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backyard birding

Eating breakfast in our garden one morning shortly after our arrival to Nairobi, we saw an iridescent bird fluttering among the flowers. It sparkled brilliantly in the sun, dipping its long, curved beak into the open petals. Excited by the prospect of hummingbirds in our own backyard, S bought a hummingbird feeder. We glimpsed other birds too, so S bought birdseed and a squirrel-proof bird-feeder – an unnecessary precaution, as the only squirrels we’ve seen in Kenya are the slender ground squirrels one sometimes sees on safari. Determined to transform our garden into an avian Eden, S even contemplated getting a birdbath, but other projects soon claimed her time and the idea fell by the wayside.

We hung the bird-feeders and waited for our feathered friends to rush en masse to our garden. Weeks went by, but the nectar in the hummingbird feeder went untouched, and the birds seemed similarly uninterested in the seed. This particularly upset S, as she had spent some time researching birdseed online and ordered what she thought was the best kind – sunflower seeds with no filler. We even tried hanging the feeders in different parts of the garden, all to no effect.

Trying to identify the birds we had seen on safari with the help of a bird book S picked up at a tag sale, D unexpectedly hit on the answer to our hummingbird riddle. Turns out, the small lustrous bird we had seen was a variable sunbird and not the hummingbird we supposed it to be. Sunbirds perch instead of hovering, so our hummingbird feeder was of no use to them.

The other birds we saw – bulbuls, speckled mousebirds, the occasional dove – likely would have eaten the sunflower seeds, but they were too big for our squirrel-proof feeder, which has a grate that descends if too much weight is put on it. We pretty much resigned ourselves to packing away the birdseed and trying again in Moldova, but a few months ago we noticed sunflower shells in our garden. At first, there was only one or two birds that would make regular visits to our garden, but it didn’t take long for whole flocks to appear and now we’re worried we might run out of seed before our time here is up.

Incidentally, these birds, which come in a variety of streaky yellows and grays, are called seedeaters. Once they discovered our garden, other birds followed. We’ve seen weavers, sparrows, canaries, and even a white-eyed slaty flycatcher, which is not common for this part of the country.

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