Initially there was an ornithological branch of the then Wildlife Conservation Society. The Zambian Ornithological Society was formed during an inaugural meeting on 13 March 1969 by a group of keen birders and citizen scientists who wanted to promote and study birds in Zambia. Committee members were formally elected, a draft constitution was approved and the Wattled Crane was chosen as the society’s emblem.
Robert Dowsett was the first chairperson and he was a very able and dedicated leader. From the earliest days of the society, interest in birds went beyond studying and observing birds, but also to conservation and education. ZOS became the Zambian chapter of the International Council for Bird Preservation. ZOS worked in close liaison with the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and National Parks on issues such as hunting, import and export of birds and the threat of pesticides. ZOS also wanted to protect birdlife through education and started by financing trips to Lochinvar National Park for secondary school children.
Dylan Aspinwall followed Robert Dowsett as chairperson in 1971 and he remained in that position for most of the next 25 years. Where many of the European birders often looked for and studied European migrant birds, Dylan focused his interest more on resident and migrant African birds and through his enthusiasm stimulated many others to do so as well, greatly increasing knowledge on Zambian birds. 1971 also saw the eagerly-awaited publication of the Birds of Zambia, by Benson, Brooke, Dowsett and Irwin. This publication, sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society of Zambia, provided valuable information and a source of reference on Zambian birds in a time before good field guides. It also contained some colour plates illustrating various species not present south of the Zambezi and for that reason not included in the Roberts Birds of South Africa. Species record cards were introduced to more easily keep and submit records.
1990 saw the publication of a simple field guide aimed at Zambian youth and schools. Common Birds of Zambia – A first identification guide was distributed widely. The publication of this small guide highlighted an important gap for birding in Zambia, there was no existing field guide that covered all birds found in Zambia. In 1992 “Owls Want Loving” a children’s reader was printed with the help of one of our long-time members Nikki Ashley who produced it in conjunction with the Wildlife Conservation Society.
1998 saw the publication of the Field Guide to Zambian Birds not found in Southern Africa co-authored by Dylan Aspinwall and Carl Beel and illustrated by Gabriel Ellison. It was enthusiastically received and filled the gap for birders in Zambia that only had the use of bird books relevant to south of the Zambezi River.
Paddy Fleming took over the helm in 2001 and he moved ZOS from being a birdwatching organisation run by volunteers to a functioning NGO under the umbrella of BirdLife International. The Zambian Ornithological Society started to work with an office and employees. This made the organisation a more respected partner on issues of conservation in Zambia. Paddy brought in the Norwegian Ornithological Society who initially funded Pete Leonard’s IBA Book, published in 2005. NOF then went on to fund the first big project which was setting up Site Support Groups in the Important Bird Areas and working with the schools to educate the next generation in conservation.
On 15th May 2012 the Zambian Ornithological Society (ZOS) officially changed the name to BirdWatch Zambia (BWZ) and in September 2018 BWZ became a full partner of BirdLife International. Over all of the years ZOS/BirdWatch has produced a monthly newsletter Many interesting articles have been written and hard copies of them all are archived at the office and soft copies are available to members.
BirdWatch members also organise monthly birdwalks and weekend outings as well as occasional bird talks. Frank Willems is currently Keeper of Birds in Zambia and he has updated the bird list this year. We now have 788 birds recorded in Zambia