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Birding in Uganda

by Martha Hales

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Ranking among Africa’s top bird watching destinations, Uganda is home to over 1,000 species of birds. One of the major draws for birders is the diversity of habitats on offer in this high, green country. There are several avian rich habitats in Uganda that are far more easily accessible than they are in other areas meaning some fascinating bird watching safaris are guaranteed. Uganda has the added bonus of a position at the confluence of the rainforests of Western Africa, the northern semi desert, and the savannah of the East. This attracts birds from all three zones which accounts for the high number of recorded species and the huge diversity among avian fauna.

Red throat bee eaters at their burrows, Uganda

It’s relatively easy to find interesting birds all over Uganda, and even an urban park will be rewarding to keen birders, but there are several hotspots which the true enthusiast will not want to miss - the western forests in particular are home to some of the most exciting west African species. Guided safaris into some of Uganda’s forests and wetlands are the best way to ensure you make the most of your time in the field, and luckily this is a destination which has embraced its reputation as a birding destination and many guides are true experts, enhancing your experience hugely.

Wading bird in Mabama Swamp, Uganda

Other wildlife in Uganda is impressive too, and it’s perfectly possible to combine birding safaris with more traditional safaris such as big game spotting in Murchison Falls or Queen Elizabeth national parks, where lion, giraffe, buffalo and elephant are all present. Tucked into the south west corner are the forests of Bwindi, where trekking to spend time in the presence of the impressive (and rare) mountain gorillas is a major attraction for many visitors to Uganda. Several other primate species are also present in Uganda, including chimpanzees and many species of monkey.

Golden Monkey Uganda

With the help of our local experts, we’ve put together this round up of some of Uganda’s finest birding destinations to inform and inspire you as you plan your trip.

Kibale Forest National Park

Over 300 species of birds have been recorded in this park, and due to the varied habitat zones there are many species who thrive around water as well as grassland birds and forest birds. Within the park, the Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary has been set up to protect the Magombe swamp where the excellent five kilometre trail is one of the best birding experiences in the country. Request a specialist birding guide and a morning tour, and you can expect to see dozens of species including west African birds at the eastern extremity of their range, as well as plenty of swamp and forest fringe dwellers.

Great Blue Turaco bird, Kibale Forest, Uganda

Look out for the casqued hornbill, papyrus gonolek, swamp flycatcher, great blue turaco, various species of barbets and the bronze sunbird. In the broader environs of the Kibale Forest National Park, the green breasted pitta is possibly the most eagerly sought species of bird present.

Green breasted pitta in Kibale National Park, Uganda

Mabamba swamp

Occupying a stretch of the northern shore of Lake Victoria, the Mabamba swamp is listed as a Ramsar important wetland site, and as such is a protected haven for water loving avian fauna. One of the major draws here is the presence of the ever intriguing shoebill stork which really does have a shoe shaped beak (the clue is in the name!) - a species many birders are keen to catch sight of.

Shoebill stork in Mabamba swamp, Uganda

The Mabamba swamp is one of the best places in Uganda to go in search of these prehistoric looking birds, with the added bonus that it is very easily accessible being just a few kilometres from Entebbe. Other notable species in this area include the blue breasted bee-eater, gull billed tern, African marsh harrier, swamp flycatcher, African jacana, lesser jacana, African open-billed stork, papyrus gonolek and the black-headed heron.

African Jacana in Mabamba Swamp, Uganda

Semuliki National Park

Right on the border with DRC in the southwest of Uganda, Semuliki should be near the top of any ornithologist’s list of destinations in Uganda. It’s an impressive location in the Albertine Rift Valley and the habitat is mostly tropical lowland forest which stretches west into the Ituri forest of Congo. There are more than 40 species of bird found here which do not appear in any other Ugandan location among a total of over 400 species of birds that live here.

Bird in Semuliki Wildlife Reserve

Open areas of grassland could bring you a sighting of several types of raptors as well as abyssinian ground hornbill, while nocturnal safaris should encounter owls and nightjars. Look out for Nkulengu rail, dwarf honeyguide, African piculet, black dwarf hornbill, piping hornbill, yellow-throated cuckoo, black weaver, great blue and Ross’s turaco, blue-billed malimbe, yellow-throated nicator and purple-breasted sunbird.

Vieillot's Black Weaver making nest in Uganda

Murchison Falls National Park

This national park and its surroundings has a wide range of attractions for keen birdwatchers. Take a boat safari on the Victoria Nile and when you have recovered from the drama of the mighty Nile crashing through a six metre gap at Murchison Falls, you can look out for waterbirds such as the prized shoebill.

Murchison Falls, Uganda

The Budongo forest reserve just south of the national park boundary is a highlight of this region for birdwatching. There are around 350 species present, and some of them, such as the yellow-footed flycatcher are not found elsewhere in Uganda. Other rare and interesting species to spot include the lemon-bellied crombec, Nahan’s francolin, chestnut-capped flycatcher, Ituri batis, black-collared lovebird, and pied, chocolate-backed and African dwarf kingfishers.

Pied kingfishers in Murchison Falls National Park

Lake Mburo National Park

A swathe of lakes, wetlands, swamps and grassland, this protected area is a great location for bird watching as it features plenty of different habitats and hence a good selection of water and acacia dwelling birds.

Yellow weaver bird on nest in Lake Mburo National Park, Uganda

There are more than 300 species in all, and birders are often found alongside the swamps, which offer particularly rich pickings such as the six papyrus endemics which call them home. Sightings of papyrus gonolek, papyrus yellow warbler and blue headed coucal are frequent, and there are plenty of other species to spot which are not widely seen elsewhere in Uganda, for instance black throated and black collared barbets. Bare faced go-away birds and mosque swallows are frequently spotted, but it’s harder to track down the rare African fish eagle, pied kingfishers, and the strange but much sought after shoebill.

African fish eagle in Lake Mburo National Park, Uganda

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Among the 350 or so recorded species of birds in Bwindi’s forests, there are 23 Albertine Rift endemics as well as 14 species which are limited within Uganda to this sole location. Bwindi’s forests are verdant, dense and bursting with birds, but the luxuriant vegetation means that sightings from paths within the forest are tricky. Better to head for the Ivo river trail or the Mungaya river walk where sightlines are better and you should be able to tick off several dozen species with a guide to help you. Species to keep your eyes peeled for might include the black headed waxbill, black bee-eater, Elliot’s woodpecker, blue-headed and regal sunbirds, black billed turaco, Fraser’s eagle, white tailed blue flycatcher, Shelley’s crimsonwing, and the white-bellied robin chat.

Lagden's Bush-shrike, Bwindi, Uganda

Make it happen

TravelLocal’s Uganda specialists are perfectly placed to put together a birdwatching itinerary designed around your priorities, so why not have a look at their sample birding itinerary to whet your appetite? All you need to do to begin to plan your trip to Uganda is send a few details to our local experts and they will come up with a bespoke itinerary based on your requirements. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.

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