Birding in Uganda, Birdwatching Safari Holidays and Tours
Birding in Uganda
More than 2,000 species of birds are recorded to migrate and have nests in Uganda. Uganda has a diverse bird habitat that ranges from lakes, papyrus swamps, forests and savannah.
Bwindi Forest National park besides the mountain gorillas is home to over 300 species of birds with just 24 of the 26 Albertine rift endemic birds such as the short tailed warbler, Rwenzori Turaco, kivu ground thrush, rustic faced woodland warbler, bar tailed trogon and the dusky crimson wing among many others.
Lake Mburo and Lake Bunyonyi (translated in local dialect to mean the lake of many birds) are a distinguished bird habitat in Uganda. More than 500 species live on the fringing papyrus swamp on shore of Uganda’s lakes. Popular papyrus endemic birds include the crowned crested crane (national bird), the rare shoe bill stork from Murchison falls park, marabou stork, king fisher, fish eagles, pelicans, bee-eater, sun bird and Nubian woodpecker to mention a few.
A day’s bird watching safari in any swamp or park in Uganda is worth 200 different species of birds-you won’t find a trip as good in any other country in Africa.
Lake Victoria; ranked the world’s largest fresh water lake, Lake Victoria defines Uganda’s excellent weather and landscape on the border of Tanzania and Kenya to the south. The lake is found in south central Uganda and doubles as the source of River Nile, the longest river in the world. The shores of this lake are covered in dense papyrus and riparian forest that provide a habitat for some of Uganda’s best wildlife.
East Africa ranks high among the best birding zones in Africa. One place you can not miss to catch up with is Uganda. This small East African nation relies in the equatorial belt of Africa which is known for its diversity in bird habitats that range from dense rainforests, swampy valleys, lakes, rivers to high rising mountains. According to Nature Uganda-an organization that works hand in hand with Uganda Wildlife Authority, there are more than 1,016 species of bird in Uganda alone of which more than 40% are notably endemic to the region.
An average of 600 birds has been recorded in Uganda’s National parks, wetlands and in different birding zones all over the country.
Many of the birds recorded in southern and western parts of Uganda are migrants from the tropical rain forests in DR Congo while dry weather endemic fly in from Kenya and other parts of eastern Africa escaping the harsh conditions of semi-desert in Kenya and neighboring Somalia.
Birding sites in Uganda
There are many birding site all over the country side and more interesting one located in the very remote areas of Uganda. This makes it an important time to note a few things before setting off for Bird watching adventures in Uganda. Some birding sites have signs off the road while many do not. Safety and caution is very important no matter the place you go.
Mabira Forest reserve
Mabira Forest is one of the biggest forest reserves in the country and doubles as an important ecology site not only for bird watching but also for its diversity in flora and fauna. The entire reserve stretches more than 30600ha on the shore of Lake Victoria –located only 54km from Kampala on the Kampala-Jinja Highway( 25min drive) and 20km from Jinja.
This diverse eco-region is home to more than 10 species of primates, 200 butterflies and notably more than 2809 different birds nest in the lush trees. The birding habitat in Mabira covers the woodland forests, long savannah grasses, papyrus swamps the stretch on the immediate lake shores and different water logged areas.
Regular sights in the forest canopy are spotted breasted barbets, kingfishers, paradise flycatchers, tambourine dove, grey headed negrofinch, forest robin, speckled tinkerbirds, fire crested Alethe, chest nut wattle eye, violet backed starling, European honey buzzard, red headed Malimbe, white spotted flufftail, yellow crested wood pecker, tit hylia and red tailed ant thrush among many others.
Some of the unique bird species endemic to Mabira forest reserve include Toro Olive greenbul, Weyn’s Weaver, grey and Yellow longbill, caupin babbler, purple throated cuckoo-shrike, green tailed bill, forest wood hoopoe, and the African pied hornbill among others.
Places to Stay; There are eco-friendly lodges for accommodation within the forest, an educational centre, camping site and picnic site. Some of the best places to stay is Mabira Eco-Lodge. This lodge offers luxury accommodation and has well maintained walking trails the can lead you to different parts of the forest.
Mabamba Bay is an extensive wetland and papyrus swamp on the shores of Lake Victoria covering an area of close to 16500ha. This narrow but long bay is known for the elusive shoebill stork and other papyrus endemics such as the papyrus gonolek, blue swallow , pallied harrier and the white winged warbler to mention a few.. It occupies an area of 16500 ha in central Uganda district of Mpigi.
A canoe ride over the channel is the best way to explore the 230 species of birds that nest in this area. Some of the notable sights include the African purple swamp hen, common moorhen, goliath heron, Malachite kingfishers, black headed cuckoo, lesser jacan, African pygmy goose, hammerkop, pied kingfishers, fan tailed widowbird, osprey, African pied wagtail, cisticola, rufus bellied heron, squacco, blue breasted bee eater, black heron, grey headed gull, whiskered terns and many other birds
Kibale National Park
Kibale Forest National Park although known for the chimpanzees and other primates, it is home to several species of birds too. The habitat in this chimpanzee tracking site is woodland, large swamps and waterlogged forest that extend as far as Budongo Eco-tourism site.
Some of the notable species seen on the chimpanzee tracking trail include the Bar-tailed Trogon and Fine-banded woodpecker, White-bellied Crested Flycatcher and Red-faced Crimson-wing and many others. Tourists often prefer to end their safari or primates trail in Kibaale with special bird trail of the Budongo Birding Area.
Budongo Eco-tourism Site
Budongo is largely composed of forest woodland and savannah grassland that cover an estimated area of 750 sqkm. This forest reserve is drained by river namely Sonso, Waisoke and Wake although several water streams cross through the woodlands.
The forest reserve is an important birding Area with focus on special bird nests in Kaniyo-Pabidi and Busingiro Eco-tourism sites. Besides the birding areas, chimpanzee tracking is also another adventure in Budongo central forest reserve currently run by the Jane Goodal Institute. Another excellent birding area here is the 2km Royal Mile with more than 115km of well maintained birding trails.
Some of the birds found in Budogo forest include yellow footed fly catcher, chocolate backed kingfisher, sabine’s spine tail, paradise flycatcher, spotted fluff tail, Ituri Batis, pygmy crakes, cassins spine tail, Cameroon somber, yellow fronted barbet, brown twin spot, forest robin, yellow crested woodpecker, hawk eagle and little green sunbird to mention a few
Lutembe bay is a wetland swamp on the shores of Lake Victoria located off the Kampala-Entebbe Highway. The bay is a shallow papyrus swamp dotted with forest woodland thus creating an extensive birding habitat. The swamp is a designated Ramsar site attracting thousands of birds during the rainy season that stretches from March to May and later during the months of September and October.
Some of the common species include white egrets, open billed stork, yellow throated long claw, rufous naped larks, black headed cuckoo, papyrus gonolek, white browed scrub robin, greater cormorant, slender billed gull, Papyrus yellow warbler, white winged terns, dives, woodland tree pipits, spur winged lapwing, hammerkops and many other birds recorded to be make a total of nearly150 bird species.
Also located on the shores of Lake Victoria along Entebbe road, Zika forest is yet another exciting birding site in Uganda. The forest is filled with lush trees and thick savannah undergrowth making it a good habitat for more than 105 different species of birds recorded here.
The forest reserve is managed by Uganda Virus Institute of research with cooperation and funds from Netherlands Committee for International Union for Conservation of Nature. It majorly serves as an educational site as well as a research centre for scientists.
Entebbe Botanical Gardens
The botanical gardens are on the beach shore of Lake Victoria covering 40ha of tropical tree species, shrubs and plants. The gardens boast more than 390 different tree species-110 exotic and 122 as medicinal herbs.
Popular bird sights in the gardens are bat hawk, African grey parrot, Palm Nut vulture, hornbill, sand pipers, yellow backed weavers, great cormorants, Madagscar bee eater, sunbird, Entebbe weaver, long tailed cormorants, great Turaco, green crombec, white spotted flufftail and the common green shank among many others.
Bird Watching Safaris in Uganda
Bwindi National Park
Bwindi Park is known for many tourist attractions among which are the celebrated mountain gorillas and gorilla trekking adventures and more than 347 species of birds. The forest has 10 of the 26 globally threatened species in Uganda, five of which are vulnerable. Most notable of the endangered birds in Bwindi are 24 of the 25 Albertine Rift endemic species.
Some of the birds in this forest park include Francolin, Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird , Cinnamon-chested bee-eater, Chapin's Flycatcher western Green Tinkerbird, Rwenzori Turaco, ,Mountain and yellow-streaked Greenbuls, Mountain marked and chestnut-throated Apalises, Shelley's Crimson-wing red-faced woodland Warbler, Golden-winged Sunbird,,Rwenzori batis, African Green Broadbill white-tailed crested Flycatcher, Stuhlmann's Double-collared Olive-back and many more.
The best time to go birding here is during the early mornings before the mid-morning sun rises
Kidepo National Park
Kidepo Valley Park although located in the much drier northern part of Uganda has some pretty interesting sights for bird watchers. Some of the birds recorded in this park are not found in any other part of Uganda as many are dry weather endemics.
Lesser Kestrel and the pallied harrier are endangered species found in Kidepo valley while other sights include birds as Black-breasted Barbet, Grey Wren Warbler, Karamoja Apalis, Golden Pipit, Taita Fiscal, Rufous Chatterer and Rock thrush.
Moroto Forest Reserve and the neighboring are home to 23 of Uganda's 32 Somali-Masai biome species, 16 Sudan and Guinea Savanna, and 4 Guinea Congo forest Biome species while 21 Afro-tropical highland species are recorded mainly around the highlands of Lonyili, Morungole, Zulia and Lomej.
Lake Mburo National Park
Like many Uganda National Parks and Reserves, Lake Mburo is an important birding area in the country. The lake and the swampy shores attracts thousands of birds especially during the rainy season and for the early morning. One of the best places to catch the chirping birds is Rwonyo camp located near the park headquarters.
Common birds in the park include Crested Francolin, Emerald spotted wood Dove, Trilling Cisticola Brown Parrot, Spot-flanked Barbet, Barefaced Go-away –bird, African Grey Hornbill, Rufous-chested Swallow, Blue-napped Mousebird, Northern Black Tit, Lilac-breasted Roller, Green Wood-hoopoe, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Greater Blue-eared starling common scimitarbill, African Fin foot, Nubian Woodpecker, Yellow-Breasted Apalis, Red-necked Spur fowl, Chin-spot Batis, Marico sunbird, Brown-chested Plover and Verreaux's Eagle-Owl. The woodland in the immediate vicinity of Rwonyo also supports many of these widespread species.
Interesting species of the night include the African Scops Owl; and Fiery-necked, White-tailed and Pennant-winged Nightjars. Other birds in the park include African Darter, Water Thicknee, Hamerkop, African Water Rail, Spur-winged Plover, Giant, Pied and Malachite kingfishers, and Yellow-throated Leaflove the latter in dense, waterside thickets.
Murchison Falls National Park
This vast park is good for safari game drives and a boat ride to the spectacular Murchison waterfalls. A birding trip in the park is a great way to discover the best of this unique wildlife habitat.
The park’s savannah and swamp river shores are home to more than 40% of Uganda’s avifauna. The park is home to 14 Sudan-Guinea specie, 12 Lake Victoria species, 11 of 44 Guinea-Congo forest species and three of 32 Somali-Masai Biome species. Six globally threatened species have also been recorded here three of which are palaearctic migrants.
The Shoebill stork is a rare species but can only be found in Murchison Falls National park much easily than in other areas around Uganda. Other rare sights include Lesser Flamingo, Great Snipe and African Skimmers often found on the sandy banks of the river
Semliki National Park
Going without say is the diversity of avifauna in Semliki Forest and the areas around Semliki river the marks a border with DR Congo. This conservation area attracts nearly all Guinea-Congo biome species making it one of the richest for forest bird areas in the country.
More than 131 of the 144 Guinea -Congo forest Biome species of which 40 are recorded from Semliki national park. The conservation area attracts birds from the neighboring Rwenzori mountain ranges. Some of the notable species here include White-tailed/Piping Hornbill, Orange weaver, Capuchin Babbler, Black-wattled Hornbill Blue-headed, Crested flycatcher, the Red-billed Malimbe, Papyrus Gonolek, Long-tailed Hawk, and Caruthers's Cisticola Congo Serpent Eagle, Nkulengu Rail, and Lyre-tailed Honey guide.
Other birding sites
Other interesting bird watching sites in Uganda include the National Parks, Lake Bunyonyi (named after thousands of visiting birds) , Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC Entebbe Zoo), Lake Victoria Islands and many other forest reserves around Uganda.
Tips for Birding Adventurers
Often, the roads leading to many not one of Uganda’s bird nests are not in good condition and some are practically inaccessible. For this reason you’ll need to hire a 4WD just like it is the norm for all Safaris in Uganda. There several tour and travel agents with attractive packages for car hire and safaris. You probably want some of the best Travel Agents and tour companies in Uganda and compare rates before making your choice.
Camping and overnight accommodation is available for only a few areas located a few kilometers from major cities and towns. Some sites have designated camp sites although you’ll need to carry bedding and other camping supplies such as food, drinking water, utensils and most importantly a flashlight.
Get appropriate clothing for walking safaris and nature walks. Normally, khaki and cotton fabrics are preferred with a pair of good comfortable walking shores. Trousers are must for both men and women as you do not want to end your trips nursing wounds and itches from the rubbing with long grass.
Other important items to carry on bird watching trips include a pair of binoculars, sunscreen, sunglasses, a sun hat and high lens camera to capture all the beautiful moments.
Not to forget…all birding watching trips are not the same without a tour guide. It is very important to hire one for any safari. Local guides are the best people to get to take you around the best birding watching spots in the remote areas. Remember to give them a small token of appreciation…tip.