Bird watching Uganda

Uganda and Rwanda are among the top destinations for bird watching safaris. There are thousands of bird species in the two countries including Albertine Rift endemics that  can’t be seen anywhere else. The presence of unique habitats in these two neighbouring countries such as the Lake Victoria basin, tropical rainforests like Bwindi, swamps and mountain ranges such as the Rwenzori act as safe havens for hundreds of bird species to thrive. For bird watching enthusiasts, we arrange exclusive birding encounters to enable you explore the variety of East African birds.

Bird watching safaris in Uganda

Birding watching

Uganda is one of Africa’s top bird watching destinations with over 1,060 species of birds including Albertine rift endemics and Guinea-Congo species. Birding trips in Uganda take you across diverse landscapes including the swamps around Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile, waterfalls, savanna and tropical forests. There are 10 national parks and 12 wildlife reserves which offer a wide range of wildlife, cultural, and adventure experiences. From gorilla, chimpanzee, and golden monkey trekking to game drives, boat trips and  experiential lion tracking. White water rafting, bungee jumping, and Zip lining in Jinja source of the Nile to mountain climbing in the snow-capped Rwenzori mountain range.

Where to watch birds in Uganda

Birding sites closer to Kampala capital city and Entebbe international airport include Mabamba swamp, Botanical Gardens, and Mabira central forest reserve.

Birding at Entebbe botanical garden

The national botanical gardens of Uganda were established in 1898 and have been maintained into a flourishing tropical garden with over 389 plant species. Spreading for 40 hectares with a 1.5 km stretch of beach along the shores of Lake Victoria, Entebbe the gardens provide habitat for over 32 bird species including the orange-tufted sunbirds and the orange weavers. There are primate species including black and white colobus monkeys. After a nature walk, you can relax at the beach and take a trip to the Uganda Wildlife Education Center.

Mabamba Bay Wetland

One of the largest wetlands in Uganda covering 16,500 hectares, Mabamba swamp is an IBA and a Ramsar site. The is famous for harboring over 150 shoebills of the 8,000 world’s shoebill population. Mabamba swamp is one of the Ugandan birding sites where the Shoebill stork is commonly found through a guided canoe tour within a couple of hours drive from Kampala or Entebbe.

Those intending to stay in Mabamba can stay at the new Nkima Forest Lodge which is set among trees on the edge of the swamp. Besides the shoebill, the Mabamba wetland ecosystem attracts over 300 species including the African–Eurasian Flyway Migratory Bird Species which are globally threatened which include the papyrus gonolek, blue swallow, papyrus yellow warbler among others such as the white winged tern, Spur winged Geese, Gull-billed Terns (Gelochelidon nilotica), Whiskered Terns (Chlidonias hybridus), White winged Black Terns, (Chlidonias leucopterus) and the Grey-headed Gulls (Larus cirrocephalus).

Mabira Central Forest Reserve

Situated in Buikwe district 56 km (1-hour drive) east of Kampala capital city along the highway to Jinja source of the Nile, Mabira forest is within easy reach for a one day Uganda birding trip. Mabira encampasses 306 sq. km of an Afro-tropical forest ecosystem with rich biodiversity including 544 plant species, over 150 bird species, 5 duinal forest primates of which 2 are endemic including the Ugandan Crested Mangabey (Lophocebus ugandae) and the Grey Cheeked Mangabey (Cercocebus albigena); 218 butterfly species, and 32 reptile species.

Bird watching in Mabira offers an opportunity to spot some Guineo-Congolian species of global conservation importance including Nahan’s Francolin (Francolinus nahani) and more. Others include Grey-headed Sunbird, Grey-throated Barbet (cinereiceps), Western Crested Guineafowl, White-bellied Kingfisher, Black-billed Turaco (emini), Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill, Olive-green Camaroptera (toroensis), Jameson’s Wattle-eye, Hairy-breasted Barbet (ansorgii), Pale-breasted Illadopsis, Nahan’s Partridge, Yellow-breasted Forest Robin, Red-headed Bluebill, and Purple-headed Starling.

Other bird species found here include Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo, Forest Wood Hoopoe, Yellow-eyed Bristlebill, White-throated Greenbul, Scaly-breasted Illadopsis, Buff-throated Apalis (nigrescens), Toro Olive Greenbul, and Yellow-spotted Barbet (duchaillui). Among other things to do in Mabira include ziplining and visiting a traditional medicine man for his stunning metaphysics. The gently undulating terrain of flat-topped hills and wide shallow valleys between 1,070-1340 m above sea level is good for mountain biking adventures.

Murchison falls national park

bird watching


Murchison falls national park lies at the end of the Albertine rift valley bisected by the Nile river into two unique ecological habitats which include a vast mosaic of open borassus palm savanna on the northern banks and semi-deciduous tropical Budongo central forest reserve in the south bank. Murchison contains rich biodiversity including 77 mammal species of which the Big 4; lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes are present, making for Uganda’s premier wildlife safari destination. The highlight among the things to do include night game drive and boat cruise along the Victoria Nile.

When you add a visit to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, enroute, you stand a chance of seeing the Big Five mammals. As good Murchison falls is for game viewing, it is excellent place to go birding in Uganda in search of moist savanna and water bird species including the shoebill stork, Abyssinian Rollers, African Pygmy Goose, Northern Red Bishops, plain night jar, Pel’s fishing owl and African fish eagle.

Kibale national park

Kibale forest is famous for harboring 13 primate species including chimpanzees and the best place for chimpanzee trekking and habituation in East Africa. Kibale forest and the surrounding Bigodi and Kihingami swamps offer excellent bird watching for those intending to spot moderate altitude forest species including Black-eared Ground Thrush, Green-breasted Pitta, Orange-tufted Sunbird, White-naped Pigeon, Papyrus Gonolek, Joyful Greenbul among others such as Speckle-breasted Woodpecker and White-collared Oliveback.

Queen Elizabeth national park

The most visited destination in Uganda, Queen Elizabeth national park spans for 1,978 in the western arm of the Great East African Rift Valley 60 km southeast of Rwenzori Mountain Range. The protected area encampasses diverse habitats including open savanna, 3 tropical forests of Maramagambo, Kalinzu and Kyambura gorge; both freshwater and salty crater-filled lakes and swamps which attracts rich biodiversity including over 612 species of birds and 97 mammal species including the tree climbing lions in Ishasha southern sector as well as leopards, spotted hyenas, elephants, buffaloes, hippos, Uganda kobs and water bucks. Kalinzu and Kyambura gorge are home to 5 primate species including chimpanzees.

As such the park offers a wide range of things to do which include bird watching, both day and night game drives, boat rides, and chimpanzee trekking. There are experiential tourism activities such as bird and hippo counts, and mongoose and lion tracking. Those intending to go bird watching in Queen Elizabeth national park. Ensure to take a nature walk at Maramagambo forest and the boat cruise at Kazinga channel in order to spot both forest, swamp, and waterbird species. Among the birds include the shoebill stork, Swamp Nightjar, Lesser Flamingo, Collared Pratincole, Greater Painted-snipe, Black-bellied Bustard, Gull-billed Tern, Short-tailed Pipit, Pied Avocet, African Skimmer, Temminck’s Courser, White-tailed Lark, and the Red-capped Lark.

Bwindi impenetrable national park

Bwindi impenetrable national park is famous for harboring 459 gorillas which is almost half of the 1,063 world’s mountain gorilla population. Since 1993, the gorillas have become used to ecotourism and there are currently 24 habituated groups offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for gorilla trekking and habituation experiences. In addition to gorilla safaris, Bwindi park offers excellent bird watching

with over 350 bird species including 23 of the 41 Albertine rift endemics. Bwindi is divided into 4 sectors which include Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga, and Nkuringo. The best places to go bird watching in Bwindi include Buhoma’s Ivi river trail where the short-tailed warbler, red faced woodland warbler, red throated alethe, dwarf honeyguide, and Chapin’s flycatcher might be spotted. Ruhija sector’s Mubwindi swamp and Rwamunyonyi peak offer an opportunity to spot the African green broadbill, strange weaver, regal sunbird, and the Handsome francolin,

Bird watching in Rwanda

Birding watching

According to the African Bird Club, Rwanda is home to 690 bird species with 29 of the 41 Albertine Rift Valley Endemics including the Grauer’s swamp warbler, Albertine owlet, Rwenzori collared sunbird, handsome francolin, strange weaver among others found in Nyungwe national park. One of the extensive Albertine Rift Montane Forests, Nyungwe is Rwanda’s top birding site for those intending to see endemics of the Albertine Rift area and also track chimpanzees among other 13 primate species including the Owl faced monkey, black and white colobus monkeys.

Where to watch birds in Rwanda

In addition to Nyungwe, other birding sites in Rwanda include Akagera national park, one of the African Big Five Wildlife Conservation projects, is home to over 500 species of birds including both savanna and waterbird species such as shoebill stork. Volcanoes National park is famous for harboring mountain gorillas and is a highly attractive destination for gorilla trekking safaris. The park is home to over 200 bird species of which 16 are AREs.  Your birding and wildlife safari in Rwanda begins with a flight to Kigali capital city. Birding locations convenient to Kigali city include Nyabarongo, Bugesera, and Umusambi village.

Nyabarongo wetlands

An Important Bird and Biodiversity Area in Danger Nyabarongo swamp is 11 km southeast of Kigali capital city enroute to Nyungwe forest national park. The wetland lies along the Nyabarongo river and is made up of a variety of unique tropical aquatic plant species including Cyperus latifolius, Cladium, Echinochloa pyramidalis, and Papyrus reeds which provide habitat to over 50 species of birds of which the most important include the White-winged Swamp Warbler (Bradypterus carpalis), the endangered Malagasy pond heron (Ardeola idae), and the Papyrus Canary (Crithagra koliensis), among others Papyrus Gonolek (Laniarius mufumbiri), Northern Brown-throated Weaver (Ploceus castanops), Carruthers’s Cisticola (Cisticola carruthersi), pallid harrier, White-collared Oliveback (Nesocharis ansorgei), Black-lored Babbler (Turdoides sharpei), and the Carruthers’s Cisticola (Cisticola carruthersi). 

Umusambi wildlife sanctuary

Umusambi is a sanctuary for preservation of the endangered gray crowned cranes among other 100 bird species within Kigali capital city. A 21 hectare wetland ecosystem has successfully been restored into an Ecotourism public park with medicinal plant and butterfly gardens. There are exhibitions, a children’s camp, cafe, and walkways to tour the park. Located 8 min drive east of Kigali airport, Umusambi village is easier to access for birding in Rwanda. Among the bird species you might see include the palm nut vultures, malachite and woodland kingfishers, black headed gonolek, fan-tailed widowbird, speckled mousebird, grosbeak weaver, and swamp flycatcher.

Bugesera wetlands

Situated 44 km south of Kigali city, Bugesera swamp offers an opportunity to spot both water and savannah species. Among them include Carruther’s Cisiticola, Papyrus Gonolek, Lesser Jacana,  Sooty Chat, White-winged Swamp Warbler, and Papyrus Canary.

Nyungwe national park

Located 220 km (6-hour drive) south east of Kigali, Nyungwe is part of the Albertine rift Afro-montane forests. The protected area comprises tropical dense forests, bamboo, wetlands with rich biodiversity including over 1,100 plant species and 13 primate species. These include chimpanzees, Ruwenzori black-and-white colobus; 85 mammal species, and over 345 species of birds of which 16 are Albertine rift endemics.

The main road traverses the park from the eastern entrance gate at Kitabi via Uwinka the headquarters in the center to Gisakura at the western gate of the park giving good views and an opportunity to stop by and bird along the way. Each gate has a rest stop where you can grab a cup of Rwanda coffee or tea and takeaway on your way to/from the park.

Those intending to bird along the way must be accompanied by rangers who protect the park. Nyungwe offers a network of over 13 trails for hiking and bird watching of which most begin at Uwinka including the Igishigishigi Trail that leads to the Canopy Walkway. Among other trails for bird watching in Nyungwe forest include Kamiranzovu waterfall trail, where the Grauer’s Swamp-Warbler and Red-chested Flufftail might be spotted.

The Ndambarare Trail offers a chance to spot the Handsome Spurfowl (Pternistis nobilis) and Red-collared Mountain-Babbler (Kupeornis rufocinctus). The Archer’s robin chat, Kungwe Apalis, African Barred Owlet, Mountain Yellow Warbler, and the Kivu ground thrush may be seen along the Bigugu Trail which leads to the highest point of Nyungwe forest at 2,950m.

Other bird species that may be seen on the same trail include Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Neumann’s Warbler, Red-throated Alethe, Great Blue Turaco, and Equatorial Akalat (Sheppardia aequatorialis). Those intending to see the major attractions of Nyungwe forest in addition to birds, need at least 3-5 days to spend in the park and go for chimpanzee tracking, colobus monkey tracking, canopy walk, Gisakura tea plantation tour. Other sites to add whilst in Nyungwe include Bugesera wetlands.

Birding along Lake Kivu and the Congo Nile Trail

bird watching

From Nyungwe, you can travel to Lake Kivu for beach experience and a boat cruise to add more water bird species. Among them include the gray crowned crane, African fish eagle, pied and malachite kingfishers. Around the shores of Lake Kivu, visitors can opt to kayak, hike and bike along the Congo-Nile Trail. The trail stretches for 280 km along the shores from Cyangugu in the southwest to Gisenyi town in the northwest. There are rest stops and a wide range of accommodation to stay. Visitors can opt for day trips and enjoy unique cultural experiences such as the singing fishermen of Lake Kivu, coffee and tea tours.

Volcanoes national park

From Lake Kivu, you can proceed to Volcanoes national park, which offers an opportunity to track mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. The protected area is part of the Virunga mountains, a chain of 8 volcanoes which straddle the borders of Uganda and DR Congo. The park comprises 3 Holocene strato-volcanoes which include Mt. Karisimbi, Bisoke, and Muhabura which are covered by bamboo, hagenia- hypericum woodland and sub-alpine vegetation.

The area contains rich biodiversity including over 178 bird species of which 17 are Albertine rift endemics. Given that most of the species are found in Nyungwe forest. The main target birds in and around Volcanoes include the Scarlet-Tufted Sunbird and the African Pitta. The former is often spotted along the Mount Bisoke volcano and Dian Fossey hike and the latter can be seen in Buhanga Eco-park. Cultural tours around Volcanoes national park Rwanda offers an opportunity to go birding in the communities which include Rugezi swamp, an Important Bird Area and the twin lakes of Burera and Ruhondo. Musanze town, the closest city to Volcanoes national park, serves as a base for those intending to explore the park and nearby attractions.

Akagera national park

Situated 110 km (2-hour drive) east of Kigali capital city, Akagera is the only African savanna protected area of Rwanda. The park consists of a variety of habitats from north to south including open savannah plains, dense wooded acacia to aquatic ecosystems in and around several lakes and large papyrus swamps in the Akagera river basin that stretch across the border to Tanzania. The rich biodiversity was degraded with extinction of rhinos and lions and decline of elephant numbers during the Rwandan genocide.

In 2010, the African Parks Network took over the management and reintroduced lions, both white and black rhinos. Today, Akagera is one of the African Big Five Wildlife Conservation projects that is worth supporting. There are over 450 species of birds including the shoebill stork found on lake Ihema. Those intending to visit the park, there are two sectors to spend at least one day in each. The northern part attracts most of the mammal species including the African Big Five mammals which include lions, elephants, buffalo, leopard, and both black and white rhinos. Among other species include zebras, waterbucks, hippos, giraffes, impalas, topi, and kobs. The south has open water, swamps and lakes such as Ihema and Shakani where boat trips and sport fishing are conducted.