Zambia

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Four birds you’ll see nowhere else

Four birds you’ll see nowhere else

Shoebill
Shoebill
RORY McDOUGALL

RORY McDOUGALL

Zambia is a country rich in miombo forest, mixed woodland and wetland, with a bird check-list of 753 species, a truly exciting birding destination. Four resident birds definitely should be seen.

The endemic Chaplin’s or Zambian barbet (Lybius chaplini), found in groups of two to six in central and southern Zambia, lives in sycamore fig trees, feeding on figs and nesting in dead branches. Breeding runs from August to November, with family groups perching on exposed treetops snapping their bills and calling territorially.

There are perhaps only 2,000 individuals left of the next species - and declining. Habitat destruction is often the cause, from commercial agricultural development, firewood collection and charcoal production. The shoebill (Balaeni cepsrex) derives its name from its massive shoe-shaped bill,and is found in the incredible wetlands of the Bangweulu Swamps in northeast Zambia.

Patiently waiting, this statuesque, slow moving non-migratory bird explodes into motion to catch his submerged prey. They move with rising and falling water levels, looking for food or avoiding humans. Breeding starts at the end of the rains around March, deep in the swamps. Vegetation is used for nests built partially submerged in water.

The near-endemic black-cheeked lovebird (Agapornis nigrigenis) is located within a relatively small dry area in southwest Zambia. It, too, is vulnerable to habitat loss. Their day is spent drinking in noisy flocks, and fluttering between trees and waterholes eating seed and fruit. Pairs mate for life, re-using holes in mopane trees from mid-January to May.

Zambia supports half of the world’s largest, and one of the rarest cranes too, the wattled crane (Gruscarun culatus), which inhabits the shallow marshlands of the Kafue Flats, Busanga Plains and Bangweulu wetlands. Seasonal movements are minimal, being dictated by water conditions for feeding. Breeding starts from April, when the birds lay in poorly built nests. Generally only one chick survives.

Planning your birding trip carefully around the seasons is important, taking into account the habits of the birds you hope to see.

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