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Bar-tailed Trogon male by Per Holmen

Swifts, Mousebirds and Trogons

Due to the small seize of the 3 orders we combine them on this page.

Trogons are the most colourful in among them

Swifts – Order Apodiformes, Family Apodidae are highly aerial birds and not seen on the ground, on wires, on fences or trees like swallows. Their wings are more scythe shaped while straighter in Swallows. Often Swifts hunt in flocks and their chirping calls are heard. Most of them have brownish rather dull colours. Sexes look alike.

The scientific name derives from the Greek word ȧpous meaning footless. Swifts have very weak, small feet since they are not used to hold on a support. The species found South of the Sahara belong to the subfamily Apodinae.

Swifts are very fast and skillful fliers and soar since they hunt their prey like mosquitos or other flying insects in the air. They are the fastest in level flight!

They are distributed on many continents. Some are migrants escaping winter or dry spells when there are no insects. Some are residents or intra African migrants.

Nests are glued with saliva to vertical surfaces like walls. Some species breed in colonies. It is lovely to see when they fly in with insects in their beaks and the young wait with the wide open, yellow-gaped beak chirping excitedly.

Video Little Swifts

African Palm Swifts stick their nest on Palm leaves. They occur where palm trees grow.

Mousebirds Order Coliiformes, family Coliidae

Mousebirds are considered endemic to Africa South of the Sahara

6 species of Mousebirds occur in Africa with additional a good number of subspecies in certain species. In East Africa you can meet 4 different species of which the White-headed Mousebird is endemic to dry areas of Kenya and Somalia.

They are gregarious and live in small groups which can have noisy dispute at some times. Their body shape, sound and behaviour reminds of mice hence the name. They are slim with long tails, soft feathers and a crest.

The diet of Mousebirds consists of fruits, leaves and seeds. The Speckled Mousebirds often raid gardens which they gladly inhabit. To digest tough leaves they swallow small stones and/or expose their bellies to the sun or warm it on the warm ground.

Trogons – Order Trogoniformes (Trogons and Quetzals – not in Africa), family Trogonidae has 46 species worldwide, 2 species with subspecies are found in East Africa

Despite Trogons are very colourful birds they are not easy to detect in the foliage. Trogons are arboreal and feed on fruits and insects. Their bills are wide and their legs weak. The soft plumage is differently coloured in males and females. Trogons dig holes into trees and lay 2 – 4 eggs.

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.

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 safaris. Since most of the species here have a wide distribution range you can find many of them during most of our tours. To find a particular subspecies we will advise on the most suitable itinerary.

African Palm Swift (Cypsiurus parvus myochrous) have very slim wings. 2 races are in EA; myochrous from Southern South Sudan to NE South Africa, laemostigma in coastal regions from Somalia to Mozambique. They occur where Palm trees grow.

Scarce Swift (Schoutedenapus myoptilus) hunts in flocks over cliffs and rocks between 1.000 and 2.000 m. The nominate form occurs in highlands in Ethiopia to Zimbabwe, the slightly paler and browner subspecies chapini is found in Western Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

Little Swift (Apus a. affinis) is the smallest among the swift. They hunt and breed in quite large numbers and you can hear them passing by. The other race in EA aerobates is darker. Nests are under bridges, roofs, cliffs and gorges.

Horus Swift (Apus h. horus) is an uncommon resident, but common IA migrant from March to September. They breed in unused bee-eater holes from 1.600 – 2.000 m. Photo Lorenzo Barelli

African White-rumped Swift (Apus caffer) is a wide-spread species over open country and often near water. Photo Lorenzo Barelli

Mottled Spinetail (Telacanthura ussheri stictilaema) is a low land species in the coastal region of Kenya and Tanzania as well as on Zanzibar and Pemba. They breed in hollow baobab stems. The subspecies sharpei occurs in W and S Uganda.

Mottled Swift (Tachymarptis aequatorialis) is uncommon mostly around cliffs where they breed in several countries.

Alpine Swift (Tachymarptis melba africanus) is a widespread resident and Intra African migrant from Ethiopia to Cape province and Angola. They breed on high inland cliffs with vertical cracks.

Böhm’s Spinetail or Bat-like Spinetail (Neafrapus boehmi sheppardi) occurs in low land along the Eastern coast of Africa. They are often associated with Baobab trees. Photo Per Holmen

Nyanza Swift (Apus n. niansae) is endemic in NE Africa. They build large flocks. Hell’s Gate National Park is one place where they roost and soar.

Common Swift (Apus apus) is a fairly common palearctic migrant to Africa. It is a quite large blackish-brownish bird.

African Black Swift (Apus barbatus) is an intra African migrant from East to South Africa, but is also a resident. There are several subspecies in EA.

Speckled Mousebird (Colius striatus kikuyuensis) is the subspecies of Central Kenya and Northern Tanzania. Colius striatus mossambicus is found at the coast of Somali, Kenya to NE Tanzania (Amani Forest) – Photo below. More subspecies are found in Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania.

White-headed Mousebird (Colius leucocephalus turneri) occurs in semi-arid and arid areas from Northern Kenya to Mount Kenya (Laikipia). Photo Lorenzo Barelli

White-headed Mousebird (Colius l.  leucocephalus) is found in arid areas from Somalia to Kenya and extreme NE Tanzania. Photo Per Holmen

Blue-naped Mousebird (Urocolius macrourus pulcher) occurs in Kenya in arid and semi arid areas from 0 – 1.900 m as well as neighbouring regions. Photo Tsavo West. Griseogularis is found in DRC, Uganda, Rwanda, SW Ethiopia to NW Tanzania. 

Red-faced Mousebird (Urocolius indicus ) is represented with 2 subspecies in Tanzania. SE pallidus (to Mozambique) and SW Tanzania, DRC, Angola and Malawi –  mossambicus

Narina Trogon (Apaloderma n. narina) is the widespread subspecies in East Africa in forests. In W Uganda brachyurum is found and in coastal areas in Kenya and Tanzania littorale. Photo Lorenzo Barelli (male) and Elvira Wolfer (female)

Bar-tailed Trogon (Apaloderma v. vittatum) is found in evergreen forests from Western Kenya to NE Tanzania to SW Tanzania. In Western Uganda the subspecies camerunensis occurs. Photo Per Holmen