Birding in Uganda

Birding in Uganda puts any birdwatching enthusiast in the center of an inordinate number of bird species, making Uganda a fabulous destination for keen bird-watchers and wildlife enthusiasts. Not only because of the unusually high number of species recorded within Uganda’s borders, but also because it offers easy access to several bird-rich habitats that are difficult to reach elsewhere.

Uganda’s remarkable avian diversity — 1,008 species recorded in an area similar to that of Great Britain — can be attributed to its location at a transitional point between the east African savanna, the west African rainforest and the semi-desert of the north.

Indicative of Uganda’s transitional location is the fact that only two birds are endemic to the country, the somewhat nondescript Fox’s weaver and the Ruwenzori Bouble-collared Sunbird.

Fox's weaver - Birds of Uganda
Fox's Weaver Endemic to Uganda | © Karan Raghwa (Flickr.com)
Ruwenzori double-collared sunbird
Ruwenzori Double-Collared Sunbird also endemic to Uganda

However, if you take only east Africa into consideration, then roughly 150 birds of Uganda species (more than 10% of the regional checklist) are found only in Uganda. This list includes:

  • 7 of the 20 hornbill species recorded in the region,
  • 5 out of 14 honeyguides, seven out of 21 woodpeckers,
  • 11 out of 36 bulbuls and greenbuls,
  • 5 out of 20 bush shrikes,
  • 13 members of the thrush family,
  • 11 warblers,
  • 10 flycatchers,
  • 8 sunbirds,
  • 8 weavers,
  • 8 finches,
  • 4 tinkerbirds,
  • 4 pigeons or doves,
  • 3 kingfishers,
  • 3 sparrowhawks,
  • 3 cuckoos and
  • 3 nightjars.

Most of these ‘Uganda specials’ are west African and Congolese forest birds that would be very difficult to see elsewhere, for the simple reason that the other countries in which they occur are poorly developed for tourism.

Birding in Uganda's Rainforests in Kibale forest
Birding in Kibale Forest, Western Uganda

Birding in Uganda’s Rainforests

The rainforests of western Uganda must be seen as the country’s most important bird habitat, and the one that is of greatest interest to birdwatchers, particularly if they are already reasonably familiar with typical east African birds. The most alluring forest in terms of localized species is probably Semliki, closely rivaled by Budongo, Kibale and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

However, in practical terms, Kibale Forest is probably Uganda’s best single stop for forest birds, because of the proficiency of the guides who take tourists into the forest and the nearby Magombe Swamp—located in Bigodi wetland just opposite Kibale National Park in Fort portal district.

That said, just about any forest in Uganda will be rewarding; even the relatively tame botanical garden in Entebbe will throw up several interesting species.

Unfortunately, most forest birds are very secretive, and it can be difficult to get even a glimpse of them in the dense undergrowth, let alone a clear enough look to make a positive identification. You would probably identify more bird species in ten minutes walk in the suburbs of Entebbe than you would in an afternoon walking through the Semliki Forest.

For this reason, first-time Africa birding safari visitors might do better concentrating on locations other than forests — if you want to see a wide birds of Uganda range, try to visit Entebbe (water and forest birds), Lake Mburo (water- and acacia-associated birds), Queen Elizabeth (a wide variety of habitats; over 600 species recorded), Murchison Falls (a wide variety of habitats; the best place in east Africa to see the papyrus-associated shoebill) and Kidepo (northern semi-desert specials; over 50 raptors recorded).

Birding Experience in Uganda
Birders in Mabamba Swamps Entebbe | © C&P Pics
Birds of Uganda Shoebill Stork
Shoebill Stork in Mabamba Swamp in Entebbe

Birding Experience in Uganda

Uganda’s appeal as a birding destination has been enhanced in recent years by improving avian knowledge, and general guiding practices, on the part of guides. The best of these are capable of identifying most species by call, and even calling up the more responsive species. In the parks and reserves you’ll meet some ranger guides whose knowledge compares favorably with their counterparts in any part of Africa.

Birding capabilities do vary from one guide to the next, however, so specify your interest when you ask for a guide. To secure the services of a guide for a nationwide tour of birding hotspots, contact our numbers and we’ll find you an available knowledgeable guide to take you around Uganda.

Uganda Birding Guides

Birders in Uganda are also better informed than ever before with the publication of Stevenson and Fanshawe’s Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa in 2002 with latest second edition released in 2020. This superb book means that for the first time birders species were recorded in the country.

Harder to obtain, but worth searching for, is the access to accurate depictions, descriptions and distribution details for every which is more specific Where to Watch Birds in Uganda by Russouw and Sacchi contains excellent site descriptions. Few visitors to Uganda will depart totally unmoved by its avian wealth, but they will tend to arrive in the country with a wide variety of expectations.

The Birds of Uganda That Will Blow You Away

Abyssinian ground hornbill in Murchison Falls Uganda
Abyssinian ground hornbill in Murchison Falls Uganda
great blue turaco
The Great Blue Turaco Couple
lilac-breasted roller
Lilac-breasted Roller

Those European visitors for whom birdwatching ranks as a pursuit on a perversity level with stamp collecting might well revise that opinion when first confronted by a majestic fish eagle calling high from a riverine perch, or a flock of Abyssinian ground hornbills marching with comic intent through the savanna.

First-time African visitors with a stated interest birding in Uganda are more likely to be blown away by their first sighting of a lilac-breasted roller or Goliath heron than by most of the country’s long list of western forest specials.

Birdwatchers based in Africa’s savanna belt will generally want to focus more on forest birds, but mostly on such common and iconic species as great blue turaco or black-and-white casqued hornbill rather than on glimpsing a selection of more localized but duller forest greenbuls. The more experienced the individual birdwatcher in African conditions, the greater the priority they will place on the pursuit of Albertine Rift endemics and Semliki ‘specials’.

And at the extreme end of the scale there are those whose life’s mission is to tick every bird species in the world, in which case dedicating several days to seeking out the endemic Fox’s weaver might rank above all other considerations in planning a Ugandan safari itinerary.

At almost every level, the sheer variety of bird species in Uganda can be daunting, not only for first-timers to Africa, but also for bird enthusiasts familiar with other parts of the continent.

Experienced South African birdwatchers, for instance, are likely to struggle with identification of the plethora of small warblers, forest greenbuls, Ploceus weavers, sunbirds and raptors that occur in Uganda (and one might argue that entering into serious battle with these difficult groups is best left for a repeat visit).

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