You are currently viewing Bustards rare and common and Ostriches in East Africa
Denham's Bustard is one of the rare species. Photo by Lorenzo Barelli

Bustards, Somali and Common Ostrich

Members of the order Otidiformes are large birds. They feed on the ground but all can fly even the heaviest bird on land the Kori Bustard. Males can reach around 20 kg. They live in savanna and dry bush land. They are opportunistic feeders and eat fruits, herbs, seeds, fruits, invertebrates, small reptiles and rodents. Currently there are world wide 26 recognized species.

The nest is built on the ground exposing them to predators. The female lays 3 – 5 dark speckled eggs. The mating display is amazing. In flight they show their long fingered wing tips and make funny sounds.

Having evolved around 30 Mio years ago either in East or Southern Africa from where they dispersed makes them an old order. Some species got extinct. A number of current species are near threatened or threatened due to loss of habitat. Some species are quite common, others rare and need to be found with patience and luck.

For some species you have to be willing to endure some rough roads, dust, heat or flooded rivers. But still Lake Turkana region is amazing and worth to visit. Heuglin’s and Arabian Bustard occur in this area. Other species are easier to find and widespread despite their distribution areas are all over East Africa especially when you want to find all subspecies.

Bustards – Family Otididae

These omnivorous birds are mainly found in grassland, savanna and semi deserts. They eat berries, plant material, insects, small rodents and small reptiles. In some species sexual dimorphism is well visible. Often they move in pairs.

Ostriches – Order Struthioniformes – also called Ratites 

Family Struthionidae – Ostriches

They are in the infraclass Palaeognathae = paleognaths or palaeognaths. Within are 2 orders Struthioniformes = Ostriches and Tinamiformes = Tinamous which aren’t in Africa.

Ratites have lost the ability to fly.

Male Ostriches can reach a height of 2.5 m and weight up to 135 kg. The smaller, brown females reach 1.75 m and 90 – 110 kg. Neck and legs are naked. Their feet are adapted to run which enables them to reach 70 km/h. They only have 2 toes = didactyl. Both toes have claws and they can kick very hard. The head is rather small, but the eye is the largest in relation to the body among vertebrates.

Ostrich dance and that mainly during mating season. The white wing tips of the male are a strong visual signal. During the copulation male ostriches roar and it sound almost like lions. A group of Ostriches consists of males and females. During mating season a male gathers several female. The eggs are laid into a communal nest which is just on the ground cleared of vegetation. At night the black male incubates, during daytime the main hen. She ensures that her eggs are in the middle to get the most ideal temperature and be safer from egg eating predators. They are precocial birds and the young follow the adults.

Ostriches are omnivorous. Their main diet consists of plants and seeds but they also take insects, snakes, lizards and rodents.

As many other animals Ostriches get bitten by insects and ticks. They are twisting their long necks to get rid of them.

Click on the photo for larger view. The names of the photographers are on the photo and in the text. Those without name are from Elvira Wolfer. Due to the generosity of several photographers we are able to present all East African species and subspecies.

To give you as actual information as possible we use Avibase, the books “Birds of South of the Sahara”, “Birds of East Africa”, “Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania”. Beside a good photo for identification we give the most characteristic information.

You can also follow us on Facebook “Bird photography Safaris Kenya” and see the numerous species as well as the beautiful photos from Lorenzo Barelli.

Denham’s (Stanley’s) Bustard (Neotis denhami jacksoni) is the subspecies found in Western and Central Kenya, Northwestern Uganda and Southwestern Tanzania. They live in open grassland and are uncommon. Status: near threatened. Photo Lorenzo Barelli

Heuglin’s Bustard (Neotis heuglini) is endemic to the horn of Africa, from Eritrea, N Somalia and Northern Kenya to Tsavo East. Photo is taken by Elvira Wolfer near Lake Turkana

Arabian Bustard (Ardeotis arabs butleri) is found in South Sudan and rarely in semi arid plains in Northwestern Kenya. Photo Adam Scott Kennedy. Status: near threatened

Buff-crested Bustard (Lophotis gindiana) is endemic to the Horn of Africa to Southwestern Tanzania and inhabits dry acacia scrub land.

Kori Bustard (Ardeotis kori struthiunculus) is the subspecies in East Africa in savanna, semi deserts and grassland. Status: near threatened

Black-bellied Bustard (Lissotis m. melanogaster) is widespread in lightly wooded areas and open grassland. It is quite common. The female is brownish.

Hartlaub’s Bustard (Lissotis hartlaubii) is a Northeastern African endemic. It is found in drier, more open grassland than Black-bellied Bustard. In some regions both occur and they are not easy to differentiate. Females are very alike.

Northern White-bellied Bustard (Eupodotis senegalensis erlangeri) SW Kenya to Central Tanzania. It is found in Masai Mara and Serengeti. It is slightly darker than canicollis. Photo Lorenzo Barelli

Northern White-bellied Bustard (Eupodotis senegalensis canicollis) Kenya, NE Uganda, NE Tanzania in grassland and savanna. Photos Lorenzo Barelli

Maasai or Common Ostrich (Struthio camelus massaicus) lives in savannas and semi desert plains  in Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania. Video

Somali Ostrich (Struthio molybdophanes) is endemic in dry areas in NE Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. It is rare outside protected areas like Samburu, Meru and Lewa Conservancy.