Stork

Emmanuel Kariuki is a writer on social-political issues of his home country, Kenya. He is also a published author of 20 works of fiction

the African Purple Gallinule

the African Purple Gallinule

Kenya, Birdwatcher's paradise

In this hub, we shall look at two birds that can be seen in Kenya and the other East African countries. They love to be near water from where they feed, nest and raise their young. These two birds are the African Purple Gullinule and the Saddle billed Stock.

Kenya is an East African country straddling the equator. Certain points on Kenyan highways have actually been marked by billboards that indicate the position of that imaginary line. The climate is therefore tropical, sunny most of the year with two very wet seasons. The short rains fall around March/April and the long rains fall around September/October. Altitudes vary from sea level to the snow capped second highest mountain in Africa – Mount Kenya. There is the coastal forest, savanna grasslands, and equatorial rain forests in western Kenya. The coast has mangrove swamps, and the mountains are covered with a diminishing natural forest.

As can be expected, these varying geographical features support a large variety of flora, fauna and avifauna. There are birds that love the saline Rift Valley lakes while others prefer the largest fresh water mass of Lake Victoria. According to Africhoice, there are a total of 1133 bird species recorded in Kenya. Out of this number, 7 are endemic to Kenya and 6 have been introduced from outside. Only one species is known to have become extinct.

1. African Purple Gallinule -Porphyrio alba madagascariensis



This bird prefers dense papyrus swamps with abundant water lilies in the surrounding lagoons, lakes and rivers. It has a bright pink; long legs and well spread out toes, suitable for trotting on the lilies. The African Purple Gulinule is omnivorous, and feeds on the buds and flowers of the water lilies. Other foods include seeds, earthworms, insects, snails, frogs and small fish. Chicks have a dull colour with an off-white belly. It is common throughout East Africa where it shares a habitat with other relatives listed below:

· Allen’s gallinule (Porphyrulla alleni). Allen’s Gallinule is smaller and shy compared with the Purple Gallinule.

· Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

· Lesser Moorhen (Gallinula angulata)

· Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio)

American and European cousins of the African Purple Gallinule

The American Purple gullinule (Porphyrio martinica) is a cousin of the African Purple Gullinule on the American continent. This American cousin is commonly known as the Swamphen. It prefers breeding in warm swamps and marshes in Southeastern states of the USA. It is also common in the tropics from Central America to South America.

Western Europe has a similar but much larger swamp hen - Porphyrio porphyrio which from the list above, can also be seen in Kenya.

American Gallinule, PurpleGallinule, CC BY 3.0, PurpleGallinule, CC BY 3.0

Saddle-billed Stork

 hyper7pro, Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis -Kruger National Park, Limpopo, South Africa-8, CC BY 2.0

hyper7pro, Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis -Kruger National Park, Limpopo, South Africa-8, CC BY 2.0

2. Saddle-billed Stork - Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis

Order: Ciconiiformes

Family: Ciconiidae

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The Saddle-billed stork is a member of large birds that are mute. They have long legs and an equally long neck. These migratory birds have feet that are suited to wading. Out of the 19 known species worldwide, 8 of them can be seen in Kenya. Below is a list of the other seven storks that can be seen in Kenya:

Abdim's Stork (Ciconia abdimii)

African Openbill (Anastomus lamelligerus)

Black Stork (Ciconia nigra)

Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus)

White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)

Woolly-necked Stork (Ciconia episcopus)

Yellow-billed Stork (Mycteria ibis)

The Saddle-billed stork has a habitat that stretches from Sudan all the way to South Africa; from Kenya through Chad to Senegal in West Africa. This huge bird has a big red beak with a black band and a yellow shield in the front of the face. This frontal shield is also called a saddle.

Saddle-billed Storks have long blacklegs and feet with pink knees. They can grow to a height of more than 4 feet (1.22 m), judging from a taxidermy specimen in the Nairobi National Museum. Its legs and feet are black with pink knees.

The dangling yellow wattles on the upper neck below the beak indicate that the one in the picture is a male.

Saddle-billed Storks fly with the neck outstretched, a distinguishing characteristic of most storks. They lay two to four eggs in a large nest. Storks re-use their large stick- lined nests for many years. The eggs hatch after 30 days or a maximum of 35 days.

Saddle-billed Storks feed mainly on fish by poking with their large beads in shallow water. They also have a taste for other small animals. Saddle-billed storks will not hesitate to make a meal of small mammals, birds and reptiles.

Unlike other birds, it is possible to distinguish between males and females, just by looking at the saddle-billed stork straight in the eye. Females have a yellow iris in each eye while males have a brown one.

In Ancient Egypt, an outline of this bird was used as the hieroglyph for the sound ‘ba.’ The yellow wattles were included in the hieroglyph, an indication that only males were intended to represent the sound.

Asian Black-necked Stork

 JJ Harrison (, Black-necked Stork -112 Nightcliff, CC BY-SA 4.0

JJ Harrison (, Black-necked Stork -112 Nightcliff, CC BY-SA 4.0

Asian cousin of the Saddle-billed Stork

Black-necked stork which are widespread in the Asian continent are close relatives of the Saddle-billed Storks. These two species are the only members of the genus Ephippiorhynchus.


1. National Museums of Kenya, Bird Gallery


3. (Birds of Kenya - Checklist)

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Emmanuel Kariuki


Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on January 09, 2013:

pstraubie48 ,

Thanks for your most encouraging comment. I had hoped to add more hubs on birds but thought there wasn't an audience for them. Now I will follow through. About the Angels - we need them urgently. We are about to go into an election ( in about 52 days) and the heat they generate can be frightening. Thanks so much for the Angels :)

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on January 08, 2013:

This was awesome. I am so a bird watcher. I am intrigued by them each time I am privy to their arrival in my midst. Yesterday when I took my baby grandson to breakfast, we saw two amazing cranes which are common here in Florida. They were actually having a territorial dispute...

I would love love to travel to Kenya to see these lovelies you have shared. Voted up ++

Sending Angels to you :) ps

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