My daily work routine in Freetown, Sierra Leone has me sitting at a desk, facing a yard full of fruit trees. Every day the fruit trees fill up with birds of all descriptions, and as I couldn’t find a Birds of Freetown website to help me identify the species I was observing, I decided to make my own.
NOTE: I am not an ornithologist; if I have made any misidentifications please let me know and I will correct them.
Birds of Freetown
Western Plantain-eater (Crinifer piscator)
The Western Plantain-eater is a type of turaco (cousin to the spectacular Violet Turaco and Great Blue Turaco – see below). A family of Western Plantain-eaters live in the fruit trees in the yard; they perch on the uppermost branches of the trees (even in the rain) and feed on, in this case, not plantains but mangos and rose-apple.
Great Blue Turaco (Corythaeola cristata)
The Great Blue Turaco is the largest of the turaco. They can be seen in the forest near Takugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary and look quite impressive when swooping over the canopy with their large blue wings. Juveniles are born with claws on their wings to help them climb – a trait turacos share with just one other bird species: the hoatzin of the Amazon
Village Weaver (Ploceus cucullatus)
A flock of Village Weavers flies into the large mango tree in the yard every morning at about 9am. The colourful males (pictured) and their drab-by-comparison females spend about an hour in the tree, picking it clean of every insect they can find.
Spectacled Weaver (Ploceus ocularis)
Usually several Spectacled Weavers will join their Village Weaver cousins in the mango tree for an unhurried breakfast.
Veillot’s Black Weaver (Ploceus nigerrimus)
The final member of the weaver family that comes to breakfast in the yard each morning are the Veillot’s Black Weaver.
African Thrush (Turdus pelios)
The African Thrush has been given a terrible name (its genus, Turdus, is no better), but on a more positive note it is related to the European Song Thrush, whose melodic calls have inspired lines in poetry by Robert Browning, Thomas Hardy, Edward Thomas, and William Wordsworth.
African Harrier Hawk (Polyboroides typus)
The African Harrier Hawk is a bird of prey that predates on small birds. It has a distinctive, bright yellow patch on its face, and stands out from other raptors in the area due to its light grey plumage.
African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)
The African fish eagle is a large raptor that takes up residence near lakes, rivers, and estuaries, and feeds almost exclusively on fish. It is the national bird of four African countries: Namibia, South Sudan, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus)
A pair of Hooded Vultures cruise over the house several times a day, making their way across the landscape in long, sweeping circles. With a wingspan of 1.5m, they ride air currents effortlessly, searching for carrion – or discarded bags of domestic waste – on which to feast.
African Pied Hornbill (Lophoceros fasciatus)
The African Pied Hornbill feeds on fruit and insects. Large flocks of them can be seen at Bureh Beach, and other forested beachside areas on the Freetown Peninsula.
Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis)
The Woodland Kingfisher hunts by sitting quietly, circumspectly on a tree branch, then pouncing swiftly on its prey.
Common Bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus)
The Common Bulbul is a highly successful bird species in the sense that it has made a home for itself across most of the continent of Africa.
Variable Sunbird (Cinnyris venustus)
Variable Sunbirds are nectar eaters and can feed when hovering in the air just like hummingbirds.
Senegal Coucal (Centropus senegalensis)
The Senegal Coucal scrunches up its body (as pictured) in order to make its distinctive ook-ook-ook call.
Pin-tailed Whydah (Vidua macroura)
The Pin-tailed Whydah is instantly recognisable due to its ridiculously long tail feathers. Its tail feathers are so long they often seem to be inhibiting its flying ability.
African Pied Crow (Corvus albus)
The African Pied Crow are the troubled teens of the neighbourhood; they are always making noise and up to mischief. They can be seen lampooning about throughout the day, often chasing one another off roofs and trees, and somersaulting and pinwheeling through the air.
Bronze Mannikin (Lonchura cucullata)
The Bronze Mannikin is a type of finch. This bird is an incessant nest-builder; it is often seen carrying grass in its beak (as pictured) for nest-building purposes. Bronze Mannikins are often taken from the wild and sold as pets.
Laughing Dove (Spilopelia senegalensis)
The Laughing Dove, with its distinctive blue-grey banding on the wings, is quite friendly towards humans. They often fly to my window after I have opened it, and sit on the window grille, all the while looking at me enquiringly, and singing their croo-croo-croo call.
Black Sparrowhawk (Accipiter melanoleucus)
The Black Sparrowhawk is a large raptor with a wingspan of approximately one metre. These raptors prey upon small birds, in particular pigeons and doves, such as the Laughing Dove above.
African Grey Woodpecker (Dendropicos goertae)
The African Grey Woodpecker has stiff tail feathers that function like an additional limb. They on balance on the tail feathers while tapping on branches, and poking holes in soft timber, in search of grubs and insects.
Red-billed Firefinch (Lagonosticta senegala)
It’s hard to miss the vividly-coloured Red-billed firefinches whenever they are in the yard (although I haven’t managed to get a decent photo of my own 🙁 )
Northern Puffback (Dryoscopus gambensis)
The Northern Puffback is an insectivorous bull-shrike native to Africa. These birds are called a puffbacks as the male likes to puff out its feathers – resembling a puffball more than a puffback – when displaying to a female.
African yellow white-eye (Zosterops senegalensis)
The African Yellow White-eye is a small yellowish bird with a distinctive white circle around its eye. They are common in Sub-Saharan Africa, and forage around the canopy of trees, eating insects, fruit, and nectar (they tend to stay beneath the uppermost branches of the canopy though, making them tricky to photograph 🙂 )
Shikra (Accipiter badius)
Shikra is the Urdu word for hunter. This bird, common across Africa and Asia, was held in high regard by falconers in India and Pakistan. The Shikra was often deployed to catch small game to feed the most prestigious falcons.
This shikra had just caught an agama lizard and calmly devoured it on this branch, much to the annoyance of the sunbirds and bulbuls in the yard.
The fruit-tree-filled yard
I thought I would include a photo of the fruit-tree-filled yard and the glimpses of Freetown it provides.
The smaller water body you can see is Aberdeen Lagoon; beyond that is a narrow strip of land that is Lumley Beach, and beyond that: the infinite blue of the Atlantic Ocean.
Tools used to identify the birds of Freetown:
I used the following two websites to identify the majority of the birds on this page:
BIRDS of THE WORLD – An Online Bird Book – http://carolinabirds.org/index.html