NAIROBI PARK DIARY

The sandgrouse safari

Adults can carry water to chicks that may be many miles away from watering holes

In Summary

• Sandgrouse belly feathers are specially adapted for absorbing water

Black-faced sandgrouse
Black-faced sandgrouse
Image: GARETH JONES

After another dry and dusty night, three tiny little black-faced sandgrouse chicks began to “cheep-cheep” to their parents that they were getting very thirsty. The sun was just beginning to rise when their father finally took off in a quest to find fresh drinking water, while mother continued to assist the chicks in their daily food-finding lessons.

Due to the prolonged drought, he had to travel over long distances and face many dangers on a daily “sandgrouse safari”, so that he could bring life-giving moisture to the chicks. After taking a few sips of thirst-quenching water and lying down in the water to allow water droplets to stick onto his belly feathers, he immediately took off and headed straight back to the family.

Sandgrouse belly feathers are specially adapted for absorbing water and retaining it, allowing adults, particularly males, to carry water to chicks that may be many miles away from watering holes. The amount of water that can be carried in this way is about 15 to 20 milli-litres.

There are 16 known species of sandgrouse on earth. They are traditionally placed in two genera. The two central Asian species are classified as Syrrhaptes and the other 14 species, from Africa and Asia, are placed in the genus Pterocles. They are ground-dwelling birds restricted to treeless open country, such as plains, savannahs and semi-deserts.

The park has a great variety of birds, and sandgrouse are one of the amazing creatures found in the park. I always find it a joy to see birds when driving in the park; God has created such amazing diversity.

When you go to the Nairobi National Park, especially in the southern section, in places like the Athi basin dam, it can be very rewarding to have sandgrouse sightings in the early mornings. Sitting quietly and watching them as they go on the daily “sandgrouse safari”!

For more park information link to the following website: www.kws.go.ke