Ornithology Section

The Ornithology Section is a leading center for Ornithological research in Kenya and Africa. The section aims to contribute significantly to the appreciation and conservation of birds and biodiversity through action-oriented research, training, documenting and disseminating information on birds and their habitats. The section’s activities fall into three main areas:

  • Collection and curation
  • Research and monitoring programmes
  • Education, training and public awareness.

Collection and Curation
Our specimen collection boasts over 30,000 study specimens, tissues, nests and eggs. The specimens date to as far back as 1895 and include a good number of holotypes (the original specimen used to describe the species). The section also stores thousands of egg shells, tissue samples, feathers slides and photographs. Our study specimens are used by researchers from all over the world for taxonomical studies (including DNA studies), by visiting students and for reference by researchers, birdwatchers and artists. The collection is also a depository for bird collections from other parts of Africa.

Education, Training & Public Programmes

  • Nairobi Ringing Group: Bird ringing is a key skill for ornithologists and also an important way of studying bird behavior, survival, movements and breeding success. The section conducts training sessions for aspiring ornithologists every Tuesday morning within the Nairobi Museum compound.
  • Postgraduate students: The section supervises postgraduate students working on research project involving birds from both local and international universities and colleges.
  • Internship programme: With the generous support of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB, UK), the section runs a very successful internship programme for young upcoming researchers/ornithologists. The programme is credited with nurturing the many ornithologists now working in various sectors in Kenya.
  • Fundamentals of Ornithology course: The course was started in 1996. This is a beginner’s course for tour guides, birdwatchers and expatriates. Organized in collaboration with the Nature Kenya and Tropical Biology Association, the course is offered once a year at Elsamere Field Study Centre, Naivasha.

Research Activities

In collaboration with many national and international institutions, we run a busy schedule of research programs, mainly on threatened species and their habitats. The section focuses on research and monitoring geared towards bird conservation. Research focuses particularly on threatened species, the effects of changes in habitats and land-use change (e.g. in Taita Hills forests and Kinangop Plateau grasslands) on various species. We collaborate with and facilitate ornithological research for international researchers whose objectives are in line with our priorities. Ornithology section works in close collaboration with Nature Kenya (the Bird Life International Partner in Kenya) in monitoring of Kenya’s Important Bird Area sites and sharing information on Avi-fauna status in Kenya. Nature Kenya translates research and monitoring findings into action (through community livelihood projects etc) and advocacy.
The section has developed a National Bird Research and Conservation strategy for Kenya document. In the document Ornithology Section’s main research themes include:

  • Ecology and status of threatened birds in fragile habitats
  • Habitat restoration for birds
  • Birds as indicators of climate change
  • Application of molecular techniques in avian taxonomy
  • Bird ecosystem function services
  • Bird response to anthropogenic impacts and habitat modification including bird communities in changing land-use and landscape mosaic
  • Promoting avitourism in Kenya
  • Birds of economic importance(e.g. pest, game birds etc)

In addition, the section also coordinates major monitoring and research programmes in Kenya e.g. the African Waterfowl Census (see details below).
Major Research and Monitoring Programmes:

  • The Kenya Bird Map (http://kenyabirdmap.adu.org.za). Aims to map all of Kenya’s bird species and describe their status with the help of valued input from Citizen Scientists – volunteer members of the public who are keen to contribute through going birding and submitting their observations to the project. is a joint initiative of National Museums of KenyaNatural History Museum of DenmarkA Rocha Kenya, Tropical Biology Association, Nature Kenya and the Animal Demography Unit of the University of Cape Town and managed through the Bird Committee of the East Africa Natural History Society.
  • Important Bird Areas Programme – In collaboration with Nature Kenya this programme uses birds as a means of identifying sites that are critical for the conservation of biodiversity using an internationally recognized criterion. Species and habitats are monitored by various stakeholders and volunteers – where IBA Status and Trends reports are produced annually.
  • Annual Waterfowl Census in collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Service and Nature Kenya. This is the longest running conservation program at the section having started in 1990, as part Kenya’s commitment to International water bird conservation. Since then, the counts have been conducted regularly in January and July at key Rift Valley lakes and other wetlands within the country. All counts are conducted by volunteers; people and organizations, and provide much needed data for water bird conservation around the world. The output of this monitoring programme has resulted in the listing of the five Ramsar sites in Kenya.

Ongoing Research Projects:

  • Digitalization of specimen data for our bird collections – Specify Database management System.
  • Natural pest and weed suppression functions by birds as incentives to conserve a globally threatened bird species and enhance livelihoods in an agricultural landscape in Kenya. Funded by USAID PEER grants.
  • The Kenya Bird Map. Funded by the EU and the Natural History Museums of Denmark.
  • Hinde’s Babbler: Demography and the effects of competition for territories on reproductive success (Peter Njoroge)
  • Game bird hunting as an alternative source of livelihood for masai communities living adjacent to Amboseli National Park (Peter Njoroge)
  • Reproductive strategies of the Crested Lark in Kinangop grasslands and Naivasha (Henry Ndithia)
  • Mobilizing local community towards conservation of Basra Reed Warbler in the Tana River Delta, Kenya (Joseph Mwangi)
  • Revision and update on Kenya Bird Atlas (John Musina)
  • Survey of potential impacts of birds around proposed wind farm project sites in South Horr, Kenya (Philista Malaki and Henry Ndithia)
  • Developing bird monitoring programme for forests (Rumuruti, Marmanet and Mkogodo) and savannah in Laikipia (Philista Malaki).

Professional services offered by the section:
The National Museums of Kenya has developed and operationalized an affiliation policy which allows its scientists to engage in consultancies under agreed terms. The section offers the following professional services among others:

  • Curatorial services e.g. for pets
  • Biodiversity Audits
  • Species identification
  • Biodiversity baseline surveys
  • Aeronautical surveys for proposed landfills and aerodromes
  • Avifaunal surveys for development of wind farms
  • Environmental and Social Impacts Assessments (ESIA)

Collaborators & Affiliates:

National Institutions

  • Nature Kenya
  • Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS)
  • Kenya Forest Service (KFS)
  • A Rocha Kenya
  • National Environment Management Authority (NEMA)
  • Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing (DRSRS)
  • Mpala Research Centre
  • Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI)
  • Centre for Tropical Disease Control and Prevention(CDC)
  • Naivasha Owl Trust
  • Wildlife Works
  • Raptor Rehabilitation Trust
  • The Kenya Society for the Protection & Care of Animals (KSPCA)
  • National Universities:
  • The University of Nairobi
  • Kenyatta University
  • Moi University
  • South Eastern Kenya University
  • Karatina University
  • Kimathi University

International Institutions

  • Tropical Biology Association
  • Kunming Institute of Zoology Chinese Academy of Science
  • Biodiversity Research Center; Academia Sinica Taiwan
  • Natural History Museum of Denmark
  • The Peregrine Fund
  • Birdlife International Africa Secretariat
  • The Hawk Mountain Raptor Research centre – USA
  • Smithsonian Institute
  • Word Parrot Trust
  • International Crane Foundation
  • International Historic Research Institute
  • International Universities;
  • Yale University – USA
  • Humboldt State University – USA
  • Columbia University – USA
  • Kensas University Field Museums Chicago – USA
  • Goethe University, Frankfurt (am Main) – Germany
  • Technical University Munich – Germany
  • University of Ghent – Belgium
  • University Cape town (Animal Demographic Unity) – South Africa

Staff List

  • Dr. Peter Njoroge (Senior Research Scientist & Head Ornithology Section)
    Research Focus Area(s): Threatened species ecosystem services, emerging conservation issues.
  • Dr. Ronald Mulwa (Senior Research Scientist)
    Research Focus Area(s): Important Biodiversity Areas monitoring and training, Ecological studies, avi-tourism training & planning, site management planning, ecological impact assessment.
  • Henry Ndithia (Research Scientist)
    Research Focus Area(s): Ecological and immunological studies in grassland birds; avian breeding ecology; avian conservation
  • Phillista Malaki (Research Scientist)
    Research Focus Area(s): PhD studies at the university of Nairobi on impact of land use and land cover change on shore birds in lake Magadi
  • Nickson Otieno (Research Scientist)
  • Johns Musina (Research Scientist)
  • Titus Imboma (Curatorial Assistant)
    Research Focus Area(s): Ornithological field research and monitoring- forest birds, water bird census, ecology of terrestrial migratory birds; Ecology and biology of invasive bird species.
  • Dominic Kimani (Research Fellow)
    Research Focus Area(s): Conservation of grassland and farmland birds; Dry land natural resources management; Environmental impact assessment.
  • Onesmus Kioko (Laboratory Technician & Taxidermist)
    Preparation study and flat skins; Mounted specimen
  • Patrick Gichuki (Technician)
    Research Focus Area(s):Curatorial responsibilities
  • Alex Syingi (Taxidermist)
    Research Focus Area(s): Preparation study and flat skin; mounted specimen
  • Dominic Chesire (Intern)
  • Jacinta Muriithi (Intern)
  • David Gitau (Intern)
  • Washington Wachira (Intern, Kenya Bird Map Project)
  • Gladys Kungu (Intern, Kenya Bird Map Project)

Staff Profile