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How chickens are helping bird conservation in Kenya

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

By Nicholas Asunda

Nicholas Asunda with hens in the service of bird conservation. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Asunda.


For thousands of years, people all over the world have depended on chickens and eggs as vital sources of food. Chickens also play important roles in rural and urban economies as well as culture and religion, sometimes in surprising ways. My story is about how chickens are helping bird conservation in my country, Kenya. Starting in 2015, together with my friends Mwangi and Paul, I attended Wildlife Clubs of Kenya, Kenya College and wildlife and conservation classes at Moi University, which provided us with many different kinds of technical training. We enjoyed our ornithology class in particular, and the opportunities it provided to travel to different parts of Kenya. We decided to form a group to focus on birds and birdwatching, through which we would identify birds, including endemic and migratory species, in places including wetlands and Important Bird Areas.

Crowned Lapwing (Vanellus coronatus) in Meru National Park, Kenya. Photo by Nico Arcilla.


We didn’t have much money for the travels we planned, and we brainstormed about different investment ideas, many of which required substantial existing funds. Instead, we got the idea to start poultry farming for the production of eggs. My mother had Kienyeji chickens, and when we explained our thoughts and plans, she donated twenty hens of laying age to us. Within two weeks, our new hens started laying! Mwangi and Paul contributed to building a structure that we used to feed our hens, and we sold the eggs to our fellow students. The college assisted us in raising funds for transportation and provided us with Internet that we used to map the locations of birds we identified during our birdwatching outings. I am thankful that through such interventions, I discovered my passion for bird conservation and have become a bird guide and researcher.

White-browed Robin Chat (Cossypha heuglini) in the Masai Mara, Kenya. Photo by Nico Arcilla.


In many local communities in Kenya, people are used to killing wild birds for food. A fellow bird guide who is a driver and I decided to team up to try to change this in a lake district with many waterbirds and migratory birds. We joined together with young people, fishermen, local guides, and local authorities to create birdwatching teams where we provide training on how people can provide valuable and accurate information about birds to guide visitors, as opposed to killing birds for food. In this way, birds can provide communities with gifts that keep on giving, rather than being consumed and disappearing.

Purple Grenadier (Granatina ianthinogaster) in the Loisaba Conservancy. Photo by Nico Arcilla.


Our group conducts community outreach, in which we visit communities to present talks about birds and their importance in our daily life, such as the role of raptors in pest control, the role of sunbirds in pollination, the traditional uses of birds to predict seasons and climate conditions, among others. We also make school visits, during which we expose students and teachers to conservation activities such as tree planting, which provides nesting opportunities to birds. We also work to give back to community by providing health products and other items to needy communities. There is an old riddle that asks which came first, the chicken or the egg? In our case it was a love for birds, people, and country that came first, but chickens and eggs made it possible for us to go from dreaming to doing.

Yellow-throated Longclaw (Macronyx croceus) in the Masai Mara, Kenya. Photo by Nico Arcilla.


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