Northern White-faced Owl Ptilopsis leucotis Just out of the nest, Niger
"Niger, 530 species and counting. A fascinating country where the vegetation doesn't hide the birds so much."
by Joost Brouwer
Brouwer Envir. & Agric. Consultancy
6721 JD Bennekom
tel. +31 318 413468
e-mail [email protected]
Bird-wise much remains to be discovered in Niger. Only the area around the capital Niamey, Makalondi district and Parc National du W, all in the south-west of the country, and the Aïr Mountains in the north, have been birded more or less systematically. Even in those areas new species for the country are still found regularly. The country list stands at approximately 530 species at present. These include colourful Afrotropical residents, enigmatic Afrotropical migrants, and familiar Palearctic migrants in surroundings that make you appreciate them anew.
Niger has no endemic or restricted-range species, but it is an excellent country to see Sahara-Sindian, Sahelian and Sudan-Guinea Savanna biome species. The nature of the terrain and the vegetation are such that you actually get to see most birds, rather than only hear them. In many places you can also go off the beaten track quite easily. Only in the extreme south-west, in and around Parc National du W, do you need to watch out for large predators.
Banding and satellite-tracking studies have shown that Niger shares at least some of its birds with 42 other countries, from Mauritania and the Shetland Islands to Finland, the Ukraine and Siberia, and down to Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Congo-Brazzaville. For a further 14 countries, links are probable based on likely migration routes between banding and recovery locations. Further countries will no doubt be added as new information becomes available. With all these comings and goings, the composition of the avifauna of Niger truly changes all the time, throughout the year.
Niger also has a rich past as the geology and the famous dinosaur fossils demonstrate. Human presence in Niger goes back approximately 60,000 years. Rock carvings in the Aïr and Djado, in the deserts of the north of the country, testify to the former presence there of elephants and hippos at a time when the Sahara was lush and green. The no longer extant town of Takkada, also in the Aïr, was a centre of copper production from approx. 1360 BC. It was still active as such in 1354 AD, when it was mentioned by the traveller Ibn Battuta from Morocco.
Regional and local kingdoms waxed and waned throughout Niger until colonisation by the French took place around 1900. Niger as a sovereign nation has existed since 1960. Civilian and military governments have alternated over the past 40 years, but throughout that time Niger has on the whole been remarkably peaceful, unrest in the north of the country during the 1990s notwithstanding. Islam helps give the country a structure, and the people are very friendly. There are some seven major ethnic groups in Niger. French, however, is the most widely spoken language, and it adds a lot to your visit to Niger if you know at least a few words. Although lacking in tourist infrastructure outside Niamey, Parc du W and the Aïr, there certainly is suitable accommodation in Niger for birders on tight budgets.
While in the country you will not want to miss the giraffes 70 km south-east of Niamey nor perhaps the hippos at Ayorou on the Niger River, near the border with Mali. When birding in Parc du W, you will obviously also enjoy looking for the considerable variety of antelope, monkeys, buffalo, elephants, and with a lot of luck even a lion, leopard or cheetah. In relaxed Niamey itself a visit to the National Museum is a must, with its various ethnological and natural history collections, and its artisans at work in an open shed. After a hard day birdwatching or sightseeing, don't forget to relax with a drink on the terrace of the Grand Hotel overlooking the Niger River, watching the camels, pedestrians, motorbikes and cars cross the bridge, and the local longboats plying their trade. As the sun goes down you will see the flying foxes spreading out from their dormitories, pitch black in the fading light. You will be glad you came to Niger.
The purpose of this document is to provide a summary of Niger and its birds for birders interested in the country and considering a visit. It is intended to add new information as it becomes available. As such, readers are very welcome to submit contributions by e-mail to [email protected] and to the ABC Niger country coordinator Joost Brouwer, [email protected], the author of this document. The latter can also provide information about the preferred format of observations submitted to the Niger Bird Data Base. For most of the sites listed below a species list - ready for additions! - can be supplied as well.