Ethiopian Birds

THE BIRDS OF ETHIOPIA: A Guide to 10 Unique & Endemic Species

Bret Love|May 15, 2018|Blog Post

When most people think of Ethiopia, usually it’s the ancient rock-hewn churches of Lalibela or the indigenous tribes of the Omo Valley (including the Hamar and Karo people) that spring to mind.

But did you know that the birds of Ethiopia include a total of 924 species, of which 23 are endemic to the country? And with 20 national parks and numerous other wildlife sanctuaries and reserves, there are nearly 20,000 square miles of protected areas in which to see them.

Ethiopian Birds

Here’s a look at 10 endemic, or near-endemic Ethiopian birds, some of which you may be able to spot during Zegrahm’s Ethiopia with the Timket Festival or Ultimate Ethiopiaexpeditions:

Abyssinian Catbird

Typically found in Ethiopia’s western and southern highlands at elevations of up to 11,500 feet, this endemic Ethiopian bird isn’t much to look at. With its gray body, white forehead, and chestnut belly, it can appear somewhat drab (if you see it at all, given its preference for dense thickets). But many bird-lovers consider it the finest avian singer in Africa, with the loud ringing song of the male offset by the purring response of the female. Look for them in forests with giant heath, highland bamboo, juniper, or olive trees.

Abyssinian Woodpecker 

Also known as the golden-backed woodpecker, this tiny (around 6 inches long) endemic bird is closely related to the cardinal woodpecker. The Abyssinian can be identified by its golden mantle and a brown stripe through the eye. It also has a golden back, barred wings and tail, bright red rump, and striped head, with males boasting a red nape and crown. They’re primarily found in the Ethiopian Highlands, where they prefer juniper woods and other forests at elevations ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 feet.

Banded Barbet

One of 42 species of African barbets, the banded barbet is endemic to Eritrea and Ethiopia, where it is found at elevations ranging from 1,000 to 8,000 feet. Like most barbets, this bird is long (7 to 10 inches) and stocky, with a large head and a big bill lined with distinctive bristles. It also has yellow-tinged wing and tail feathers, white blotches on its head and throat, and a red marking right between its eyes. They feed on fruit (figs are a favorite) as well as insects (especially beetles and crickets).

Black-Winged Lovebird 

Also known as the Abyssinian lovebird, this species native to Ethiopia and Eritrea is the largest in the lovebird genus of small parrots. Measuring around 6.5 inches long, these birds are identified by their vivid green bodies, bright red foreheads and beaks (on males), and black-tipped tail and underwing feathers. They’re fairly common, usually seen feeding on fruits (apples and figs) and sunflower seeds in high plains and mountains.

Blue-Winged Goose

Blue-Winged Goose

This vulnerable endemic species lives in the marshes, streams, and grasslands of Ethiopia, usually at elevations of 6000+ feet. It is one of the most unique birds in Africa, as its closest genetic relative lives in South America. Identifying the blue-winged goose (which has a dull gray and brown body with bluish wing patches) is easy: It’s known for resting its neck on its back, even when it walks. This trait becomes especially pronounced during the courtship ritual when the male struts around his intended with his neck back and bill pointed to the sky while whistling softly.

Harwood's Francolin

Currently listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the Harwood’s francolin is increasingly endangered due to being hunted for food (both eggs and adults) and being captured for the wildlife trade. Related to partridges, pheasants, peafowl, and other game birds from the Phasianidae family, this rotund, gray-brown bird has a red bill and tail and red skin around the eyes. Endemic to Ethiopia, their range is relatively restricted to the area around the Blue Nile river and its various tributaries.

Prince Ruspoli's Turaco

There are 18 species of turacos (commonly known as loeries), a family of colorful, fruit-eating African birds. This one is named after Italian explorer/naturalist Prince Eugenio Ruspoli, who collected the first specimen in the early 1890s before being trampled by an elephant. Primarily found in southern Ethiopia, Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco had not been spotted for more than 50 years. It’s a gorgeous endemic bird, with a vivid moss green body, crimson wing linings, and a bizarre blonde mohawk-style crest. It’s also extremely rare, with just three known sites and a spot on the IUCN Red List.

Thick-Billed Raven 

Ethiopian Birds

True to its name, the thick-billed raven has an impressively large bill that is narrow and deeply curved, with a white tip. Needless to say, this gives the bird quite the unique profile. Averaging around 25 inches long and weighing around 3 pounds, it’s the largest of the 5,000+ passerine bird species. They’re found throughout the Horn of Africa, usually in mountains and high plateaus. There, they nest in trees and on cliffs, feeding on everything from wheat and grubs to carrion, scraps of human food, and even beetle larvae from animal dung.

Wattled Ibis 

Found commonly throughout Ethiopia at elevations of 5,000 feet and up, this endemic bird can be seen along highland rivers, rocky cliffs, forests, open country, and even atop houses. They feed on insects and other invertebrates by using their long, downward-curved beaks. A noisy, social bird, the wattled ibis is often spotted in flocks of 50 to 100, and can occasionally be seen around the National Palace in Addis Ababa. You can identify them by their red throat wattles and white patches on the upper wing, which distinguishes them from their cousins, the hadada ibis. 

Yellow-Fronted Parrot

Ethiopian Birds

With a vibrant yellow head and verdant green body, the yellow-fronted parrot is a relatively common, colorful sight in Ethiopia’s highlands, the forests and woodlands of the western lowlands, and the Rift Valley. They’re most often spotted in flocks of three to eight birds, feeding on fruit and seeds in the tops of trees (baobab, fig, olive, and sorghum are particular favorites). But you’ll most likely hear them long before you see them—their loud calls and shrill whistles tend to reverberate in the Ethiopian hills.  –Bret Love

BIO: Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 23 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and American Airlines to National Geographic and Yahoo Travel. Along with his wife, photographer/videographer Mary Gabbett, he is the co-founder of ecotourism/conservation website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media. 

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