Africa

Birding in Uganda-See Shoebills and Gorillas in this remarkable country

Commonly referred to as the pearl of Africa, Uganda consists of a wide range of tourism resources because it is uniquely positioned allowing it to have major ecological zones that allow wildlife and endemic bird species to survive. The ecological zones are wetlands, rain forests, agricultural land, savannas, and lakes.

Map showing location of UgandaThough most tourists visit the country to experience the wildlife, there are other activities one can undertake while visiting Uganda. These activities include water rafting, boat rides, and zip lining in Victoria falls and Jinja, the source of the river Nile. You can also go craft shopping and experience the Ugandan culture. Some travellers visit Uganda for spiritual reasons; to view the Uganda Martyrs Shrine or the Gaddafi Mosque, the second biggest mosque in Africa.

Uganda makes up 50% and 11% of bird species in Africa and the world respectively since there are over 1,073 bird species recorded. The birds are found within a 241,038 square kilometers range making it the highest concentration of birds in one area thus allowing easy spotting of birds within a short time. Making it the most preferred destination for bird-watching enthusiasts. Tourism is one of Uganda’s main sources of employment and foreign exchange.

Top Birding Destinations

Uganda has several birding destinations and the best time to visit is between September and March since it is the breeding season and food is in abundance. The weather is clear allowing good sightings and photographic opportunities, unlike other months where it’s rainy, thus misty, and the terrain is slippery.

Migratory birds from Europe can be spotted from November to April.

The 3 top destinations are;

Mabamba Bay Wetland

Shoebill in the Mabamba Bay Wetland
Shoebill in the Mabamba Bay Wetland

Located on the edge of Lake Victoria, north-west of the Entebbe Peninsula, Mabamba Bay Wetland is a vast swamp made of water lilies, papyrus, and other wetland grasses. The wetland is identified as a Ramsar wetland of international importance and is listed among the 33 important Bird Areas (IBM) since its home to 300 bird species with some being protected species.

This wetland hosts the Shoebill, and the Papyrus Yellow-Warbler which are globally threatened species and are both listed on IUCN red list. The Shoebill is threatened because they were being killed when seen by fishermen since they were believed to be a bad omen and their eggs were also being sold in the black market.

The wetland is also home to approximately 38% of the world’s Blue Swallow population. Some of the other birds to look for are;

Yellow Warbler
Papyrus Gonolek
Double-toothed Barbet

Due to its proximity to Kampala and Entebbe, the wetland can be accessed by road and the birds can be spotted throughout the day by taking a canoe ride through the swamp. 

Other activities to be done while at Mabamba Bay Wetland are;

• Canoeing
• Fishing
• Spotting the Sitatunga
• Watching butterflies

Tacazze Sunbird
Tacazze Sunbird

Queen Elizabeth National Park

Though the park is mostly visited because of its famous tree-climbing lions and leopards, it has diverse mammal and bird species. Compared to other parks, it has the highest number of bird species since it has close to 600 species. The birds can be easily spotted through a game drive in the park or boat cruise along the Kazinga channel. There are several birding hotspots in the Queen Elizabeth National Park including:

• Kazinga Channel
• Katunguru Bridge Area
• Mweya Peninsula
• Katwe Area
• Ishahsha

Birds to spot in the Park include;

Collared Pratincole
Palm-nut Vulture
Black-Headed Gonolek
Grey-capped Warbler
Pel’s Fishing Owl

Red-throated Bee-eater
Red-throated Bee-eater

The park’s entrance fee is currently USD 40 and can be accessed by road or air. It is an 8-hour drive from Kampala, Uganda’s capital, and 1 hour away from the Entebbe International Airport. You can use either domestic operators or chartered flights.

Other activities to do in the park include;

• Game Drives
• Hiking
• Boat Cruises
• Nature Walks
• Chimpanzee Trekking

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

The park is a UNESCO world heritage since it has the largest population of Mountain Gorillas. The park is located in the south-west part of Uganda along the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is made up of tropical rainforest and has about 348 bird species with some that are endemic and others near-endemic. Bird-watching is done along the park’s main trail, the bamboo zone, Mubwindi swamp trail, and Buhoma waterfall trail.

Birds to spot in the park include;

Ruwenzori Nightjar
Mountain Masked Apalis
Ruwenzori Apalis
Neumann’s Warbler
Handsome Francolin

The park is accessed by both road and air. By road, it can be accessed through a 6-hour drive from Kampala to Mbarara town, or from the north of Queen Elizabeth National Park which is a 2-hour drive. By air, you can get to the park through domestic and chartered flights.

Other activities to do in the park include;

• Gorilla Trekking
• Mountain Biking
• Hiking
• Biking
• Gorilla Habituation
• Community Walks

General Information about travelling in Uganda

What to carry when going for bird-watching;

• Binoculars
• Camera
• Warm Clothing
• Insect Repellant
• Comfortable hiking boots
• Snacks, food, and Water

When visiting Uganda, it is important to consider several factors so as to make your visits memorable and hustle-free and here are some of the things you need to know.

• Get vaccinated for Covid 19, Malaria, and Yellow Fever.
• Have a tourist Visa that can be applied for online or upon arrival.
• You can make payments using credit cards, Great Britain Pounds, USD, or Euros but it is important to have Ugandan Shillings for small bills like food, and tips. You can find a forex shop at the airport or in major towns.
• Accommodation is readily available with hotels managed by local, and international brands like Radisson BluGolden Tulip, and Marriot.
• It is also important to note that Ugandans are conservative, thus dressing for women should be modest.

Conclusion

Though Uganda has several tourist attractions, birding is one of the major activities since the country is made up of diverse ecological zones. There are several birding destinations but Mabamba Bay Wetland, Queen Elizabeth National Park, and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park are the top bird-watching destinations in the country since they host several bird species which are endemic and near endemic.

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