Birding in Uganda & Bird Watching Destinations
Uganda boosts for hosting some of the most accessible birding destinations on the continent and a long avian species list that keep all birders glued to their binoculars.
Birding, also known as Bird Watching is an act of spotting and observing birds in their natural habitats; this is one of the world’s upcoming recreational activities. Uganda is regarded as the best birding destination in Africa, as it records over 1,050 bird species with about 50% of the rare species in Africa and over 11% of world bird species. Therefore, Uganda is a birders paradise because it has the endemic Fox’s Weaver and 23 Albertine endemics that you cannot find anywhere else. This diversity of bird species is attributed to the country’s variation of habitats, including arid, semi-dessert, savannah, lowland and montane rainforests, wetlands, volcanoes and Afro-alpine zones. Even the surroundings of Kampala, Lake Victoria shores and other wetlands in the city suburbs are habitats for birds.
Birding in Murchison Falls National Park
Murchison Falls is the largest national park in Uganda (5,072 square kilometres) lies at the northern end of the Albertine rift valley. It is a habitat for a variety of fauna and flora and a variety of bird species. This park is the best area for bird watching not because of its widest bird selection but the site is equipped with unique bird species, for example, the shoebill stork, which is the park’s main birding attraction and it is best sighted in the Nile Delta at lake Albert during the dry season from January-March.
Murchison Falls National Park is home to over 451 bird species, spotting these birds overlaps with wildlife viewing locations as they can be sighted on game drives, launch cruises, during hikes and nature walks, which offer easy sightings to a diversity of birdlife within the savannah forests, Albertine rift and within the open grasslands.
A boat safari trip upstream towards the falls offers a birding experience in the woodlands and thicket along the river banks. The most typical birds spotted include Red-throated Bee-eaters and Swallow-tailed in the Nyamusika Cliffs and the woodland Grey heron, Hamerkop, Shrikes, Flycatchers, Cuckoos, Woodpeckers, Crombecs, Grey heron, Pied, Giant, Malachite Kingfishers and Francolin. etc.
Other species to spot while on game drives, during nature walks and hikes through the plains include: Secretary Birds, the Marabou Stork, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Black-bellied, Bustards, Open-billed Storks, Dark Chanting-Goshawk, Martial Eagle, Hugli’s Francolin, Denham’s Bustard, Spotted Thick-knee, Senegal Thick-knee, Rock Pratincole, Black-headed Plover, Long-toed Plover, Black-billed Wood-Dove, Veracious Dove, Long Tailed Nightjar and the Standard-winged Nightjar.
The best time for birding in this park is January-March which tends to have plenty of birding activity with fewer tourists on the tracks.
Birding in Budongo Forest Reserve (Royal mile)
The Royal Mile is a spectacular forest road that is one mile long in a tropical, humid, and semi-deciduous Budongo forest covering 793 square kilometres within the Bunyoro Kitara kingdom attached to Murchison falls national park, the top of the Albertine rift valley. It is well known as an attractive traditional stopover for the Uganda’s royals, and it derives its name from the former Bunyoro king Omukama Kabalega. He constructed it to act as the training ground for his Abarusura army. He later used it as an escape route from the colonial powers before being exiled to Seychelles Islands.
Engaging in a birding secession at the royal mile could be the best time on your trip because the area has a flat terrain but gently sloping towards river Sonso with hardwood trees along the trail, making it a fabulous birding spot. It hosts the endemic illadopsis puveli, Yellow-footed Flycatcher and a variety of central and West African species which include, Nahan’s Francolin, White-spotted Flufftail, White-spotted Flufftail, Piping Hornbill, Sabine’s Spinetail, Dwarf Kingfisher, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, Hairy-breasted Barbet, White-thighed Hornbill, Fire-crested Alethe, Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Lemon-bellied Crombec, Rufous-crowned Elemomela, Yellow-browed Camaroptera and Black-capped Apalis, Etc.
Birding in Kibale Forest National park
Kibale national park is one of the prime destinations suitable for birding. The park is the largest tract of forest protected within 795 square kilometres in the western part of Uganda, with 350 tree species, 71 mammals and 370 bird species. The forest covers Kibale – Fort Portal at an approximate distance of 320 kilometres from Kampala, the capital of Uganda.
The park’s bird list includes six species endemic to the Albertine region: Collared Apalis, black-capped Apalis, Blue-headed Sunbird, Dusky crimson wing, Red-faced woodland warbler, and the Purple-breasted sunbird. It also includes many other forests, grassland, swamp species, and the central African specials, making Kibale a unique birding destination.
While birding in Kibale, this experience should be combined with a trail to the Bigodi wetland sanctuary, home to over 138 bird species. The trail starts with a briefing at the KAFRED information centre, and it covers a distance of 5km. During this boardwalk trail, rare species usually spotted include rear green breasted pitta found only in Kibale, great blue turaco, White-winged Warbler, Papyrus Canary, Papyrus Gonolek and the White-collared Olive back.
Other species which are spotted on the trail include; the Superb Sunbird, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Bocage’s Bush-shrike, Black Bishop, Yellow-billed Barbet, White-breasted Negrofinch, Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, Black-crowned Waxbill, White-spotted Flufftail, Yellow-spotted Barbet, Hairy-breasted Barbet, Grey-winged Robin-chat, White-tailed Ant-thrush, Brown-backed Scrub-robin, Brown-throated Wattle-eye and Yellow-billed Barbet among others.
The park receives both dry and rainy seasons, i.e. the dry season runs from January to February and June to September, while the wet season run from March to May and October to December. The best time for birding is during the wet season due to the high chances of spotting migratory birds. However, the park is open to birders throughout the year, and you can access it either by using the Kampala-Mubende to Fort portal route, which is the northern or the southern route through Mbarara-Ibanda to Kamwenge.
Birding in Semuliki National Park
Semuliki national park sprawls across the floor of Semuliki valley on the extreme west part of the country near the Uganda – Congo border in Bundibugyo district. On the western arm of the Great Rift Valley Semuliki covers an area of 220 square kilometres. The park is dominated by the easternmost extension of the great Ituri Forest of the Congo Basin, and the forest is the only tract of actual lowland tropical rain forest in East Africa. The park contains 53 mammals, including impressive 11 primates and over 435 bird species, about 43% of Uganda’s total recorded bird list. These birds include numerous rift valley endemics and Congo species. This alluring bird list of the categories mentioned above and other restricted-range species makes Semuliki a vital destination for serious birders.
Bird species in Semuliki include the endemic Dwarf honey guide and the Purple-breasted sunbird; 35 Congo-Guinea biome species like Black Dwarf Hornbill, Nkulengu rail, Gabon Woodpecker, Congo serpent. Other species you are likely to spot include; Yellow-throated Nicator, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Piping Hornbill, White-crested Hornbill, African Piculet, White-throated Blue Swallow, Leaf-love, Swamp Palm Bulbul, Lemon-bellied Crombec, Maxwell’s Black Weaver, Crested Malimbe, Red-bellied Malimbe, Blue-billed malimbe, Chestnut-breasted Negrofinch, Orange-cheeked Waxbill, Red-rumped Tinkerbird, Black-casqued Wattled Hornbill, just to mention a few.
For excellent bird viewing, one is advised to take the 6 km public road between Sempaya and Ntandi and the 14km Kirumia trail that runs through the forest’s heart up to Semuliki River. All these yields a great experience through daily walks and overnight camping; however, those who love to track the rare shoebill can opt for a boat ride along with Lake Albert.
The best time for birding in Semuliki is between months of February-April and June-September, which are fruiting seasons, making food to be abundant, and many birds are spotted during these seasons, for those who love migratory birds are seen in the November to April and December to February due to the least rains. However, from April to May and September to October, the trails are slippery due to the heavy rains.
Semuliki can be accessed using,
- Kampala-Fort Portal via Mubende, which is a 4-5 hours drive covering a distance of 300 km, making it the shortest route.
- Kampala-Fort Portal via Masaka, Mbarara and Kasese, which is a 7-8 hours’ drive covering a distance of 465km.
Birding In Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth is the second-largest and popular game park located in Western Uganda, lying directly on the equator 00, covering 1,978 square kilometres. It runs from the foothills of Mountain Rwenzori in the north up to Isasha in the south with the highest point of 1,350 meters above sea level found in Katwe explosion crater and 910m which is the lowest point on the shores of Lake Edward covering the districts of Kasese, Kamwenge, Rubirizi and Rukungiri.
Queen Elizabeth Park is home to a diverse ecosystem that range from sprawling savannah, shady, humid forests, lakes like Edward and George and fertile wetlands, which provide a habitat for over 612 bird species. The park offers not only native birds but also a vast of migratory bird species from Europe and Asia. This makes the Queen Elizabeth National Park to be classified as an important birding area by birding international.
For the most incredible birding experience in Queen Elizabeth National Park, don’t miss these birding hot spots:
- Kazinga Channel links lake Edward to lake George, a 2 hours’ cruise covering a distance of 45km long the Kazinga channel from the Mweya peninsular to lake Edward is worthwhile rewarding on a birding safari. The Channel provides a clear view of various bird species like African Mourning Dove, Raptors, Slender-tailed Nightjar, Grey-Headed Kingfisher, Pygmy Kingfisher, Nubian Woodpecker, Swifts, Red-chested Sunbird, Black-headed Gonolek, Etc.
- Kasenyi area, it’s not only a wildlife hotspot but also favourable for bird viewing; the site is composed of open savannah located on the northeastern side of the park where almost every tourist vehicle heads in the morning because of the big game viewing. Birds that welcome you to these plains include; Brown Snake Eagle, Palm-nut vulture, Ruppell’s, Griffon vulture, Hooded vulture, African White-backed Vulture, Wahlberg’s eagle, Martial eagle, Grey Kestrel, Black-bellied Bustard, Temminck’s Courser, African Wattled Plover, Crowned Plover, Rufous napped Lark and many more.
- Maramagambo forest, it’s a natural forest located along the Kichwamba escarpment covering part of Queen Elizabeth national park on the right side of the western rift valley. Taking a trek with this forest is worthy watching birds and gives you a chance to find crater lakes like lake Kamunzuku and Nyamusingire, which harbour both forest and water birds like African finfoot, little grebe, Red-chested Cuckoo, African emerald cuckoo, Black Cuckoo, Yellow bill, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Dark-capped Warbler, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Brown Illadopsis, Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike, Western Black-headed Oriole, Black Bishop, White-breasted Negrofinch. Etc.
- Ishasha sector is located 100km south of Mweya peninsular with a landscape of mixed woodland and open savannah; despite the area being well known for tree-climbing lions, the Ishasha sector offers a range of birds species to birders who visit this park. Species include some of; the Shoebill stork, African White-backed Vulture, Palm-nut vulture, Hooded vulture, African white-backed vulture, Ruppell’s griffon vulture, Lappet-faced vulture, Brown snake eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Bateleur striped Kingfisher, Broad-billed roller, Double-toothed Barbet, White-headed barbet, Greater honeyguide, White-browed robin-chat, Brown-backed scrub-robin, Gis parey-backed fiscal, Yellow-billed oxpecker.
- Lake Kikorongo this lake is an extension of Lake George on the eastern side of the park, and it is home to a range of bird species which include; Common squacco heron, Saddle-billed stork, Shoebill stork, Sacred Ibis, Black crake, Yellow wagtail, lesser swamp warbler, white-winged warbler and the papyrus gonolek.
- Katunguru Bridge connects Kasese district to Rubirizi, and beneath the bridge, there is a papyrus swamp that hosts the Pink-backed Pelican, white-winged tern, pied kingfisher, lesser swamp warbler, more fantastic swamp warbler, Carruthers, Cisticola and the Papyrus gonolek.
- Katwe area forms the highest elevation of the park and lies close to the Mweya peninsular. The site has a crater lake where traditional salt mining is practised and the neighbouring Lake Munyanyange, a bird sanctuary for native and migratory birds. Namely, Greater flamingos, lesser flamingos, Montagu’s harrier, Eurasian mash harrier, Montagu’s harrier, Pallid Harrier, Avocet, Common greenshank, Curlew sandpiper, little stint, Southern red bishop.
Late May to September is the best time for birding in queen Elizabeth due to the high chances of viewing migratory bird species. However, the park is open throughout the year for birders.
Birding In Lake Mburo National Park
Lake Mburo is the smallest savannah grassland park in Uganda, with 370 square kilometres in western Uganda between the towns of Lyantonde-Mbarara. The park has an impressive wildlife diversity of 69 mammals and over 350 bird species which are both native and migratory.
Despite the small size of the park, it offers a unique birding experience due to a huge number of bird species. Like; the forest birds, savannah birds and the water birds regularly storm the park, the distinctive birding spots in the Park include; the roadsides between Rwonyo camp and Jetty, swampy valleys of Warukiri and Miriti. Around Lake Mburo park, there are also strategically-situated viewing platforms at the salt lick in Miriti Valley and Rubanga Forest.
Notable species within these spots include; the rare Red-faced Barbet which can only be observed in lake Mburo, Grey Crowned Crane Brown Parrot, Rufous-bellied Heron, Grey Crowned Crane, Black-bellied Bustard, Brown-chested Lapwing, Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, Nubian Woodpecker, Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, Long-tailed Cisticola, Yellow-breasted Apalis, White-winged Tit, Finfoot, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Green Wood-hoopoe, Common Scimitar bill, White-headed Barbet, Red-faced Barbet, Red-headed Lovebird, Ross’s Turaco and many others.
Birding in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
The Bwindi national park is famously known as an impenetrable forest that protects about half of the mountain gorilla population. Its a the world’s best place to see and track habituated mountain gorillas in their natural setting.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park lies at the edge of the western arm of the rift valley in southwestern Uganda, covering 321 square kilometres. However, the same area is also exceptionally rich with birdlife. Therefore; birders who make it to Bwindi get a superb experience due to the high chances of viewing over 357 birds with 23 which are Albertine Rift endemics such as African green broadbill, blue-headed sunbird, Shelley’s crimson wing and the short-tailed warbler.
Other species to spot in the area include Red-headed Bluebill, White-tailed Blue Flycatchers, African Blue, African Emerald Cuckoo, Kivu ground-thrush, black bee-eater and Common Bulbul. Therefore bird lovers shouldn’t miss out on a chance to spot some of these species and many more.
For excellent birding, you should trek along the main trail, Buhoma waterfall trail, Bamboo zone and along the Mubwindi swamp trail in Ruhinja.
Birding In Mgahinga National Park
Mgahinga National Park sits high in the clouds covering Ugandan slopes of the three Virunga Volcanos at an altitude between 2,227m and 4,127m, namely: Muhavura, Gahinga and Sabinyo, located at the extreme south-western corner of Uganda which bordering Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda with an area of 33.7 sq. km.
Most of the Mgahinga National Park is covered by forest vegetation which is a perfect home to over half of the world’s mountain gorillas as well as 115 bird species, including the rare Albertine rift endemics and other forest birds; keen birders can spot them at Sabinyo gorge, the saddle between mount gahinga and Sabinyo and at Ntebeko on a boundary trail.
Species that you can spot in these places include Rwenzori turaco, Dusky turtle dove, Cape Robin-chat, Kivu-ground Thrush, Olive Thrush, Brown-crowned tchagra, Bronze Sunbird, Regal Sunbird, Blue-headed Sunbird, Rwenzori Batis, Black-headed Waxbill, Streaky Seedeater, Chubb’s Cisticola, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Banded Prinia, Doherty’s Bush-shrike and many more.
Birding On Rwenzori Mountains National Park
The park protects the highest parts of Rwenzori mountains, which covers a length of 120km, and its width is 65km lying along the Uganda- Congo border in western Uganda. The park hosts over 217 bird species, with 19 Albertine rift endemics protected by the montane vegetation. Therefore, this montane forest provides an excellent opportunity for birders to spot the bearded vultures, swifts, and black eagles on the higher and lower slopes. One can look out for the Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori batis, Rwenzori double collared sunbird, handsome francolin, strange weaver, archer’s robin-chat and the red-throated Alethe.
Birding in Mountain Elgon National Park
Mountain Elgon national park sits on the higher slopes of an extinct Elgon volcano at the Uganda-Kenya border in the East, covering a volcanic base of 4000 square kilometres, which is considered to be the most extensive base in the world and its highest peak Wagagai (4321m) lying within Uganda and with a 40 square kilometres caldera. This park covers an area of 1,121 square kilometres, boasting over 300 bird species, including 40 restricted-range species, 56 of the 87 Afrotropical highland biome species live here, and the endangered lammergeyer.
For superb birding opportunities exist around Kapkwai Forest Exploration Centre, specifically in the secondary forest and thick shrub along the loop trails extended to cover Cheptui Falls. Notable species include the African Goshawk; Chubb’s Cisticola, African Blue Flycatcher, Mackinnon’s Fiscal, Dohertys and Luhders Bush-shrikes, Cinnamon Bee Eater, Mustached Tinkerbird, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Tacazze Sunbird, Olive and Bronze-naped pigeons, Chinspot Batis, Black Kite and Black-collared Apalis, White-chinned Prinia, Baglafecht Weaver.
Birding in Kidepo Valley National Park,
Kidepo is one of Africa’s finest wildernesses, which lies in the semi-arid valley northeast of Uganda’s border to South Sudan and Kenya. Grasslands dominate the park in the open plains, woodlands on the plateau, palm forests along the shores of kidepo valley and montane vegetation in the highlands, which hosts over 475 bird species. This distinctive bird list includes over 100 country’s residents of northern Uganda and Kenya, including those endemic in the region.
Rare species noted are; the rose-ringed parakeets, Clapperton’s Francolin and the Karamoja Apalis. Other species include the Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Abyssinian Roller, Purple Heron. Other common species are Vinaceous dove, Nubian woodpecker, Black-breasted Barbet, Mosque swallow, superb starlings, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Red-cheeked cordon-bleu, Ostrich, secretary bird kori bustard and red-throated bee-eaters, among others.
For birders who make it to kidepo, Apoka Rest Camp is a great spot to begin your birding experience. Other birding spots are the fringes of the Narus and Namamukweny Valleys.
Birding on Lake Bunyonyi
The word “Bunyonyi” is interpreted as little birds; therefore, lake Bunyonyi means a place of “little birds”. It is the deepest lake in Uganda and the second deepest in Africa, with its deepest end at an approximate depth of 900m lying in southwestern Uganda between Kisoro and Kabale close to the borders of Rwanda at an estimated distance of 475km from Kampala, the Capital city.
Several Islands surrounds the lake, and the most popular is Akampene Island (Punishment Island). Because of its history, around the 1940’s girls who got pregnant before marriage was sent to this Island and starved to death, thus resulting in the name punishment Island. Other Islands include Bushara, Kahugye, Bwama, Nyugeera, Bacuranuka etc. All the above islands are home to over 250 bird species. Therefore, they are worthy of being visited since they create different memorable experiences.
These little birds fly and splash over the Bunyonyi waters in harmony while others are paddling on the surface. Therefore, it’s birders comfort as they get chances to view pied wagtail, Grey-crowned crane, Weavers, slender-billed, herons, white-tailed blue manarda, Egrets, African harrier hawk, levillant cuckoo and the cardinal woodpecker, to mention but a few.
Uganda is a fantastic destination and undoubtedly a birders’ haven!
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