Slender-billed Weaver Ploceus pelzelni
Male at nest, Sô-Ava, lower Ouémé basin, Benin 19 June 2011
In comparison with some of its neighbours, Benin (formerly Dahomey) has been poorly studied from an ornithological point of view. Dowsett (1993) established the first annotated bird list for the country, totalling 423 species. From 1993 to 2010, 58 additions to the country avifauna were published by several authors and these are listed in Dowsett & Dowsett-Lemaire (2011). In the same article, Dowsett & Dowsett-Lemaire added another 74 species discovered recently and rejected a number of previously accepted species which they considered to be erroneous or requiring further confirmation. This article can be regarded as providing the most accurate and up-to date state of the avifauna of Benin which now stands at a total of 568 species. Ongoing research work will doubtless provide further discoveries.
The total still appears low in comparison with 625 species for Togo, the adjacent country in the Dahomey Gap. However, much less attention has been paid to the birds and wildlife of Benin historically. Until recently, the literature was indeed made up of no more than a handful of papers going back to the 19th century, whereas Togo had been well served by Reichnow's studies dating back to the German colonial period.
Political instability after independence, followed by 17 years of Marxist government did little to encourage visitors. Much has changed in the country in the meantime. A National Conference in 1990 brought about democratic change and the country has since remained stable, open and among the safest countries to visit in Africa. The people are very welcoming and, in terms of history and culture, there is plenty to see.
In the past ten years, the number of discoveries made and articles published very much contrasts with the paucity of records from the past. Mist-netting by van den Akker in the forest remnants in the south provided a good number of discoveries. In 2009, in order to supervise the field work carried out by a local student in the principal remnants of dry forests in the south of the country, Dowsett & Dowsett-Lemaire spent five weeks birding from the forest zone in the south up north to the transition zone in Ouari Maro classified forest. Subsequently, they conducted additional field work in the two northern national parks (Pendjari and W) in 2010 and further prospected the southern forests in 2011. Finally, a small number of resident birders, as well as occasional visitors, have contributed to our knowledge of the country's avifauna.
Much remains to be done however. For example, there is breeding evidence for less than 20% of the species while more than 60% seem likely to breed here and large parts of the country remain unvisited by birders until recently. For the more adventurous travelling birder, this can make Benin a very attractive and challenging African birding destination. The recent discovery of the little-known and Vulnerable Anambra Waxbill Estrilda poliopareia, a former Nigerian endemic, in south-eastern Benin is indicative of the kind of surprises that may occur in the country.
All the most attractive West African families occur here: this includes over 50 raptor species, owls, hornbills, rollers, bee-eaters, no fewer than 19 sunbird species and 17 bulbul species including the skulking and little-known Baumann’s Greenbul Phyllastrephus baumanni and colourful kingfishers and barbets. Sought after species include the elegant African Skimmer Rynchops flavirostris, the enigmatic Standard-winged Nightjar Macrodipteryx longipennis and two species of illadopses.
In summary, Benin offers birds for everyone from the beginner and the nature lover to the enthusiastic and advanced birder. One can only be delighted with a birding expedition to Benin.
The purpose of these pages is to provide a useful overview of Benin and its birds for birders interested in the country and potentially planning a visit. It is intended to add new information as it becomes available. As such, visitor birders are encouraged to submit their ornithological observations by e-mail to [email protected] and to the Benin recorder [email protected].
Benin checklists can be downloaded from the species page.
Sahel Paradise-Whydah Vidua orientalis
Malanville, north Benin, Sudan-Guinea Savanna