Uganda- Top Africa Birding Destination

With thousands of bird species, Uganda stands out as Africa’s best and most thrilling birding destination. Being a landlocked country, Uganda falls at the confluence of a number of regional centres of endemism (phytochoria) or biomes, each characterized with distinct African sought-after avifauna species. Its supreme biodiversity lies in its range of habitats which don’t only attract birds but also with the glamour of large mammals in immense wilderness. Despite of its small size the country boasts of more than 1010 species of birds distributed in its wide range of habitats. Uganda’s rich birdlife exists in the Guinea-Congo Forests with 144 species of birds restricted to it, Lake Victoria Basin with 12 species, Afro tropical Highlands with 87 species, Somali-Masai with 32 species and Sudan and Guinea savanna with 22 species. Due to this diversity of physiognomic characteristics, Uganda ranks among the richest countries in bird species in Africa in relation to its size, with over 1010 species so far recorded.

Uganda is arguably the best destination for core birders and Ecotourist seekers given the various range of habitats where bird watching can be carried out. These habitats range from snow capped mountain tops in the west to semi-arid areas in the north-east; rain forests in the centre and west to open waters of the numerous lakes. This diversity of habitats explains the unique biological diversity which includes endemic and globally threatened species. The bulk of the country lies in tropical Africa with the equator crossing the southern part of the country. It is bounded by the western arm of the rift valley in the west through a range of highlands along the western border including the Rwenzori Mountains and the Virungas in the south-western corner which attract birds endemic to the Albertine rift.

In the south, Lake Victoria (the second largest freshwater in the world) covers a substantial part of Uganda. The fresh water mass has various fringing wetland habitats ranging from lowland forests and papyrus swamps to open mud-flats. Some of these areas form important bird habitats that include large water bird congregations.

Mount Elgon and associated mountains in the east of the country form a distinct area. Lake Kyoga and its surrounding flood plain occupy the centre of the country. It is covered mainly by papyrus swamps and is expected to contain many of the birds endemic to the Lake Victoria biome, probably with a large population of shoebills. However, this region is largely unknown ornithologically

Why go on a birding Safari in Uganda?

Uganda is a birding paradise since it has more than 1010 species. Of these there are 13 globally threatened species in the vulnerable and Data deficient categories, and there are 15 near threatened species (Birdlife International 2000)
Uganda’s varied habitats also attract various numbers of birds some of which are only found in Uganda alone. There are a number of West and Central African bird species which are only resident in Uganda in the whole of East Africa. The Albertine Rift Endemics (ARE) with a checklist of over 25 species is also resident in Bwindi Impenetrable Forests and the Mgahinga National Parks.
Uganda has also got the best sites for seeing rare bird species such as the shoebill stork

The key birding sites in Uganda

There are thousands of bird species in Uganda. Some of these are not only rare, but also endangered species. There are several key birding sites well distributed in the country. Birders therefore have a great opportunity to have a glance at Uganda’s beautiful birds hidden in tropical rain forests, savanna grasslands and woodlands as well as swamps and wetlands surrounding water bodies. These include;

Mabamba Swamp

Mabamba Swamp is an extensive marsh stretching through a long narrow bay, fringed with papyrus towards the main body of Lake Victoria. Miscanthus and Cyperus species dominate, but there is a narrow open water channel and a small Nymphea carulea. There are also areas of Cladium mariscus, and sometimes drifting papyrus swamp islands. Mabamba is an Important Bird Area, closest to Kampala where the much sought after shoe bills are regularly seen. This swamp, situated 50km west of Kampala City have got different globally threatened species: the Pallid Harrier.

The place has other bird species like the Spur-winged and pygmy Geese, herons, White-winged Warblers, Gull-billed Terns, White winged Black Terns and Whiskered Terns, Papyrus Gonolek, Yellow-backed Weaver, Northern Brown-throated Weaver and the Blue-headed Coucal among others.

Murchison Falls National Park

With 3,840km Sq. of land, Murchison falls national park is the largest national park in Uganda. Gazetted in 1952, the park boasts of an extensive avifauna with about 450 bird species. Due to its size and a range of habitats the park hosts eight globally threatened species of birds with the shoebill being the most important tourist attraction in the park. Its overall diversity is reflected in having 14 of the 22 Sudan and Guinea species, 7 of the 12 Lake Victoria species, 11 of 144 Guinea Congo Forest species, 6 of the 87 Afro tropical Highland species and 3 of 32 Somali-Masai biome species.

Some of the rare bird species here include the Secretary Bird, Abyssinian Roller, Ground Hornbill, Pied Kingfishers, Red Throated Bee eaters, Goliath Heron, Saddle-billed stork, Sacred Ibis, Fulvous Whistling duck, Black-headed and Long-toed Lapwing. Other interesting birds include, the Little Bittern, Osprey, Red-necked falcon, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Vinaceous Dove and Grosbeak Weaver.

Budongo Forest

Budongo Forest is the largest mahogany forest in Uganda. It is a home to over 350 species of birds. These birds include among others the African Dwarf Kingfisher, Crowned Eagle, Olive Cameroptera, Yellow and Grey Longbills, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher; Red tailed Thrush, Lesser-masked Weaver and Shikra. It also has the Fox’s Cisticola, Grey-headed Bush Shrike, Black-billed Barbet and the Grey-headed Oliveback.

Other interesting birds include Sabine’s spine tail, Cassin hawk eagle, Cassin’s spine tail (rare), Kingfishers (Chocolate backed, blue breasted, dwarf), Pygmy crakes, Ituri batis, , Brown twin spot, Cameroon somber, Crowned eagle, White spotted fluff tail, Yellow crested woodpecker, Forest robin, Little green sunbird, Grey headed sunbird, Pulvus illadopsis

Kibaale Forest National Park

Kibaale Forest also harbours the greatest variety and concentration of primates but also boasts of 339 bird species. Kibale forest has 81 species of the Guinea-Congo forest biome, 32 species of the Afro tropical Highland biome and shares some of the scarcer species with the highlands sites. These include the Bar-tailed trogon, Fine-branded Woodpecker, White-bellied Crested Flycatcher and red-faced Crimson-wing; each found in only two other Important Bird Areas. The park also has five of the 24 Albertine Rift Mountains restricted-range species in Uganda, and five of the 12 Ugandan species of the Lake Victoria biome.

Interesting birds to look for from the park include: the Grey-winged Robin, Blue-shouldered Robin Chat, Yellow-spotted Barbet, Black-billed Turaco, White-naped pigeon, Green-breasted Pitta, Red-chested Fluff tail, African Pitta, Joyful Greenbul and Cabanis Greenbul.

Semuliki Wildlife Reserve

Semliki national park also sometimes referred to as Bwamba forest, lies in the Albertine rift Valley, northwest of the Rwenzori Mountains. Semliki forest represents the only example of Congo-basin vegetation in Uganda. A large number of Guinea-Congo biome species reach their eastern limits here, which is one of the richest habitats for forest birds in the country. Not less than 131 of the 144 Guinea-Congo Forest biome species have been recorded in Semliki forest including 31 of the 70 species whose only Ugandan records are from Semliki. Other species with very limited ranges occur, such as White-tailed (Piping) Hornbill, Capuchin Babbler and Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher, known from Mabira Forest Reserve, the Orange Weaver, also common along the northern shores of Lake Victoria and Red-billed Malimbe.

Semuliki is also renowned for the Congo Serpent Eagle, Black-throated Coucal, Grey-throated Rail, Nkulengu Rail, Long-tailed Hawk, Spot-breasted Ibis, Capuchin Babbler, Yellow-throated Nicator, Northern Bearded Scrub Robin, Red-chested Owlet, Western Bronze-naped Pigeon, Black-collared Lovebird and the Quail-Finch. The reserve is on 568km Sq. of land astride Bundibugyo and Kabarole districts.

Queen Elizabeth National Park

This is Uganda’s second largest park with 1,978km Sq. of land. The park has got various habitats such as grassland, woodland, moist tropical forest and wetlands, including both fresh water and lakes and saline crater lakes. These habitats have attracted over 610 specie; the highest number of species recorded in nay Important Bird Area in Uganda and probably the highest biodiversity biome on the African continent. The park hosts 12 out of the 28 species of globally threatened birds in the country and there are records of three threatened species; Corncrake, Blue Swallow and Chapin’s Flycatcher. There are also 70 out of 144 species from Guinea-Congo Forest biome and nine out of 12 species from Lake Victoria Basin biome but only seven out of 87 species from Afro tropical Highlands biome.

Congregations of birds also occur in Queen Elizabeth National park and these include Great White Pelicans (maximum 1800 birds at Kasenyi crater), Gull-billed Terns (maximum 1200 on Kazinga Channel and 780 at Lake Munyanyange), African Skimmer (maximum 650 at Kazinga channel), Caspian Plovers Charadrius asiaticus on Lake George at Shoebill swamp. Munyanyange crater is an important site for a wide range of migrant waders including the highest national record for Avocets Recurvirostra avosetta (100) and significant numbers of Black-backed Gull and five species of ducks.

The common bird species in the park include the Martial Eagle, Black-rumped Buttonquail, African Skimmer, Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, White-tailed Lark, Papyrus Gonolek and Papyrus Canary.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi National park is not only a popular destination for gorilla trackers but also bird-watchers as well. Gazetted in 1991 the park hosts 346 species of birds. The park has 8 of the 28 globally threatened specie in Uganda, four of which are vulnerable or endangered. Bwindi Impenetrable National park has all 24 of the Albertine Rift endemic species in the country and some, such as African Green Broadbill, Chapin’s Flycatcher and Shelley’s Crimson-wing, have limited distributions elsewhere in their range. It also has one species restricted to the East Zaire Lowlands EBA. Bwindi has 75 of 144 Guinea-Congo forest biome species that occur in Uganda, recorded especially in the north sector. The site also qualifies for the Afro tropical Highlands biome with 68 of 87 species, and has three of the 12 Lake Victoria biome species.

Other interesting birds to look for from the park include the African Green Broadbill, Shelley’s Crimson wing, Black–faced Rufous, Warbler, Grauer’s Warbler, Banded Prinia, Black-faced Apalis, Mountain Masked Apalis and the Yellow-eyed Black-Flycatcher.

Mgahinga National park

Mgahinga gorilla national park is Uganda’s smallest but probably most scenic National park, situated at the extreme south-western corner. The vegetation of the park described as consisting of the bamboo forest zone, montane forest belt and top most alpine moorland vegetation has attracted over 115 bird species. Four globally threatened and 39 Afro tropical Highland biome species are known. Three of the threatened species, and others such as Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird, can be spotted in the park. A stroll along the Buffalo wall towards the Democratic Republic of Congo takes you through a wetland area where ibis, speckled mouse bird and fire flinch are found. Other scarce highland species include the Rwenzori Turaco, Red faced Woodland and Mountain Yellow Warblers, Mountain Masked Apalis, Northern Double-collared Sunbird and the Alpine Chat. The park has 14 of 24 Albertine Rift restricted range species. Other interesting species such as Handsome Francolin, Archer’s Robin Chat, Rwenzori Batis and Stripe-Breasted Tit are found in only a few other places.

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