There’s great joy in the simple and rewarding hobby of bird watching. Birdwatchers travel far and wide to feast their eyes (and their camera lenses) on the magnificence of the feathered creatures. There are numerous excellent birding hotspots across the world, but few come close to Uganda, a place of diverse landscape, vibrant wildlife, and an abundance of rare bird species.
Home to more than 1,000 bird species, Uganda is Africa’s birding paradise, where trying to identify different types of the avian creatures is as tricky as it is fun and rewarding. The landlocked East African nation harbours about 50 percent of all birds in Africa, and 10 percent of the world’s total avian population. The country is home to one well-known species called the Fox’s Weaver, and numerous other species endemic to the Albertine Rift, the western side of the East African Rift, covering parts of Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burundi.
Birdlife in Uganda can be found in many parts of the country, across a variety of habitats such as forests, lakes, swamps and agricultural lands. Some migrate from the shores of Lake Victoria and settle in the capital, Kampala, where you may spot more than 300 species in just one day. However, the best place to watch these feathered friends is Semuliki National Park, where there is an extraordinary diversity of birdlife. This is where you will find over 441 different species, accounting for 40% of Uganda’s total bird population.
The number and variety of rare birds at Semuliki National Park is impressive. There are about 46 Guinea-Congo biome species which you will not find anywhere else in Africa. Some of the birds you can expect to see include: the Blue-Headed Sunbird, Strange Weaver, Dusky Crimsonwing, Ruwenzori Nightjar, Yellow-Eyed Black Flycatcher, Red-Throated Alethe, and African Green Broadbill. There is also an abundance of the White-Crested Hornbill, Yellow-Throated Nicator, Blue-Billed Malimbe, Red-Rumped Tinker Bird, Orange-Cheeked Waxbill, Maxwell’s Black Weaver, and many other fascinating flying friends. At Semuliki, you can combine your bird watching with any number of easy or challenging forest hikes for a more rewarding experience.
Another excellent birding site is the Mabira Forest Reserve, a 306 square-kilometre rainforest in the central part of the country, home to over 300 types of birds. You will revel in the sighting of the likes of the Turaco, Cassin’s Hawk-Eagle, Grey Parrot, White-Spotted Flufftail, Dusky Long-Tailed Cuckoo, and the Nahan’s Francolin, which has been placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of endangered species.
In western Uganda, there is the Kibale National Park and Bigodi Wetland, two other rich bird watching destinations. The former harbours approximately 350 bird species, while the latter is home to 138 types of birds that can easily be seen on any of the guided tours. The unique and colourful birds of Kibale National Park can best be spotted on the guided forest walks offered by the park’s experienced and friendly staff. Apart from birding, you can also enjoy spectacular sightings of chimpanzees. The park boasts the highest number of ape species in East Africa.
Uganda has long been touted among the best bird watching sites in the world. As birding expert and author, Nigel Wheatley, writes in Where to Watch Birds in Africa, “In terms of its size, Uganda is the richest country for birds in Africa; and this immense volume and diversity occurs miraculously in a space which keen birders can cover in a relatively short visit.”
Some of the country’s other great birding spots include: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Mabamba Bay Wetland at Lake Victoria, Murchison Falls National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park, and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
So, next time you yearn for a rare aesthetic treat or need to take your bird watching game to the next level, or if you simply want to develop a new hobby – pack your bags and head to Uganda’s lush green forests of unrivalled beauty.