- Written by Silvia Mwendia for Kenyakidz
Kenyan families can help chart out the country's birds by volunteering in the Kenya Bird Map Project , which aims to identify the distribution of the more than 1065 bird species in the country, as well as act as a conservation tool.
This project comes at a time when there is a declining trend of bird species such as the greater flamingo in Lake Elementaita, whose population is below the 1.0 'poor' indicator as reported in Kenya's Important Bird Areas: Status and Trends 2009, compiled by Timothy Mwinami and others.
Started last year, the Kenya Bird Map is a joint initiative of the National Museums of Kenya and conservation organisations A Rocha Kenya and the Tropical Biology Association. The project, which is scheduled to run for five years, is being implemented by Nature Kenya as a project of the Bird Committee of the East Africa Natural History Society in a bid to map out the distribution of all birds in Kenya.
“We are using citizen science to do the mapping. This is whereby volunteers go out to do birding and then submit their findings through our website,” Gladys Kung'u, a Data and Resource Coordinator at Kenya Bird Map, said.
This initiative comes at a time when the status of important bird species and habitats has declined to reach a mean score of 0.97 in 2009, the Mwinami report shows.
The same declining trend has also been seen in the population of the greater flamingo in Lake Elementaita. By charting out Kenya's bird distribution, the Kenya Bird Map hopes to not only use the findings as a tool for conservation but to also come up with an updated version of A Bird Atlas of Kenya, which was published 30 years ago.
To volunteer as a citizen scientist for the project, one must first know how to identify birds. Volunteers are advised to first register on the website as observers.
Volunteer birders are also expected to be aware of some of the rules that they should follow.
“The map of Kenya has been divided into pentads-small squares of five minutes by five minutes of latitude and longitude, which basically translates to 9km by 9km on the ground. When birding, one is required to identify the square in which they are,” said Kung'u.
A normal round of birding takes a minimum of two hours. During this time, a birder should record all the birds that they see in hour-long intervals.
“So, if you started at 8am, once it is 9am you need to note down the time. That way we can know which birds are rare and which birds are common, because the common birds will always appear first in the list and the rare birds last, perhaps in the second or third hour,” said Kung'u. The minimum of two hours birding is known as a full protocol. Any session less than two hours is referred to as an ad hoc protocol.
When submitting the findings of such a protocol, they will be put under the ad hoc records and will only be used to learn about the distribution of birds in the country.
Since the project started last year, it has registered 118 observers, who have made 1135 full protocols in 344 pentads. With three years to go, Kenyan birders still have a long way to go seeing that areas in Nairobi have up to 71 full protocols while in Marsabit there is only one. Despite these setbacks, Kenya Bird Map's project stands to contribute to the country's conservation efforts for birds and perhaps stop their numbers from dwindling.