« I fell in love with Rwanda the moment I saw those verdant, rolling hills rise up beneath the wings of the plane as we descended toward Kigali airport », said Naomi Benaron. Most of the time when people think of Rwanda, its gorilla trekking in Rwanda and the horror stories of the July 15th 1994 Rwanda genocide that comes often comes in their mind. But did you know that Rwanda is one of the best places in Africa for bird watching?
Well, Rwanda’s beautiful tropical rain forests, savannas and lakes and swamps are home to more than 703 species of which 29 of them are Albertine Rift Endemics. Birding in Rwanda has always been overshadowed by its neighbors like and activities like birding in Uganda and Tanzania and also partly because of gorillas and chimpanzee tourism that are given much more hype than birding in Rwanda.
Whereas most birdwatchers usually prefer to focus on Nyungwe Forest National Park, we find that Bird watching can be pretty much done everywhere from Kigali city to the savannas of Akagera to the famous Volcanoes National Park therefore it doesn’t really matter that much where you go, Birds in Rwanda are pretty much everywhere. We have put together our favorite places for bird-watching in Rwanda in this article.
A nature walk in Nyungwe forest National park for example one can see many beautiful birds because over 322 bird species have been recorded in this lovely park, additionally, this park has 13 primate species, and chimpanzee trekking in Rwanda is only done here. The advantage that Rwanda has over its neighbors is that its much smaller with a well-developed infrastructure for tourism like roads leading to the National parks.
Whereas bird watching in Uganda is more popular and a must-do, it is harder to reach some of its popular birding sites Pian Upe Nature reserve, and Kidepo Valley National Park among others. It requires a serious 4×4 one must be ready for long bumpy rides on bad roads which is not the case in Rwanda. There are other reasons why one would choose to go birding in Rwanda.
Rwanda has a visa on arrival unlike her neighbors like Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya which require tourists to go through the hustle of obtaining a tourist visa before arriving. Furthermore, as of January 2023, Rwanda doesn’t require yellow fever and COVID19 vaccinations meaning that you have the freedom to come in and out hustle-free.
So, when is the best time to go birding in Rwanda? The best time for birding in Rwanda is during the dry months of December to January. This is because thousands of migratory birds tend to arrive in the region to escape the cold winters in Europe and generally the dry season is great for tropical birding.
A total of 703 bird species has been recorded in Rwanda as of November 2018 but the listhas also grownn since 2010 which even includes several species that are endemic to Lake Victoria basin. As I mentioned earlier, birding in Rwanda can be done in many different places and without wasting much time, here are some of our favorite places to go when it comes to bird watching in Rwanda.
One of the oldest rainforests in Africa, Nyungwe is rich in biodiversity and spectacularly beautiful. The mountainous region is teaming with wildlife, including a small population of chimpanzees as well as 12 other species of primate, including the L’Hoest’s monkey endemic to the Albertine Rift. Nyungwe forest is one of the oldest rainforests in Africa and boosts a rich biodiversity. This park is classified and tropical montane rainforest and its home to 322 bird species with the must see red collared Babbler.
Some of other birds that you can see here includes the Rwenzori Night jar, Rwenzori Turaco, purple breasted sun bird, Rwenzori Turaco, Handsome Francolin, Grauer’s Warbler, Neumann’s Warbler and be on the lookout for the rare Kungwe Apalis, Kivu Ground Thrush. All this is possible in Nyungwe Forest National Park thanks to the well-maintained network tracks and our eagle-eyed birding guides.
Expert Tip: Don’t miss out the 6 km Kimiranzovu trail that leads to Kimiranzovu Swamp during your visit here because we have spotted a number bird species here including the rare Kungwe Apalis
Volcanoes National Park is not only one of the few places to encounter the endangered mountain gorillas in the mist, The park also provides great potential for birding tours in Rwanda that are often overshadowed by activities like gorilla and golden monkey trekking.
Most visitors here will not pay much attention to birds here but the fact is these heavily vegetated volcanoes are home to 200 bird species and among these are 17 Albertine Rift Endemics like the Scarlet-Tufted Sunbird at very high altitudes in the Afroalpine Rwenzori-Virunga montane moorlands and East African montane moorlands, though also found at lower altitudes.
Some of the bird species in Volcanoes National Park include Black and white manikin, Rwenzori batis, Cinnamon bracken warbler, White-tailed blue-flycatcher Grauer’s rush warbler, White-tailed blue-flycatcher among others.
Akagera National Park is number 3 on our list of top birding sites in Rwanda, this is also the only savanna park in Rwanda and its home to the African big 5. Akagera is comprised of beautiful rolling hills that are very typical to Rwanda, wetlands, lakes like lake Ihema, woodlands and savannas.
During your game drive in Akagera National Park, you will definitely have a chance to see some of the 490 bird species that have been recorded here. To add cherry on top, go for that afternoon boat safari on Lake Ihema and you will easily build a good bird list.
Some of the birds to lookout for include African Starling is highly sought after by many visitors of Akagera, Grey-crowned Cranes, White-collared Oliveback, Northern Brown-throated Weaver, Papyrus Gonolek, and White-Winged Swamp Warbler, Carruthers’s Cisticola
It is good to come to Akagera for birding thought the year because each season offers something unique and for everyone. For example, the dry season of June to September is absolutely the best for wetland birds and francolins that usually prefer to stay on the ground while Night Jars and owls are easily seen during the same dry season
From September to November and March to April it’s a rainy season which is the favorite for the spur winged lapwings papyrus Gonolek among others. Migratory birds normally arrive from November to April.
Lake Kivu, one of Africa’s largest lakesn offers a chilled stop over during a Rwanda birding tour. On top of this, one can do other activities from chilling on the beaches, visiting some of Kivu’s lush islands to hiking and cycling around the Congo Trail. The choice is yours. The lake supports an array of White-breasted Cormorants, colorful Southern Red Bishop, African Pied Kingfisher, Yellow-fronted Canary, Sacred Ibis and Osprey can be observed especially during the migration season of October to April.
Here, the nearby fishermen village called Nkora by the lake is where you will meet local community drying and sale coffee, preparing their fish nets and it’s a great way to interact with the communities while enjoying tons of birds that frequent this area.
Nestled in the North Western part of Rwanda, Gishwati Mukura National Park was created after joining the Gishwati and Mukura forests forming a total of 34 square kilometres Park. Over 232 bird species have been recorded at Gishwati and 163 at Mukura, some of which are Albertine Rift Endemic species. Even before these forests became National parks, they were key areas for birding in Rwanda. Apart from birding tours here, visitors are greated by chimpanzees, alongside golden monkeys, L’Hoest’s and Blue Monkeys.
The list of birds to see here include the Martial Eagle, Purple-breasted Sunbirds, Red-throated Alethe, Regal Sunbirds, Ruwenzori Batis, Strange Weaver, Stripe-breasted Tit and Ruwenzori Turaco. The best time to visit here is during the dry season to avoid
According to the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), Its data shows that Rwanda is 935 wetlands that covers approximately 10.6% of Rwanda’s surface. Thanks to the efforts by the Rwanda government efforts in re-wilding Rwanda. Wetlands like Rugezi and Akanyaru for example were declared key Rwanda birding areas according to the Birdlife international.
Marshes like Rugezi are RAMSAR sites and are sanctuary to many bird species of which some are threatened. Birds have a safe haven here since these wetlands work as protection and they find plenty of food like frogs, insects and lungfish. The Rugezi Mashes are home to a big population of Grey-crowned Cranes, Grauer’s Swamp Warbler, Papyrus Canary and there have been sightings of of Papyrus Yellow Warbler in Rugezi marshes feeding.
In the South of Rugezi wetland is Lake Nyagafunzo with open water surrounded by swamps on an area of 80km. This lake offers a beautiful view of the far Mount Muhabura. The best way to do birding and enjoy to the fullest here is by using the small local wooden canoe boat. To some visitors here, their favorites included the great white pelican grey crowned crane, African spoonbill and herons.
This protected area is approximently 142 km2 and its nestled in the South East of Rwanda. The wetlands here are fed by Nyabarongo river waters that is also fed by the Nile. Some of the the birds here includes the Papyrus Canary, Carruthers’s Cisticola, White-winged Scrub-warbler, Papyrus Yellow Warbler, Sharpe’s Pied-babbler, White-collared Oliveback, Northern Brown-throated Weaver
Many visitors are surprised by Rwanda’s birding potential, as soon as you arrive at the airport, you will realize how many birds you will came across in the Kigali city. We believe this is partly because of the Rwandan government efforts of greening the city of Kigali. Visitors with limited time in Kigali will have a chance to spot a number of birds like the black headed herons.
If you wish to go birding here, Lake Nyarutarama is one of the spots that you should not miss. The well-maintained paths will lead you to a whole new world of birds and you will have a chance to see white faced whistling duck, grey capped warbler, spur winged geese, southern black flycatchers, red chested cuckoos etc.
Everyone has their own ways of getting ready for a birding trip in Rwanda, and most people know what to pack pretty well. But when getting ready for a Rwanda birding trip, especially if it’s a new destination for you, there are a few questions that often come up.
Over the years during which I’ve planned and led birding trips in Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and Dr Congo, I’ve learnt what to bring by paying attention to the needs of my clients. Although most of these seem obvious, I’ll list them here if someone needs a reminder. The general principle is that you should bring along certain necessities that may be difficult to find in local shops. It’s also possible that we’ll be in wilderness places distant from civilization during our birding trips in East Africa.
You shouldn’t waste your time in Rwanda and Uganda looking for obscure items like batteries, chargers, or, God forbid, a special medication. Remember to perform a thorough hotel room check before leaving your room. Before I leave a hotel room, I always double-check the bathroom, peek under the bed, and examine the electrical outlets. Just by taking one last look at the room, I could locate a few things I would have otherwise forgotten.
Binoculars: Even though binoculars seem like a simple thing to bring along, people sometimes forget to bring them. If you haven’t already bought a pair, I recommend getting binoculars with a magnification of 7×42 or 8×42 for the terrain we’ll be traversing. You probably already have a favourite pair or two you can easily slip into. Birds in Africa tend to be very shy and will fly away the moment you try to sneak on them.
A good birding Book: We recommend buying a good Rwanda birding book, our favourite is called the birds of East Africa by Terry Stevenson. This will help you to identify some of the birds you will see during your Rwanda birding tour
What to wear: Naturally breathable fabrics, as opposed to synthetics, are your best chance in the sticky tropics. Wearing anything that can’t be easily wrung out when hiking through the rainforest is a surefire way to get a bad case of the huffs and puffs.
If you plan on exploring the rainforest, it’s a good idea to wear colours that fit in with the environment. Birds and other wildlife may feel threatened or disturbed by anything painted in bright colours (such as pink, yellow, red, or orange). If feasible, you should stick to neutral tones like beige, brown, smoky green, and grey.
According to recent studies, birds’ colour vision differs from humans. Their perception of colour may be more heightened than ours. Perhaps it’s not appropriate to wear bright colours in the forest, where the browns and greens blend in to make you feel safer.
You will not often need rubber boots on our treks, but you will want a strong grip, so a good pair of hiking shoes is essential. On days with little walking or moving, sneakers are the footwear of choice.
A shield from the sun is important when birding in open areas, so a hat and sunglasses are necessary. If you’re planning on swimming, you should bring your swimsuit as some resorts have pools.
Bug repellent: Bugs and other insect life thrive in Africa and serve as the main source of food as insects are supplemented by fruits. These insects can be pretty annoying for humans and a good bug repellent is recommended for those coming coming for Birding in Rwanda
Bird watching in Rwanda is joyful because it’s a hobby that has no strict rules. Spending time doing it on your own is possible, but it’s much more fun to go birdwatching in Rwanda with friends or professionals. Even if you were alone on a walk to find birds, chances are that you will run into other bird lovers and nature enthusiasts. Unfortunately, if one person in the group misbehaves, they will ruin everything for everyone. So don’t be that someone. Here are some of the etiquettes that will turn you into a polite bird watcher on your Rwanda birding tour
Ensure that your phone is on vibration mode or even on plane mode and try to make conversations in low voice. Do not scream if you see something interesting. Being lound will not only disturb other bird watchers trying to listen to songs and calls to aid them identify a particular bird but also it will scare away the birds. Remember that Birding in Rwanda is a chance for most people to take time off to enjoy a natural and peaceful environment away from the hustle and bustle. Don’t be that annoying human who spoil things for others because you couldn’t shut up for once.
Leave no trace and respect the bird’s environment:
Make sure that you only take photos and leave just foot prints. Do not leave rubbish in the bird sanctuaries and if you see litter on the ground, its better you collect it and go out with it for proper disposal. Mother earth and the birds will thank you
Keep the groups small:
Most of our Rwanda birding tours have a limit of 6 participants for several good reasons. The more people in the group, the more disruption to the birds, and that make it harder to see birds. Avoid bringing very young children on the bird-watching tour in Rwanda because they may lack attention and the patience to keep up with the activities
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