While growing up in Kakamega, Wilberforce Okeka mastered a sound to alert his father’s chickens and chicks to run for dear life whenever a hawk was in vicinity.
With time, he carefully noted that a hawk was not only an enemy of the chickens, but also other birds like the common bulbul which dotted the skyline.
The latter did not only make a unique sound which signified that a hawk was in the vicinity but it could spot the hawk from afar unlike the chickens.
Okeka would take cue from bulbul’s unique sound and notify his father’s chickens by shouting “Saa! Saaa!”, an alarm that sent the chickens and their chicks scampering to hide in the bushes and houses.
For fun, he mimicked the voice of the common bulbul.
This act fascinated Okeka who later took to mimicking other birds’ sounds and noticed something weird: “I could mimic many birds’ voices and some birds like the flufftails, warbler birds, thrushes, brown chested illadopsis, brown chested alis and others responded by moving closer to where sound was emanating from.”
In 1991, he became part of Kakamega Forest tour guides, leading tourists through the tropical rain forest and calling birds.
“I get Sh500 for escorting one tourist... On many occasions, the tourists and researchers tipped me when I call birds for them to watch. The tips are sometimes higher that the rate of guiding them through the forest,” said the father of seven children.
Kakamega hosts about 488 bird species. Okeka claims he can sermon over 20 species.
He can also trace birds’ nests hidden in secret places like caves, on top of rocks and on decaying tree trunks, a service that he majorly offers to researchers from overseas universities.
Many bird species fear people and will require a tourist and the bird caller to hide behind bushes as the bird caller sermons them for between two and 10 minutes through special whistle-like tones.
He has a special pointing device (with lighting), which he uses to point birds for his tourists to see in the dark canopy of the forest.
His dream is to put over 200 birds at his call. He earns over Sh15,000 per month from his job.
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