You are currently viewing Gulls, Skimmer, Terns, Skua – shorebirds
Roseate Tern at Kenyan coast by Lorenzo Barelli

Gulls, Skimmer, Terns, Skua - shorebirds

Shorebirds – Order Charadriiformes has a large variety of birds from small to large. Most of them live near water, but some inhabit forest or even deserts. Some are pelagic which means living in the open sea. They feed on fish, invertebrates and other small animals. Since a good number are migrants, they have long, sharp ending wings. To keep the feathers functioning they bath in fresh water and apply the oily secretion from the preen gland. Here we introduce up to Terns.

Skua – Family Stercorariidae is a small family with only 1 genus and 7 species. They are pelagic which means they live in the open oceans where they hunt fish. Some of them also grab from other birds. At the East African coast (rare at inland Lake Turkana) you can encounter Pomarine Jaeger (Skua) / Stercorarius pomerinus and Parasitic Jaeger (Arctic Skua) / Stercorarius parasiticus which is rare and more common farther South.

Gulls, Terns, Skimmers, Kittiwakes – Family Laridae, 22 genera with 100 species world wide. They live in the oceans and seas as well as lakes. They feed on fish, crabs and other smaller creatures. Gulls also like taking bites from other birds prey.

Gulls – Subfamily Larinae many of them are coastal birds, few species are found at inland lakes. They can be noisy and are good in mobbing other birds to obtain food. Some are quite large. Many are migrants and just few breed in Africa. Most species have a red spot on the bill read here why and some might remember the name Nicolaas Tinbergen and his research projects.

Skimmers – Subfamily Rhynchopinae are short-legged birds with very unique bills. The lower mandible is much longer than the upper one. They skim over the water and when the bill touches a fish they catch it. They are partly residents but also migrate for example to South Africa when the water levels are low during dry season from April. They rest and breed on sand banks.

Terns – Subfamily Sterninae

are smaller than gulls and hunt fish by flying over water and either plunge-dive or surface-seizing. Some Tern species even hoover and shoot down to pick the fish. They can also catch insects in flight. Some Terns are long distance migrants, others resident. The breeding plumage is totally different than non breeding which makes them sometimes hard to identify.

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 bird species. Those photos without name are from Elvira Wolfer.

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”. Then we put the most characteristic information to the photo.

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.

Depending on the species you are keen to see the time of the year plays a big role. To find some of the species named here travelling by boat into the Indian Ocean might bring additional highlights and new species for you.

We tailor-made our safaris according to your wishes and visit those areas offering the highest chance to find your dream bird species. Sometime travelling over long distances is required, but it is also possible to fly from one corner to the other to safe time and some long journeys on the roads.

Birding Kenya Central & West Safari 13 days

Kenya bird watching safari 13 days Nairobi to coast

Lake Turkana on Loiyangalani or Lodwar side can be amazing for some bird watching with special species. A large number of migrants visit from around September to April.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus f. fuscus) breeds in parts of Scandinavia and winters in Africa at the coast and some inland lakes. Photo Jacques Pitteloud

African Grey-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus cirrocephalus poiocephalus) is a common species at many lakes in Africa. One of the few species breeding in Africa and found throughout the year.

Common black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) is a locally common palearctic migrant. When breeding their head is black, but in the non breeding season in Africa the colour fades off. Photos Lorenzo Barelli

Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei) breeds in the mediterrean region and India but some winter at Rift Valley lakes in Kenya. Photo Lorenzo Barelli

Palla’s (Great Black-headed) Gull (Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus) is a rare palearctic migrant to the coast and Lake Turkana.

Sooty (Hemprich’s) Gull (Ichthyaetus hemprichii) is found at the coast offshore and inshore waters along the coast of the Horn of Africa. Photo Lorenzo Barelli

African Skimmer (Rynchops flavirostris) occurs in Africa along the coast, lakes and large rivers. They migrate according to water levels. Status: near threatened. Photo Jacques Pitteloud

Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon n. nilotica) breeds in the North and winters in Africa and India along the coast and inland lakes.

Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia) is a cosmopolitan species along coasts and inland lakes. In Kenya they are found along the coast and at Lake Baringo and Turkana. Photo Per Holmen

Lesser Crested Tern (Thalasseus b. bengalensis) breeds at the Red Sea and Somalia and is a migrant along the East coast of Africa. Mida Creek

Swift (Greater Crested) Tern (Thalasseus bergii velox) breeds at the Red Sea and Somalia and is a migrant along Kenya and Tanzania. The subspecies thalassinus breeds on islands in the Indian Ocean off Tanzania and can be a visitor to the coast also Kenya. Photo Lorenzo Barelli

Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis) is a common palearctic migrant to the coasts of Africa. Photo Per Holmen

Roseate Tern (Sterna d. dougalli) breeds along the coast from Somalia to Tanzania. Photo Lorenzo Barelli

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo hirundo or evt. tibetana) is a common migrant to the coasts. They can occur in large flocks. Some stay throughout the year. Rare at inland lakes. Photo Per Holmen

White-cheeked Tern (Sterna repressa) breeds on Iceland, coast of Red Sea to Persian Gulf to India. Some breed as well along the Kenyan coast and some islands. Photo Per Holmen

Saunder’s Tern (Sterna saundersi) breeds at the Red Sea and frequents Kenya’s coast from October to April. Some are even breeding residents. Photo Jacques Pitteloud

Bridled Tern (Onychoprion anaethetus antarcticus) breeds at Red Sea but als on Northern Kenya Islands. Photo Per Holmen

Sooty Tern (Onychoprion fuscatus nubilosus) breeds in noisy colonies on island off NE Kenya coast. Large flocks can be spotted over shoals of fish offshore the Eastern African coast. Photo Per Holmen

Brown (Common) Noddy (Anous stolidus pileatus) breeds near Lamu and Latham Island (Tanzania) from June to October. It feeds in the open Indian Ocean. Photo Lorenzo Barelli

Lesser Noddi (Anous t. tenuirostris) is seen regularly offshore Kenya’s and NE Tanzanian coasts. Sometimes they roost on beaches. Photo Per Holmen

Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybrida delalandi) is common and widespread at inland lakes and coastal region from Eastern to Southern Africa. It breeds at undisturbed areas. Photo Per Holmen

White-winged black Tern (Chlidonias leucopterus) is a common palearctic migrant to Africa. When breeding they are black with white wings, when non breeding they are similar to other species