Every Summer we see numerous species of migratory birds visiting Lalibela. Bird migration is one of the great wonders of the natural world. Migration is critical in the life cycle of birds and without this annual journey, many birds would not be able to raise their young. Birds migrate to find the richest, most abundant food sources that will provide them with enough energy to take care of their young. If migration did not take place, there would be increased competition for food during the breeding seasons resulting in birds starving. Migratory birds have different migration patterns, times, and routes to give themselves and their young the best chance of survival. Some bird species do not migrate at all as they have adapted to take advantage of different food sources as the seasons change.
Here are some of the migratory birds that visit Lalibela annually and that have already left or will be leaving the reserve soon:
This charismatic and vibrant coloured bird adds a splash of colour to the African bush. The European Roller is the only species in the roller family that breeds in Europe. The European Roller migration covers vast distances between continents. It will travel over 10 000 kilometres (Approximately 6,213 miles) from the breeding grounds of Europe and Asia to the winter grounds of sub-Saharan Africa.
These birds arrive in South Africa in large numbers around December each year during their non-breeding season. They will migrate back to the Northern Hemisphere around March and April in time for their egg-laying season which occurs from May to June.
The European Roller favours open and semi-open areas with scattered trees and wooded patches. They mainly feed on larger insects such as grasshoppers, beetles or crickets. You will often find them on their own or in small flocks perched on wires, branches or on the ground.
The insect-eating Amur falcon is a small raptor of the falcon family. It breeds in Russia and Northern China and migrates to winter in Southern Africa.
The Amur Falcons feed mostly on insects, mainly mid-air. Their migration to Africa coincides with the time when due to rains swarms of insects will be everywhere, making South Africa a great feeding ground. Their timing is impeccable; their flight over the Arabian Sea coincides with the dragonfly migration which is also their greatest food source.
Their migration away from South Africa is relatively slow as they stop several times along the way to feed and rest to build up strength for their long flight. After moving through Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi and Kenya, they will stop for an extended period of time in Somalia for two reasons. The Amur Falcon will build up fat reserves before they attempt to cross the ocean between Africa and India and secondly to wait for favourable winds which will help them cross the ocean. The falcons will take advantage of strong summer winds, usually the tailwinds from monsoons that occur from May to September each year. These winds will assist them to fly all the way to the coast of India.
Once they reach India, the Amur Falcon continues its flight back towards the breeding grounds in Northern China and Russia.
The Amur Falcon is a trans-equatorial migrant which means they cross the equator during their migration. On average their migration will cover approximately 15 000 kilometers (Approximately 9,320 miles) in just 60 days, making this one of the longest migratory routes of any raptor in the world.
The Lesser Striped-Swallow is a large swallow. It breeds in sub-Saharan Africa from Sierra Leone and southern Sudan south into eastern South Africa. It is partially migratory with South African birds wintering further north.
It favours open habitats such as grassland, savanna, forest edges and clearings. These birds mainly eat arthropods and will occasionally supplement their diet with fruit and seeds.
You may have seen their nests, carefully constructed out of mud pellets and lined with grass and feathers built around buildings or in a cavity in a branch or tree trunk. The same nest is used over multiple breeding seasons. Each year, it is either rebuild or repaired before the female lays her eggs. The chicks are fed regularly, leaving the nest after approximately 17-18 days. The fledgelings are still dependent on their parents for 3-4 more weeks, roosting in their nest and eating the food brought to them.
For now, it will be a while before we can welcome these migratory birds back to Lalibela. Keep an eye out for these birds while out on your next safari. After all, they have come a long way to see you!