Of the 835 species of birds known to occur in Ethiopia, 23 are found exclusively within the country’s boundaries. Most of these 23 endemic birds are widely distributed, chiefly on the western and south-eastern highland plateau. Many of the endemic birds of Ethiopia-like the Thick-billed Raven, Wattled Ibis, Black-winged Lovebird and White-collared Pigeon-are notably common over extensive areas of the plateau, and, because they are big, readily identified and not especially shy, they are consequently easy to see and observe. Even in the highland forests which support comparatively few endemic species of birds, the endemics are nevertheless obvious and common. The song of one – the Abyssinian Catbird-is considered to be one of the most beautiful of any bird in Africa.
Because of its loud, raucous “haa-haa-haa-haa” call, the watted Ibis is easily recognized even from some distance away. A flock of these jbises rising or flying overhead becomes especially noisy and obvious. In flight a white patch shows on the upper surface of the ibis’ wing, and at close range its throat wattle is visible. These two diagnostic features distinguish the Wattled Ibis from the closely related Hadada Ibis (Bostrychia hagedash), which also occurs in Ethiopia.
The Wattled Ibis occurs through-out the Ethiopian plateau from about 1500 meters (5000 feet) to the highest moorlands; it is most common along highland river courses with rocky, cliff-like edges but is found also in open country and in olive, juniper, podocarpus, hagenia, St. John’s wort and giant heath forests and occasionally in eucalyptus stands.
The Blue-winged Goose inhabits plateau marshes, streams and damp grasslands from about 1800 meters (6000 feet) upward. Pairs or small parties of three to five of these geese are common and easily seen at high elevations in small stream valleys and in pools and marshes in the moorlands where giant lobelia, alchemilla and tussock grass predominate and where they nest in March, April, June and September. During the big rains of July, August and September Blue-winged Geese flock in groups that may include 50 to 100 or more individuals which at this time probably undergo molt, losing the flight feathers. In the big rains the flocks also move to lower elevations of the plateau: for example, in one day in August 165 individuals were counted at Gafersa Reservoir, some 20 kilometers west of Addis Ababa.
Harwood’s Francolin has been reported from only three localities along about 160 kilometers of valleys and gorges within the upper Blue Nile system extending to the east and north of the Addis Ababa-Debre Marcos-Dejen bridge; this francolin is a very poorly known Ethiopia endemic. It was first recorded for science in 1898 at Ahiyafej (100 13N, 390 18’E), then again in 1927 at Bichana (100 09’N, 380 22’E). No other record of this species has been published although recent reports suggest that it is more widely distributed than previously thought.
The Rouget’s Rail is common on the western and southeastern highlands, but its presence is not so obvious as that of some other endemics. Once one is able to recognize the bird’s calls, one well appreciates how common this rail is. It has two calls which are useful in identification; one, a piercing alarm note, a “dideet’ or “a di-dii’, and the other, a display call, a “wreeeee-creeuw-wreeeee-creeuw”. This Rail mainly lives at higher elevations of up to 4,100 meters (13,500 feet) where it inhabits small pockets of grass tussock and wet hollows with plenty of cover; it is a characteristic bird of the moorlands of Ethiopia.
The Spot-breasted Plover is an endemic usually found above 3050 meters (10,000 feet) in marshy grasslands and moorlands with giant health, giant lobelia, alchemilla and tussock grass in both the western and southeastern highlands. Widely distributed and locally common, the plover usually is seen in pairs or in small parties, or, in the non-breeding season, in small flocks of up to 30-40 individuals. Its behavior has been compared with that of the Lapwing (venellus vanellus) of Europe: it is a relatively tame, noisy bird with a swerving flight; on the ground it makes short runs and sudden stops. When calling, it produces a “kree-kree-kre-krep-kreep-kreep”, a “kueeeep-kueep” and the cry “pewit-pewit”. It is distinguished from other plovers by having fleshy wattles in front of the eyes and by the breast spotted with black.
The White-collared pigeon-unmistakable with its uniform grayish color, white collar patch and, in flight, white on the wings- is the dominant pigeon on the plateau above 2,400 meters (8,000 feet). It mainly inhabits rugged areas of the western and southeastern highlands, especially cliffs and escarpments, but it is also a common feature of many plateau villages and towns where it lives in association with churches and other large buildings. It also frequents bridges on the highways and roads of the plateau.
The Yellow-fronted Parrot occurs in Ethiopia from approximately 600 to 3,350 meters (2,000-11,000 feet) in the western and southeastern highlands, the Rift Valley and the western lowlands in forests and woodlands varying from St. John’s wort and hagenia to olive, podocarpus and juniper to fig and acacia. It is an uncommon but regular visitor on the Armed Force Hospital grounds near the old airport in Addis Ababa. One’s attention is usually first attracted to the presence of this species by its loud squeaky calls and unmusical shrill whistles. Typically one then sees the greenish parrots with yellowish heads in a small flock of three to eight individuals, high up in a tree where they are probably feeding. Their food is thought to be fruit, including baobab if available, sorghum. Maize and seeds.
The Black-winged Lovebird is the common, small green parrot of the Ethiopian plateau. It is widely distributed from about 1,500-3,200 m. (5,000-10,500 feet) in the western and southeastern highlands and in the Rift Valley in forests and woodlands of hagenia, juniper, podocarpus, olive, acacia, candelabra euphorbia, combretum and fig. It commonly visits gardens, especially with seeding trees in Addis Ababa.
The lovebird flies in noisy flocks which number usually five to ten individuals although as many as 50 to 80 individuals may be present. It flies swiftly and makes sharp turns at high speeds; it moves its wings in quick, short flaps, the black under the wings being obvious then. Both sexes have a large bright red bill; the male has a red forehead, the female and immature do not.
Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco is known in the literature from two areas in southern Ethiopia in juniper forests with dense evergreen undergrowth: one is at Arero (40 48’N, 380 50’E) and the other 80 kilometers north of Neghelli (50 40′ N, 39020’E): both localities are 1800 meters (6000 feet) in elevation. This turaco was first introduced to science when Prince Ruspoli collected it in either 1892 or 1893. Since Prince Ruspoli, an Italian explore, was killed in an “encounter with an elephant” in the lake Abaya area and unfortunately did not leave any notes about his travels, the locality and date of collection of the first specimen of this turaco remain unknown. His collection was studied by T. Salvadori in 1896 who named the new turaco in honor of Prince Ruspoli.
The little- known Banded Barbet is very widely distributed throughout Ethiopia between 300 and 2400 meters (1000-8000 feet). Although the numbers and abundance of this species have not been determined, it seems to vary from being uncommon in the north west and east to locally common elsewhere in the country, living singly or in pairs in trees near water. It has been reported to eat insects (beetles) and the fruit of fig trees. The barbet has been described also to hawk insects like a flycatcher and to hang from a branch upsidedown like a tit. Its call notes are metallic and it produces also a “gr-gr-grgrgr…” in rising tempo. The barbet has been reported to nest in a hole in a branch of a tree or in a tree or in a stump; the time of nesting and the eggs have not been described.
The Golden-backed Woodpecker is a very uncommon, not often seen endemic of the Ethiopian highlands from about 1,500 to 2,400 meters (5,000 – 8,000 feet). It lives in western and southeastern highlands in forests, woodlands and savannas and seems to be more uncommon in the northern than in the southern parts of the country. It has been reported to haunt especially candelabra euphorbias, junipers and figs.
The male Golden-backed Woodpecker has a green unbarred back and bright red crown, nape, rump and upper tail coverts. The crown and nape of the female are ash brown, not bright red. The woodpecker has been reported to breed from February-May and possibly in December. No information, however, is available on its nest, nesting habits, numbers or food. Very little is known about this species.
The White-tailed Swallow was first introduced to science in 1942 when C.W. Benson reported it in southern Ethiopia from Yabelo to Mega in short grass savanna with small acacia thorn bush. This endemic, related to the Pearl-winged Swallow (Hirundo leucosoma) of western Africa and the Pearl-breasted Swallow (H.dimidiata) of southern Africa, is common but restricted to an area of about 4850 square kilometers (3000 square miles) between 1200 and 1350 meters (4000-4500 feet).
The Abyssinian Long-claw—very similar in both appearance and behavior to the Yellow-throated Long-claw (Macronyx croceus) of other parts of Africa-is a common grassland bird of the western and south-eastern highlands except in the extreme north where it does not occur. Like other long-claws, this Ethiopian endemic inhabits grasslands and has plumage markings similar to those of meadowlarks of North and South America (passerine birds that are not related to long-claws). The Abyssinian Long-claw occurs largely between 1,200 and 3,050 meters (4,000-10,000 feet) but occasionally reaches the grassland moorlands up to 4,100 meters (13,500 feet); it is most common between 1,800 and 2, 750 meters (6,000-9,000 feet). Living singly or in pairs, this long-claw is usually seen sitting on a lump of dirt, a rock, a small bush or a fence. Its black necklace and saffron throat and neck and especially obvious when it sits. Considered to be “tame and friendly”, when breeding, it nests in February, June, July and August.
The white-winged Cliff-Chat is a bird which is locally frequent to common in the highlands of most of Ethiopia where it lives in gorges, on cliffs, on scrubby mountain-sides and in open country among rocks and grasslands: the Chat occurs usually above 2000 meters (6500 feet) and rarely below 1500 meters (5000 feet). Its preferred habitat in the country varies. In the south in Sidamo it occurs slightly lower between 1500 and 1800 meters (5000-6000 feet) in hilly downland rather than rocky country.
Mainly black and chestnut in color, both sexes of this chat can be readily distinguished when flying by the white patch on the wings (basal part of primaries). The male Cliff-Chat (Myrmecocichla cinnamomeiventris), similar in appearance to the White-winged Cliff-Chat, has a white shoulder patch but not the white wing patch; in flight the wings of this species are glossy blue-black. The female white-winged Cliff-Chat is not so strongly colored as the male; her plumage, especially underneath, is more brownish in color. The young bird is brownish-black, spotted above and below with dark buff: like its parents, it too has the distinguishing white wing patch.
The Rüppell’s Chat is uncommon to locally frequent in the western highlands of Shoa, Gojjam, Gonder, Wollo, Tigray regions. It has not been recorded in the southeastern highlands nor in the southern portions of the western highlands. This chat, living singly, in pairs or in small parties, inhabits edges and sides of cliffs and gorges and associated bare rock above 1800 meters (6000 feet); it shows a distinct preference for high elevations of the plateau around waterfalls and wet rocks on the tops of precipitous ravines and cliffs.
The Abyssinian catbird—one of the finest, if not the finest singer of all the birds of Africa—is frequent to common in the western and southern highlands between 1800 and 3500 meters (600-11,500 feet) in giant health, St. John’s wort, highland bamboo, juniper, podocar-pus and olive forests. It lives singly, in pairs or in parties up to eight often in thickets and vines that fringe these forests. It is found as far north as the Semien Mountains. The catbird is a resident garden bird of plateau cities; for examples, it is a regular inhabitant in Addis Ababa in gardens with large trees, for instance, embassies, hotels and many private compounds.
The While-backed Black Tit, wholly black with a whitish mantle, is found in woodlands, thickets and forests in the western and southeastern highlands from 1800-3500 meters (6000-11,500 feet). It is locally frequent to occasionally common except in Eritrea, where it is uncommon.
One usually notices first its typical tit-like call; it is seen in small parties or in pairs, in trees or bushes especially along small stream valleys in the wooded areas high up on the plateau. Its-habits have not been recorded. It may nest in January.
The Yellow-throated Seed-eater is known from a few isolated areas in acacia-grass savanna in southern and southeastern Ethiopia. It is a species of questionable taxonomic status since it may be a hybrid between the Yellow-rumped Seed-eater (S.atrogularis) and the White-bellied Canary (S.dorostriatus). It has a grey back and is similar in size to the Yellow-rumped Seed-eater but has streaks on the back and a long tail like the white-bellied canary.
Further evidence for considering the Yellow-throated Seed-eater a hybrid is that it is known only from localities where both the Yellow-rumped Seed-eater and the white-bellied Canary would be expected to occur as well.
The Black-headed Siskin is common to locally abundant in the western and southeastern highlands from 1800-4100 meters (6000-13,500 feet). Almost always in flocks, this little-known finch inhabits moorlands with giant lobelia, alchemilla, tussock grass and giant heath, highland grasslands and the open areas of montane forests. Especially St. John’s wort and hagenia. Flocks are regularly seen alongside the road to Gaferssa Reservoir west of Addis Ababa.
The male Black-headed Siskin is the only yellow finch with a black head in the highlands of Ethiopia. The female is similar but her head and neck are dull olive green with some black present on the top and sides of head, chin and throat.
The White-billed Starling is frequent to locally abundant in the western and southeastern highlands, being most common in the north. Widely distributed in the country, it usually lives in association with cliffs and gorges near waterfalls. It also inhabits moorlands with giant lobelia, alchemilla, tussock grass and giant heath and highland grasslands; it rarely travels below 1800 meters (6000 feet).
Its square tail and white bill distinguish the White-billed Starling from other red-wing/chestnut-wing starlings. It feeds on the fruits of juniper and fig trees often in groups of five to 40 non-breeding birds.
The distribution, numbers, time of nesting and life history of the Black-headed Forest Oriole are not clearly understood because of the difficulty of distinguishing it from the Black-headed Oriole (Oriolus larvatus). The two are separable by the color of parts of wings feathers, features that are not easy to see in the field. The outer margins of the flight feathers (primaries) and the outer secondaries of the Forest Oriole are grey; the inner secondaries, mainly oilivaceous-yellow, are edged in grey on the inner webs. The outer margins of the primaries and outer secondaries of the Black-headed Oriole are white; the inner secondaries, mainly black, are edged in pale yellow on the outer webs. In the filed the two species are partially speaparable by habitats, the haunts of each differing somewhat.
Stresemann’s Bush-crow-reported to science for the first time in 1938- is a frequent to common bird in a restricted area of about 2400 square kilometers (1500 sq.miles) around yabelo, Mega and Arero in southern Ethiopia. This species distribution to the north and south is limited probably by elevation and consequent change in habitat in the north the land becomes higher and mountainous, in the south, lower and more open. The areas to the east and west of its present distribution are of similar elevation and include park-land acacia country of the type that it is found in; yet the bush- crow does not occur in either area. This phenomenon has fascinated scientists ever since the species was discovered.
The thick-billed raven, closely related to the white- necked Raven (corvus abicollis) of East and south Africa, Is a bird which is common to abundant from about 1200 to at least 4100 meters ( 4000 13,500 fee). It visits many habitats including alpine screes, cliffs and gorges, Giant lobelia- alchemilla-tussock grass-giant health moorlands, highland grasslands, giant health, st. john’s wort , bamboo, juniper, podocarpus, olive and lowland sub-tropical humid forest. It is especially abundant at higher elevations where it is obvious and sometimes bold around camps, villages and cities including Addis Ababa. It is a frequent and persistent visitor camps to travelers, where it scavenges for scraps including those in ashes of camp fires.
This raven accompanies lammergeyers (gypaettus barbatus) when they drop bones and will steal from them if given a chance. Ravens sometimes also kill small rodents out on the open moor-lands and grassland and, by holding the huge arched bill upside-down. Scatter dung to obtain insects. They feed on grain where “whole corners of the field (have) been cleared by them.”