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Eastern Black-headed Oriole - Oriolus larvatus reichenowi

Cuckooshrike, Drongo and Oriole species in East Africa

Order Passeriformes is the largest order of birds in the Class Aves. It contains over 140 families with 6.500 identified bird species world wide. They are also called perching birds. 3 toes point forward, 1 backwards called hallux and is long. This is called anisodactyl arrangement. This toe constellation makes it easier to hold on to a branch, twig, wire or blade of grass.

An additional adaptation for perching is a tendon running on the rear side of the leg to the underside of the toes is attached to the muscle behind the Tibiotarsus (the large bone between femur and tarsometatarsus). This makes the feet curl automatically once the leg is bent and becomes stiff when landing on a branch. So they can sleep without falling down and using valuable energy. More information

Passerines are mostly insectivorous or omnivorous meaning feeding on insects, small vertebrates, fruits, seeds and nectar. Omnivorous birds change to  more carnivorous during breeding season. Plant material has less protein which is required for the chicks to grow fast and strong.

The name Passeriformes derives from Greek – Passer = Sparrow, Formis = shape. They originated in the Southern Hemisphere around 60 Mio years ago.

Most Passerines have 12 tail feathers. The eggs are coloured in most species. The number of eggs vary from species to species. The chicks are altricial meaning they hedge blind, without feathers and are helpless. They have reflexes to sense when a parent is landing and open their beak wide to get fed. The beak is fringed with yellow skin to signal the feeding parent where to place food.

Infraorder – Covides

Family Campephagidae – Cuckooshrikes

They are small to medium seized birds. The family has 93 species in 11 genera. Cuckooshrikes are distributed in subtropical and tropical Africa, Asia and Australasia. We describe the subfamily which occurs in Africa – Campephaginae. Despite their name, they aren’t related to cuckoos. Their feathers might resemble cuckoos, the beak those of shrikes. DNA shows they are closer related to Orioles.

These insectivorous birds are found in forests and open woodland mainly with old, large leafed trees. They are known to prefer caterpillars as their diet. Cuckooshrikes are monogamous and territorial. They construct a remarkably small nest in the shape of a saucer. The materials they use are sticks and bark which they bind together with cobweb. Both parents build the nest and raise their young.

Some are migrants within their range but they don’t move out of the subtropics. They search for insects in bushes and trees and have their body often quite horizontal.

Some have a strong sexual dimorphism which shows in totally different colours. You could think you see 2 different species. The male of the Black Cuckooshrike can be confused with a Drongo, Black Flycatcher or Slate-coloured Boubou. But the black in the right light has a metallic blueish touch and the horizontal pose will give it away. Some males have an orange patch on the shoulder, while a yellow gap fringes the beak.

Familie Dicruridae – Drongos

Drongos are mostly black birds and 31 species world wide are in this family and all in the genus Dicrurus. In East Africa you can meet 3 different Drongo species. All of them can be recognised by the red eye. Drongos have short legs, sit very upright while perching, the beak is slightly curved and has a small sharp tip at the end. Their seize ranges from 18 to 26 cm.

Drongos like perching on branches and catch a variety of insects on the ground or in flight. They also feed on small birds. To get other birds catch they utter false alarm calls to scare the owner of the food away to have it for themselves. Drongos mimik the alarm calls of different other species.

Family Oriolidae – Orioles

Is an old world family with 41 species in 4 genera. In Africa you find members of the genus Oriolus. The dominant colour is yellow. Some are residents, some IA migrants and some migrate from Eurasia to avoid the North Winter.

Orioles are monogamous. The nest is a cup hanging like a hammock from a branch.  The lay 2 – 3 eggs, sometimes more. Orioles like building their nests near Shrikes and Drongos since their aggressive behaviour helps protect their offspring.

Orioles hunt for insect in tree canopies but also lower branches. Despite their yellow colours you hear the song but it isn’t easy to spot them.
To give you as actual information as possible we use Avibase, the books “Birds of Africa South of the Sahara”, “Birds of East Africa”, “Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania”. Then we put the most characteristic information to the photo.

Family Corvidae – Crows, Raven, Rooks, Magpies, Jays a.o.

Members of this family are medium to large birds, with strong legs, bristles around their nostrils, many are black or black-and-white, sexes are similar, bills are strong and the wingspan is large. Corvidae is a cosmopolitan family.
It is known that Crows and relatives are very intelligent and inventive birds. Some profit from human settlement due to carelessly disposed waste which leads to unproportional increase of their numbers.

Smaller birds suffer loss of their chicks, loose their food to them and get stressed by their mobbing. Many smaller birds have drastically decreased in numbers due to Crows and relatives.

Many members of the Crow family are omnivorous. They feed on invertebrates, small mammals, other birds and what ever they can find. Most species are residents and don’t migrate. They have quite complex rituals when it comes to choosing the mate. Some are quite communal and have strict rules.

The Indian House Crow which as the name says originates from India / Asia is widespread along the coasts but invades more and more inland areas. At some places they co-exist with even with the larger Pied Crows. They are a huge menace to smaller birds. They raid nests, steal their food, mob and kill smaller birds. Several efforts were made to reduce their numbers, sadly in vain.

Pied Crows as Indian House Crows profit from human waste. Also Pied Crows in excessive numbers are a threat not only to smaller birds also to birds of prey. In some areas you can see 30+ Pied Crows mobbing an owl or any bird of prey. They are in constant competition with Yellow-billed Kites, an other species profiting from openly disposed human waste.

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.
Click on the photo for larger view. The names of the photographers are on the photo and in the text. Without the generosity of several amazing bird photographers it had not been possible to create the pages with so many illustrated bird species. Those photos without name are from Elvira Wolfer.

Here you find samples of our birding safarisLet us know the species you would like to see and we will create the itinerary with the highest chance to find it.

Black Cuckooshrike (Campephaga flava) migrates within East Africa, Angola and Southern Africa. Sometimes they are very common. The name flava = yellow refers to the female. Male by Lorenzo Barelli, male with yellow shoulder patch by Elvira Wolfer, Oldonyo Sabuk

Petit’s Cuckooshrike (Campephaga petiti) is found from 1.400 – 1.800 m in W Kenya and Uganda in forests. Photo Per Holmen, male in Bwindi impenetrable Forest, female by Marina Meger, Uganda

Purplethroated Cuckooshrike (Campephaga quiscalina martini) can be spotted in highland forest canopy, forest edges and other areas with tall trees in Kenya, Uganda, N Tanzania, DRC. Photos Per Holmen. The subspecies C. q. muenzneri is a rare bird in E Tanzania.

Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike (Campephaga phoenicea) lives in wooded savanna and forest mainly below 1.500 m in Ethiopia, DRC, Uganda, W Kenya a.o.

Grauer’s Cuckooshrike (Ceblepyris graueri) is endemic to E DRC and adjacent SW Uganda from 1.200 – 1.900 m.

White-breasted Cuckooshrike (Ceblepyris pectoralis) is uncommon South of the Sahara in Miombo Forest and forests with tall trees from 0 – 1.700 m. Photo Per Holmen

Grey Cuckooshrike (Ceblepyris caesius purus) is a highland forest bird in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda. It is widespread and quite common. Photo Jacques Pitteloud

Fork-tailed Drongo, Common Drongo, African Drongo, Savanna Drongo (Dicrurus adsimilis fugax) is the most common and widespread Drongo in Africa. The tail is deeply forked. The habitat is wooded savanna, woodland and plantations. The subspecies D. a. jubaensis occurs in Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia. Naivasha

Square-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus ludwigii muenzneri) lives in forests, riparian forests from 0 – 2.000 m. in S Somalia, E Kenya, NE Tanzania and S Tanzania. The tail is very slightly forked. Photo Per Holmen, Amani Forest

Sharpe’s Drongo (Dicrurus sharpei) is found DRC, Uganda and Western Kenya. Might also be considered a subspecies of Square-tailed Drongo. Photo Per Holmen, Kakamega Forest

Velvet-mantled or Glossy-backed Drongo (Dicrurus (modestus) coracinus) is found in East Africa in Uganda and W Kenya in forests. It likes perching on dead branches. Photo Per Holmen, Semliki National Park

Eurasian Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus) breeds in forests in W and N Eurasia. It spends the North Winter from October to April in Africa. In East Africa it can be on the journey to or from further South. Photo Jacques Pitteloud

African Golden Oriole (Oriolus auratus notatus) is a non-breeding visitor from Southern Africa mainly between March and September and most common at the Kenyan and Tanzanian coast in forests. Photo Per Holmen, Dakatcha Woodland. The nominate O. a. auratus is a non-breeding visitor to Uganda and W Kenya from the N tropics between June and February.

Green-headed Oriole (Oriolus chlorocephalus amani) is endemic in extreme SE Kenya and NE Tanzania. Photo Per Holmen, Amani Forest

Eastern Black-headed Oriole (Oriolus larvatus reichenowi) is the subspecies to encounter from coastal Somalia, Kenya to C Tanzania. Photo Ely Teehankee, Naivasha

Western (Black-headed) Oriole (Oriolus brachyrhynchus laetior) is the EA subspecies in S Uganda, W Kenya, NW Tanzania. Photo Per Holmen, Kakamega Forest

Mountain Oriole (Oriolus percivali) occurs in highland forests from 1.500 – 3.000 m in Kenya and in the Albertine Rift. Hybrid larvatus x percivali with mixed tail pattern are found occasionally in central highland forests in Kenya. Photo Per Holmen, Mt. Kenya

Black-winged Oriole (Oriolus n. nigripennis). The only records in East Africa are from Semliki Forest.

Cape Crow or Black Crow (Corvus capensis kordofanensis) is the East African subspecies. They are found in parts of Kenya, Uganda, N Tanzania and Somalia. They can occur in pairs or in flocks also in dry areas. Photo Lorenzo Barelli

Pied Crow (Corvus albus) is a common species in Africa and found in various habitats, often near human settlements. They feed on human waste but also carrion and bird chicks.

House Crow (Indian) (Corvus s. splendens) is very invasive and spreads further inland. The highest concentration is along the coast.

White-necked Raven (Corvus albicollis) lives on rocky mountains from East to South Africa from sometimes as low as 400 m up to 5.800 m at Kilimanjaro. Found in pairs or small flocks. Photos Per Holmen and Elvira Wolfer, Ngorongoro Crater rim

Dwarf Raven or Somali Crow (Corvus edithae) is well represented in dry areas in the Horn of Africa; Somalia, Ethiopia and very Northern Kenya. Chalbi Desert

Fantailed Raven (Corvus r. rhipidurus) is found in pairs or small flocks in East Africa from 400 – 2.600 m. They prefer rocky outcrops in semi arid and arid areas. Lewa Conservancy

Piapiac (Ptilostomus afer) is found in W Kenya, Uganda to W Africa. It is often near cattle or wildlife where insects get flushed out. The habitat is open savanna preferred with Borassus Palms. Photo Per Holmen, Uganda