Report on monitoring and conservation of White Storks in Kenya


Building partnership for monitoring and conservation of migratory White Storks in Kenya

(September 2002- March 2003)

Report compiled by

Nathan Gichuki
(Project co-ordinator)
Wilson Busienei
(Field Project officer)

Project Executants

Dr. Cecilia Gichuki (National Museums of Kenya)
Mrs Damaris Rotich (National Museums of Kenya)
Mr Anderson Koyo (Kenya Wildlife Service)
Mr John Keter (East African Wildlife Society)

Project sponsored by
Federal Government of Austria through Bureau of Convention on Wetlands, Gland, Switzerland

June 2003


We wish to acknowledge with thanks the support that we have received from a number of people and institutions during the implementation of this project. We appreciate the generosity of the Government of Austria and Ramsar Convention Bureau for providing financial support to this project. The technical support that we continued to receive from Mr. Anada Tiéga (Technical Officer for Africa) and Dr. Ernest Zanini of the State Government of Steirmark have been extremely valuable.

The project executants also appreciate the selfless support from volunteers who participated in observing and counting storks as well as forwarding metal rings from dead birds in different parts of Kenya. Mr. Anderson Koyo (Project Liaison Officer) in Kenya Wildlife Service has also provided valuable support and encouragement. Mr. Peter Dulo (Director, Bureau of Socio-economic Research and Enterprise Development) facilitated the workshop in Kendu Bay and we are grateful for his support.

The curator of Kitale museum, the Senior warden of Mt. Elgon Region of Kenya Wildlife Service and many large-scale farmers in Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu districts made remarkable contribution to the success of the awareness and twinning activities of the project.

We also appreciate the logistical support of the Dr. Idle Omar Farah, the Director General of the National Museums of Kenya. His continued interest in this project has ensured its continuity during the last four years. We are also grateful to all those other persons and institutions that have so far contributed to the success of the project.

Dr. Nathan Gichuki
Project Coordinator
Austrian-African Migratory Birds Project

Executive Summary

As White Storks migrate yearly from Europe to Africa, they face numerous uncertainties including harsh climatic conditions and human induced threats. In the wintering sites they face challenges such as changes in landuse, which affect food supply and pesticide poisoning by farmers. They are also unappreciated and conservation measures have not been put in place. In order to ensure safe passage and survival of these migratory birds, there is need to monitor stork population and encourage community participation in conservation. The purpose of this project was to monitor the population of White Storks by counting them and documenting their activities at the wintering sites. This was done through observation and monitoring of their movements in various locations in the country. Awareness creation and training of local commtinities was carried out through production and distribution of booklets on their migration and local movements and exhibitions of children's drawings of White Stork. Further twinning of sites, farmers and schools within and outside the country was initiated.

This report covers the period September 2002 to March 2003. The results showed that approximately 41,000 White Storks wintered in Kenya. These birds were counted in 19 sites located in different parts of the country. The wintering sites have remained the same during the last five years with about 75% of the storks wintering in western and Rift Valley regions while 25% wintered in eastern and central regions. In order to increase partnership and promote participation in monitoring White Storks, 400 booklets on the biology of the species were produced and distributed to various stakeholders. The project has generated a lot of interest among children. 17 schools visited the exhibition to see the drawings by the two schools selected. A training workshop organized sensitized the local community on the need of protecting natural wetlands and migratory birds. In addition, twinning of sites and farmers was done to encourage communication and sharing of information about White Storks and their habitats in the Great Rift Valley flyway. Co-operation with institutions and persons involved in conservation of migratory birds in Europe and Middle East has already begun. This could form the basis for future collaboration and co-operation in monitoring migratory birds between the range states in Africa and Europe.


Most of the white storks that occur in Africa are migrants from Europe and western Asia. It has been documented that about 400, 000 white storks pass through East Africa (Gichuki et al., 1999) in their southward migration. They originate mainly from Germany, Austria and other central European states as well as western Asia. The storks that settle or fly over Kenya come via the Sudan and Western Ethiopia following the Great Rift Valley.

Kenya with its vast plateau, Savannah grasslands and the numerous wetlands play host to thousands of the birds on an annual basis. This landscape and the climatic conditions influence the type of food resources available. Since white storks prefer foraging in large-scale cultivated farms, open grasslands and shallow wetlands, these areas therefore provide good sites for the storks.

In the recent past, there have been marked declines in the population of the white storks globally. In Kenya, the populations have been drastically declining. Although there might have been poor monitoring of the stork numbers, it is no secret that the numbers over the years have been declining. The declines have been attributed to many factors including overhead electrical cables during flight. The problem was noted in the western region where a number of birds were noted to be injured or dead. Poisons from pesticides used on farms presents a major threat to the storks on a global scale (Dallinga and Schoenmakers, 1985). Unfavourable climatic conditions and particularly rainfall distribution affects the stork population (Le Houerou, 1987). Unfavourable feeding conditions in Africa coupled with declining land sizes and lack of appreciation and conservation also affects storks (Gichuki and Rotich, 2002).

Although the population distribution of the storks has been extensively studied in Europe (Cramp, 1989), there is still limited information on counts, movements, distribution and ecology in Africa (Moreau, 1972). This study was therefore initiated to further address the gaps in population and distribution in Kenya, issues of community participation in conservation of storks and to attempt to build linkages within the country and across the range states in Africa and Europe.

1.1 Purpose of the Project

The aim of the project was to promote conservation of this migratory bird and its wintering sites in Kenya. The objectives were:

1. To monitor the population of white storks in Kenya
2. Carry out awareness of their status among the farmers in the wintering areas
3. Attempt twinning within and outside the country between schools and farmers
4. To recommend further conservation actions


2.1 Monitoring and stork counts

Field visits were made between August 2002 to March 2003 to count white storks and monitor their movements in the wintering sites identified in the year 2001. A site was considered a wintering site if 500 birds stopped at the site and remained there for a period of 4 - 8 weeks. Five major regions were visited including western, Rift valley, Mount Kenya (Eastern) Central and southern region. In the western region six areas were visited namely; Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia, Bungoma, Nyamira and Homa Bay districts. This region had the highest number of birds. In the Rift Valley, counting and monitoring were done in Nakuru, Kericho and Marakwet districts. In the southern Kenya region, three districts were visited including Narok, Kajiado and Machakos. In Mount Kenya the areas visited were Nanyuki, Timau and Mwea while in the central region the areas visited were, Thika, Mweiga, Olkalau and Rumuruti.

2.2 Awareness creation and training about the white storks

Awareness about the origin, conservation and role of white storks on farmland is necessary for community participation in conservation. This activity was achieved through: production and distribution of booklets on white stork migration and local movements, development of a White Stork poster, exhibitions of children's drawings of white storks and what they think about them and exchange of information between the museum and local communities in Kitale and Eldoret areas.

2.3 Twinning of sites, farmers and schools

The twinning concept involves establishing a mechanism of communication between people living within migratory birds flyway. The mechanism of communication identified were (mail, e-mail, sharing local ornithological magazines and exchange visits) between selected schools, individual land owners (farmers) and environmental youth groups in African wintering sites and European sites were initiated in 1999. The concept was initially applied to breeding sites that hold white storks in South Africa, Austria and Kenya.

The rationale behind this concept was to exchange information on stork counts and activities at the different wintering and breeding sites. It was also meant to foster international co-operation in white stork conservation along the Great Rift Valley flyway. It was hoped that the people living in the flyway, breeding and wintering sites of these migratory birds have since time immemorial have been interacting with these birds and would have a lot of information and experiences to share. In the spirit of sharing information, monitoring and conservation would be achieved.


3.1 Monitoring and stork counts

There has been an in-depth analysis of white stork numbers from the 1970s to the year 2000, which confirms that the bird population has been declining. Countrywide surveys have been done though not on an annual basis. A survey in 1983 and 1989 showed that there were 53,000 and 47,800 birds respectively, which had wintered in Kenya (Gichuki and Rotich, 2002). Observations in the earlier years were not coodinated hence data were not sufficient to make informed conclusions.

3.1.1 White stork numbers and density

During the period between September 2002 and March 2003, most of Kenya was wet and the sky had heavy rain clouds in most days. It was therefore difficult to observe white storks over flying the key wintering sites that were visited. The number of storks reported (Table 1) were derived from ground counts made by three project executants and seven volunteers.

Table 1: Number of White Storks wintering in different regions in Kenya during the period between September 2002 and March 2003
No. of birds
Area surveyed (km2)
No. sites surveyed
Rift Valley

A total of about 41,000 white storks were counted in 19 sites located in different parts of Kenya, but mainly in central, western and southern parts of the country. The average number per site ranged from 520 birds in central region (7 sites) to 3707 birds in Rift Valley region (3 sites). In western Kenya, the average number of storks per site was 2700 birds.

The average density of storks in the census area was 26.2 birds per km2. The traditional wintering sites in western Kenya had an average density of 81 birds per km2. The average density of storks in the Rift Valley wintering sites was 24 birds per km2 while it was 13.8 birds per km2 in southern Kenya and 8 birds per km2 in central Kenya.

Variation in density of storks appeared to be related to a number of factors, such as the amount of rainfall, farm size and type of crops grown by the farmers. High density of storks in western Kenya, especially in Lake Victoria basin can be attributed to availability of wetlands, especially flood plains of rivers and rice paddy. Large farms with dairy cattle and which grow wheat, maize, sunflower and pasture in the Rift Valley may be responsible for occurrence of storks in the Rift Valley.

3.1.2 White stork distribution

The distribution pattern of storks in the country during the period September 2002-March 2003 was generally similar to that of the previous four years (Fig. 1). About 40% of the storks occurred in Western Kenya, especially in Lake Victoria basin and its watershed. The storks inhabited marshy areas, ploughed sugar fields and pasture fields. Paddy rice fields had large concentrations of white storks.

The Rift Valley region was inhabited by 27% of the storks wintering in Kenya. The birds inhabited large-scale fields grown with wheat, maize, sunflower and sown pasture. They also inhabited fields left fallow or burnt prior to ploughing, and fields with natural pasture, where they foraged with cattle and sheep.

In central and eastern regions, the birds inhabited fallow fields of maize and wheat but large concentrations occurred in natural pasture fields. The storks also inhabited rice paddy field in Mwea area near Mt. Kenya. In southern Kenya, white storks mainly inhabited natural grasslands, which they shared with cattle and herds of grazing wildlife.

Fig. 1: Changes in the number of White storks in different regions of Kenya during the period between 1998 and 2002

Storks migrating southwards stopped over in Lake Victoria basin and in some parts of the Rift Valley region, especially around Mount Elgon. Similarly, southbound storks stopped over in Central Rift Valley, particularly in Nakuru, Kericho and Narok. Most of the birds found in the southern, eastern and central regions, however, were north bound. For details on key wintering sites studied in Kenya see Table 2.

Table 2: Wintering sites of white Storks in five regions in Kenya

Lake Victoria


Rift Valley

















Maasai mara









Sultan Hamud


Adapted from: Gichuki and Rotich (2002)

3.2 Awareness creation and training

White storks are migratory birds and little is known about their biology in their wintering areas in Africa. This project aimed at creating awareness about the migratory behaviour of white storks, their conservation status and feeding habitats in Kenya.

We produced and distributed 400 booklets on the biology of white storks. Further, a poster showing the migration pattern of the species and its wintering areas was developed but it was not printed because the funds were not sufficient. It is hoped that financial resources can be secured locally to produce the poster.

A successful children's exhibition was organized in Kitale Museum and 17 schools attended to see drawings by the children from two schools in Eldoret and Kitale areas. Local communities continue to seek information about white storks. 34 letters of enquiry were received in December 2002 and January 2003. This is a clear indication of the interest that activities of this project have generated since January 1999.

A site-based training workshop was organized in partnership with a local community organization in Kendu Bay (Lake Victoria basin) in January 2003. The purpose of the workshop was to sensitize the local community about the importance of protecting natural wetlands and migratory birds. A field visit was made to Lake Simbi Nyaima, a small Caldera Lake on the shores of Lake Victoria in Homa Bay District. Lake Simbi Nyaima, hosts up to 700 white storks in a good year and occasionally up to 6,000 flamingos.

3.3 Twinning of sites, farmers and schools

The purpose of twinning sites, farmers and schools is to encourage communication and sharing of information about white storks and habitat management. Traditionally, information exchange has always existed between the National Museums of Kenya and other museums in Europe and western Asia where migratory birds that winter in East Africa originate.

During this study we received at the museum four rings: two from birds ringed Hungary and two from birds ringed Poland. The rings were submitted in March 2003. The two from Hungarian birds were collected from dead birds in Kapsabet (Western Kenya) in January 2003 while the other two from polish birds were collected in December in Timau area, near Mount Kenya. The exchange of information between the ringing persons in Europe and receiving museums in Africa has greatly helped in mapping out the movement pattern of white storks.

The site twinning aspect of the project is intended to involve range states within the framework of African Eurasian Migratory Water Birds Agreement (AEWA) of which Kenya is a signatory. The Great Rift Valley, from Jordan to Mozambique, is of global importance as a flyway of migratory birds, including white storks. During this project communication channels have been opened with relevant experts and professional institutions interested in the monitoring of migratory birds and conservation of breeding and wintering sites.

Kaatz and Kaatz (2002) used satellite telemetry to show the migration of white storks from Germany, Spain and Africa. A pair of storks started their flight from a state-owned white stork farm in Loburg West Germany where they had successfully raised four young birds in 2001. The male migrated to Africa and spent winter near Port Elizabeth in South Africa, a distance of 12 000km. His female partner delayed her departure but chose to fly west to Spain. Both returned to their breeding site, the male returning on 14 April 2002 and the female returning 4 days later. In spite of departing at different times and migrating in different directions, the time of returning to breeding site was very precise. The project executants met with Christoph Kaatz and Michael Kaatz in Beijing on 17 August 2002 and discussed how the information collected in Europe on migration of white storks can be shared with interested parties in Africa.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) is already sharing white stork information with the Austrian-African Migratory Birds Project in Nairobi. Dr. Yossi Leshem, Director of the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration at Latrun in Israel has already initiated communication with the project executants. Discussions are underway with AEWA range states to eventually designate the Great Rift Valley as a World Heritage Site. This 700km long geographical feature is a major migratory flyway and is therefore of global importance for birds migrating from Europe, Western Asia and the Middle East to Eastern Africa. In a small but focused way, the Austrian-African Migratory Birds Project is making a contribution to bridging the gap between AEWA range states.


1. There has been a steady decline in the number of white storks wintering in Kenya since the beginning of 1990. While the decline can be attributed changes in climate, especially rainfall in Eastern Africa, changes in land use may be the primary factor. Conversion of savannah grasslands to farmland, decrease in farm size due to subdivision of large-scale farms, and policy change from the large-scale to small scale agricultural production system could have had serious negative effects on suitable white stork habitat. Other factors could be increasing human settlements and lack of deliberate conservation measures for migratory birds.

2. The average density of white storks in the wintering areas was 0.26 birds per hectare. The principal wintering sites of the storks are in Lake Victoria basin, the surrounding highlands and plateau; and in the Rift Valley. The occurrence of white storks in central, eastern and southern Kenya is restricted to certain wet areas, especially around Mt. Kenya, where there are large-scale grain producing farms as well as wetlands in the form of paddy rice fields. Rainfall, farm size and density of settlements, appear to influence density and distribution of white storks.

3. Community participation in conservation of white storks requires intensive awareness campaigns in the wintering areas. This project has shown that awareness campaigns can be successful if the approaches are varied so as to effectively communicate with farmers, teachers, pupils and organized community-based organizations. "Farming with a conservation eye" provides farmers with skills to manage their land for optimum agricultural production and conservation of the environment.

4. Twinning of sites, land owners and rural institutions in areas that host white storks is an innovative approach to bridging the communication gap between stake holders and interested parties within the migration flyway of white storks. Twinning sites is a valuable concept that can be effectively used to promote conservation of migratory birds within the Great Rift Valley and in the range states of African-Eurasian Migratory Water Birds Agreement (AEWA).

5. The co-operation between Austria and Kenya in the monitoring of white storks and promoting conservation of migratory birds in Africa in general has demonstrated the value of partnership between the range states. The project has had a strong impact at local level, where threats to the birds and their habitats originate. The lessons learned during this four - year partnership can benefit other range stats and have a catalytic effect in promoting north-south co-operation in the management of shared migratory birds.


Austrian-African white stork monitoring has been successful but its impact is limited because of its small budget. It is necessary for the Austrian Government to increase the budget from CHF 3500 to CHF 5000 per year.

The project should seek additional funding from national and international sources to enable it share lessons learned with the African states within the Great Rift Valley flyway.

Finally, funding for this project should go directly to the project-executing agency (National Museums of Kenya) so as to minimise delays in disbursement.


Cramp, S. (ed.) (1983). Handbook of birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa: the Birds of the Western Paleartic, Vol. 1, Oxford University Press: Oxford.
Dallinga, J. H. and Schoenmakers, S. (1985). Population changes of white stork (Ciconia ciconia, Spice, 1850) in relation to food. Proc. White stork Symposium, 1985.
Gichuki, G. G., Busienei W., Gichuki, C. M., Gakuo, L. and Rotich, D. (1999). Movement patterns and conservation strategies of White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) in Kenya: Implementation Report. National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi.
Gichuki, N. N. and Rotich, D. (2002). Kenya White Stork monitoring project: Implementation Report, National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya 15pp.
Kaatz, C. and Kaatz, M. (2002). Prinzesschen and Jonas- East and West flyers as the breeding couple 2001 in Loburg (Germany) - The satellite telemetry proves it. Abstracts: 23rd International Ornithological Congress, 11-17 August 2002, Beijing China. P.307.
Le Houerou, H. N. and Gillet, H. (1987). Conservation versus desertification in African arid lands. P. 444 - 461. In: Saule, M. E. (ed.). Conservation Biology: the science of scarcity and diversity. Sunderland, Massachusetts: Sinauer Associates.
Moreau, R. E. (1972). The Parleartic African Bird Migration Systems. Academic Press: London.

7.0 Financial Reports and Forward Budget

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