Birding in Uganda is one of the top activities that are carried out. The country has numerous bird species and has a record of half of the continent’s bird species. There are over 1000 recorded bird species in the country and these are found in different parts of the country. The country has migratory birds that fly in during the wet season, endemic birds, Albertine rift valley endemic birds and near-endemic birds. Some of the top birding destinations include Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Semuliki National Park, Mabamba Bay, Murchison falls National Park and Lake Mburo National Park among others.
Uganda has a high population of bird species because of its closeness to the Equator which brings about the two seasons that the country experiences, that is the dry and wet seasons. The two seasons attract different bird species which can easily be seen from the comfort of your room. Uganda also has a wide range of habitats that are conducive to bird breeding and these include the lakes, Rivers, swamps and wetlands, savannah grasslands and woodlands, tropical rainforests and the Albertine Rift Valley.
The endemic Albertine Rift species in Uganda include the Rwenzori Turaco, collared Apalis, Fox’s weaver, short-tailed warbler, Handsome Francolin, blue-headed sunbird, African Green Broadbill, Rwenzori Nightjar, Red-throated Alethe, Red-faced woodland warbler, Regal sunbird, Archer’s Robin-chat, Rwenzori Batis, Dwarf Honeyguide, Mountain Masked Apalis, yellow-eyed Black flycatcher, Chapin’s flycatcher, Regal sunbird, strange weaver, Shelley’s crimson-wing, strange weaver, Kivu Ground Thrush, stripe-breasted Tit, Dusky crimson wing, purple-breasted sunbird, and Grauer’s warbler.
The top bird species in Uganda that you should look out for while on a birding safari in Uganda include the Short-tailed Warbler, the Green-breasted Pitta, Doherty’s Bushshrike, African green Broadbill, Standard-winged Nightjar, The Bar-tailed Trogon, The Black-breasted Barbet, Shoebill and Shelley’s crimson-wing among others. A few of the top birds that are found in Uganda have been explained in detail below but note that these are not the only birds in the country.
African green Broadbill: also known as the Grauer’s Greenbul, is an endangered species that mainly live in tropical forests. It has a small bill, light green colour on its feathers and a blue throat.
Standard-winged Nightjar: these are mainly seen during the evening hours since they are always sleeping or hidden during the daytime. They can be seen flying in the skies when the sun is setting and their feathers can reach 38cm long when they are stretched.
The Northern Carmine bee-eater: this can be found in the Northern part of Murchison falls National Park and is quite common and note that it is a red and blue bird.
Doherty’s Bushrike: they have a red and green throat and head and are some of the hardest to see although they can easily be heard. They are multi-coloured with a black tail and a light yellow/ lime green middle area.
Malachite Kingfisher: this is a blue-winged bird with an orange chest and can be seen perching on the trees or twigs near the Riverside. It is almost similar to the pygmy kingfisher and can be found in many of the birding spots in Uganda.
Short-tailed Warbler: this is also known as the Neumann’s warbler and has a short tail. It is green and dull white around the eyes and it also has a patch of hair above each of the grey eyes.
Shoebill: best seen in marsh areas, it can be found in Murchison falls National Park and is one of the hardest birds to spot in the country. It has a blue-grey colour to its feathers and a whale head with a big bill.
Birding can be done in different parts of the country but the top birding destinations in the country include the following:
QUEEN ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK
Queen Elizabeth National park is the most visited National Park in the country and has the highest number of registered bird species in the county with over 600 registered bird species. The bird species in QENP can be seen as you enjoy nature walks and game drives through the National Park. The most common bird species that you should look out for include Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, slender-tailed Nightjars, Martial Eagle, Black-headed Gonolek, Swamp Flycatcher, Malachite Kingfishers, Sedge Warbler, Pied Kingfishers, collared Prancticole, Gabon-tailed Nightjars and African skimmer among others. Birding in QENP is done in the different parts of the National Park and these are:
Ishasha sector: best known for the climbing lions, it is also a good birding spot and the birds found here include the African shoebill, African wattled plover, Grey Kestrel, Cisticola, African crowned eagle and the African green pigeon among others.
Lake Kikorongo and Mweya peninsular: common bird species found in these sectors include the sacred Ibis, saddle billed stork, African Jacana, Knob billed duck, little bee-eater, Nubian woodpecker, Swift’s swallows, grey-headed kingfisher and the swamp Night-jar among others.
Katuguru: this is also located in Queen Elizabeth National Park and the bird species that you should look out for here include the Malachite kingfisher, pied kingfisher, great winged warbler, papyrus gonolek, lesser swamp swabler and the white-winged warbler among others.
Kasenyi: birds in Kasenyi include hooded vultures, little bee-eater, croaking Cisticola, palm-but culture, white-tailed lark, brown-backed robin and the black-bellied bustard among others.
Maramagambo forest: bird species found in the forest include the blue-shouldered Robin, African emerald cuckoo, brown Illadopsis and Red-throated Wryneck among others.
MABAMBA WETLAND BAY
The Mamba wetland Bay is located right at the edge of Lake Victoria and is one of the few places where the shoebill can be seen in Uganda. Canoe rides carried out along the wetland will give you a clear view of the bird species that are found around the wetland and these are the African open-billed stork, Malachite Kingfisher, Black-headed Heron, Papyrus Gonolek, Swamp Flycatcher, Shoebill stork, African Marsh Harrier and the pied Kingfisher among others.
MURCHISON FALLS NATIONAL PARK
Murchison Falls National Park is home to about 400 bird species and these can best be seen while enjoying a boat ride below the falls, nature walks through the Park and Game drives. Bird species in Murchison Falls National Park include the Rock Prancticole, white-faced whistling Duck, swampy flycatcher, Red-throated Bee-eater, black-billed barbet, Squacco Heron, Grey Plantain eater, African Jacana, Malachite Kingfisher, African Quail Finch, Northern Red Bishop, Ground hornbill, Goliath Heron, Blue-headed and the shoebill being the main attraction for birders.
Budongo forest: the forest is found in Murchison falls National Park and has 250 recorded bird species which can be seen by taking a guided nature walk through the forest. You will get to see the Rufous-crowned Elemomela, Blue-throated Roller, spotted Greenbul, Fire-crested Alethe, white-thighed Hornbill, blue-breasted kingfisher and not forgetting the chimpanzees and other primates like the black and white Colobus monkeys.
BWINDI IMPENETRABLE NATIONAL PARK
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is found in the south-western part of Uganda and is best known for gorilla trekking. It is however home to about 350 bird species with about 24 Albertine endemic species, about 68 highland birds (Afro-topical) and 4 Victoria Biomes. Bwindi is a typical jungle and the only way you get to see the different species is by walking through the different trails within the National Park and the main ones are the waterfall trail which is found in Buhoma, the Bamboo zone and the trail in Ruhija known as the Mubwindi swamp. Bird species in Bwindi include Archer’s Robin-chat, Fine-banded woodpecker, western green Tinkerbird, African wood owl, Red-throated Alethe, Handsome Francolin, African Green Broadbill, collared Apalis, Chapin’s flycatcher, Black-billed Turaco and the white-bellied Robin among others.
SEMULIKI NATIONAL PARK
Semuliki National park is home to over 400 bird species with 9 different species of the Hornbill. Bird species around Semuliki include the Great blue Ross’s Turaco, red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, yellow-throated Nicator, Xavier’s Greenbul, and Piping Hornbill, western Bronze-naped pigeon, Yellow-throated cuckoo, Maxwell’s Black-weaver, Nkulengu rail, Dwarf Honeyguide and the Purple-breasted sunbird among others. The best birding spots in Semuliki National Park are River Kirumia, Ntandi and Sempaya area.
MGAHINGA NATIONAL PARK
Mgahinga National Park is also best known for gorilla trekking but it also has about 180 registered bird species. The birds can be seen while taking guided nature walks through the National Park with species like the savannah forest birds, water birds and Albertine Rift endemic birds. Some of the bird species found in Mgahinga include the Greater Double-collared sunbird, Rwenzori Batis, cape Robin, white-starred Robin, Archer’s Robin-chat, white-faced whistling duck, Rock Prancticole, Martial Eagle, Hugli’s Francolin and the cinnamon Bracken warbler among others.
The National Park has different birding spots where tourists can be able to see the birds more clearly while in their habitat and these are the Warukiri forest, camp Rwonyo, Miriti near the salt lick and the Rubanga forest. Common bird species here include the common Scimitar bill, Rufous-bellied Heron, red-faced Barbet, Bateleur and the Green wood-hoopoe among others.
Also located along the Lake Victoria basin, Lutembe Bay is a birding spot with about 200 recorded bird species with 26 migratory birds. While at Lutembe Bay look out for the Holub’s golden weaver, Tropical Boubou, white-winged Black Tern, sooty chat, African pygmy Kingfisher and the lead-colored flycatcher.
RWENZORI MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
Rwenzori Mountain National Park is home to Albertine Rift valley bird species and has about 217 recorded bird species. Bird species here include the Bearded vultures, Long-eared owl, blue-headed sunbird, slender-billed starling, cinnamon-chested bee-eater, white-starred Robin and the Rwenzori Turaco among others.
KIBALE NATIONAL PARK
Kibale National Park is best known for having the largest number of chimpanzees in the country and is a top destination for tourists. It is home to about 350 different bird species and this is because of the dense vegetation that is found in the National Park which acts as habitats for the birds like the Red-chested owlet, little Greenbul, Black bee-eater, Grey-throated flycatcher, white-naped pigeons, purple-breasted sunbird, blue-breasted kingfisher, crowned eagle, yellow-billed barbet, papyrus canary, white-winged warbler, white-collared olive back and the dusky-blue flycatcher among others.
The Bigodi wetland sanctuary which is found within the Kibaale National park is home to the white-spotted flufftail, speckled breasted woodpecker, Bocage’s Bushrike and the snowy crowned robin-chat among others.
What to bring on your birding safari to Uganda
Choosing Uganda s your birding destination is the best choice because of the many birding spots that are found in the different parts of the country. And to have a good birding trip, you will need to have all the essentials with you without actually over packing. Below are some of the things that you should bring on this trip so that you can have a wonderful birding experience while in Uganda.
Neutral clothes: birding is just like any other activity carried out in Uganda and the right clothing will be needed for a memorable experience. The clothes should be neutral in colour because brightly colored clothes attract wildlife and yet you need to be able to fit in so that you can comfortably view the birds, pack long-sleeved shirts and long pants to avoid scratches on your body from the trees and bushes, a light rain jacket for when the weather changes, a pair of thick socks where pants can be tucked into and a wide-brimmed hat for sun protection. As you look for neutral-colored clothes, avoid camouflage because they are linked to the army in Uganda.
Guide books: guide books are extremely important for birders and should be on your packing list. The books are sold in a few stores and a few can be found in safari vehicles for tourists to use. The books have almost all the bird species that are found in Uganda and can help you in identifying the bird species that you are looking at since they have both the picture and descriptions of the different bird species. If you are buying a guidebook, try out the Birds of Africa, South of the Sahara among others.
Waterproof hiking boots: although birding can be done o game drives, you will at one point need to move out of the Safari vehicle so that you get better pictures and clear views of the bird species. The guided nature walks might either be short or long and that is why you need good, strong and waterproof hiking boots to keep your feet warm and blister-free after the walk since birding is mostly done during the rainy season with muddy and flooded trail routes.
Spotting scope and binoculars: both equipment helps you to see the different bird species that are always far away from you and those that blend in well with the wilderness. Uganda has all kinds of birds from the smallest to the largest and good binoculars with good magnifying lenses and telescopes will help you see all the bird species in your preferred destination. And as you carry your equipment, make sure that you have a waterproof bag to carry them and we also advise that you an extra pair of binoculars in case the first one gets damaged.
First aid kit: even when you are in good health before you set off for your birding safari while in Uganda, we still advise that you carry a first aid kit because everything is possible in Africa. The first aid kit should have all the necessities like Band-Aids, spirit, antiseptic cream, prescription drugs, pain killers, cotton, and sunscreen, tablets for diarrhoea, rehydration powder and iodine. These will help because you will not have access to clinics or good hospitals while doing birding so make sure that the first aid kit is the first thing in your safari vehicle.
Bottled water and snacks: carry lots of bottled water and snacks because the activity might take long and you do not want to get hungry while enjoying the great views of the different bird species in the country. Other essentials include travel insurance, toiletries and your travel documents.
A camera: this is an important aspect for birders because it helps capture and keep your memories intact. You do not need to be a professional photographer to take photos but all you need is a good camera that comes with an extra memory card, batteries and other camera accessories. Make sure that the camera you have carried is not so heavy and with a good lens. Sony, Nikon and Canon cameras are good and user-friendly for both professional and non-professional photographers.