Migratory Birds 

 By Vimbai Manganukira, BirdLife Zimbabwe

African Paradise Flycatcher

This year the World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) is being celebrated on the 9th of October with the theme “Sing, Fly, Soar – Like a bird”. WMBD is inviting people from all over the world to appreciate migratory birds and reflect on their relationship with nature by listening to and watching birds. The theme seeks to inspire and connect people in the shared desire to celebrate and protect migratory birds and their habitats as migratory birds continue to sing, fly and soar between their breeding and non-breeding sites. WMBD is celebrated twice a year, on the 2nd Saturday of May and the 2nd Saturday of October. 

The presence, numbers, and trends of birds indicate the health of an ecosystem. Zimbabwe is home to 674 bird species, over 140 of these bird species are migratory birds. In this article, we take a look at two groups of migratory birds.

Palearctic Migrants

White Stork Willow Wabler

Birds that migrate long distances mainly from Europe and Asia to Africa are called Palearctic migrants. Their drive to move is mostly to escape adverse weather conditions in their breeding grounds. Some Palearctic migrants to look out for this season include the Willow Warbler and White Stork. The Willow Warbler is a tiny passerine weighing about 10g and travels up to 13,000 km from Siberia to Southern Africa. The Willow Warbler is a common resident of woodland, scrub, parks, and gardens in Zimbabwe. The White Stork is one of Zimbabwe’s special species. They migrate in thousands from Europe to Africa and are noticeable with their black-tipped white feathers and long red beak and legs. 

Intra- African migrants

African Paradise Flycatcher

Intra-African migrants are birds that migrate within Africa. Some of the Intra-African bird species to look out for this season include the African Paradise Flycatcher and Red-chested Cuckoo. The African Paradise Flycatcher has an iridescent, crested grey head, bright blue bill and eye wattle, chestnut-orange back, and wings, with the male having two central tail feathers that extend to about 17cm. At times it seems almost as if the Paradise Flycatcher seeks human company. They are familiar garden birds in all large cities, many nests being quite close to verandas. If a Paradise Flycatcher takes up residence in your garden you will soon know it is there from its chit-cheer call and soft warbling song of the male. The Red-chested Cuckoo is a brood parasite meaning that it lays its eggs in other birds’ nests. It generally prefers Afromontane forest, closed woodland, Miombo woodland, open savanna thickets, stands of trees in human settlements, mature gardens, and parks, so it could be interesting to look out for it in your garden. Mukuvisi Woodlands is one of the best places in Harare to see the Red-chested Cuckoo. Next time you are at Mukuvisi be attentive to the persistent and monotonous piet-my vrou call of the Cuckoo which can be heard throughout the woodlands.

Humans are a major threat to migratory birds at their wintering, breeding, and stop-over grounds. In Zimbabwe Miombo Woodlands and Wetlands/Grasslands are the ideal breeding grounds for migratory birds. The wetlands and woodlands are, however, under threat from deforestation, agriculture, and infrastructural development. 

Migratory birds do not recognize international boundaries therefore, conservation of the vast natural capital in the country will ensure the protection of migratory birds which are a shared resource among nations.

Images from Birdlife Society

Originally published in the 7th Ndeipi Magazine

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