Bird watching in Rwanda

Bird watching in Rwanda is what one would consider as the ultimate birding hot spot in Africa, home to over 700 species of birds and situated in the Albertine Rift Region – Rwanda offers incredible bird sightings across different locations. Rwanda is known as “the land of a thousand hills” dotted with rolling hills, stunning landscape, rivers, swamps, savanna game parks and rain forests, all this provides a safe habitat for birds in Rwanda. One might wonder what they would expect to see while on a birding trip in Rwanda, well expect to see a lot of savanna specials, woodland species, water birds, raptors, Intra-African migrants, Palearctic migrants and forest specials. Rwanda is a bird watcher’s paradise with the most sought after birds being 44 Albertine Rift endemic species of which 27 of these are found in Nyungwe Forest alone.

Rwanda has an array of habitats making bird watching here worthwhile especially for specialist birders and ornithologists. Birding in Rwanda starts right from your hotel in Kigali city you then continue birding in the city which has rich birding hot spots after which you head out to the national parks for more incredible bird watching opportunities. Birding trips in Rwanda can be short or long depending on one’s interest but of course the more time spent, the better the chances of seeing key species.

One might wonder when is the best time to go bird watching in Rwanda – all year round. Birding in Rwanda can be done at any time throughout the year however the period between December and February is the best time to bird in Rwanda as it is when Rwanda receives a lot of migrant species escaping the harsh winter conditions in Europe. Rwanda has wonderful birding trails that will be exhaustively explored with the help of your professional bird guide.

Top Bird watching Areas in Rwanda

Rwanda has top bird watching hot spots that we usually recommend for visitors interested in a birding trip in Rwanda, these areas offer worthwhile sightings and great opportunities to look out for Albertine Rift endemics. The top bird watching areas in Rwanda include;

Kigali City
The beauty about bird watching in Rwanda is that your birding experience starts right from the heart of Rwanda which is Kigali City. Kigali has a number of birding spots to explore where you can expect to see local birds, a birding excursion in Kigali is the perfect introduction to your Rwanda Birding Safari. Areas in Kigali that are great for bird watching include the Umusambi Village Nature Reserve which is the first wildlife reserve in Kigali and was established as a home for endangered Grey Crowned Cranes. The reserve covers an area of over 21 hectares, the restored wetland is a habitat for a number of bird species that can be spotted while on the clear trail network in the reserve. Birds to look out for in Umusambi Village include White-collared Oliveback, Purple-crested Turaco, Gray-caped Warbler, Black-headed weavers, Winding Cisticola, Super-winged Geese, Cattle Egrets, Grey Crowned Cranes, Lesser Honeyguide, Black-shouldered Nightjar, African Firefinch, Fun-tailed Widowbirds, Village weavers, Cardinal Woodpecker, Brown Parrot, Tambourine Dove, Spot-flanked Barbet among others.

The Nyabarongo wetlands is another key birding site in Kigali City situated south-east of the city, the site is covered with marshes and swamps and is a great place to see water birds and swamp specials. 50 species of birds have been recorded here as well as three species of the Afro tropical Highlands biome. Birds you can expect to see here include Little Egret, Cattle Egrets, Black-headed Heron, Malagasy Pond Heron, White-winged Warbler, African Openbill, Papyrus Gonolek, Yellow-billed Stork, African Jacana, Goliath Heron, Great Swamp Warbler, Black-headed Gonolek, African Marsh Harrier, Spur-winged geese, Long-toed Lapwing among others.

Akagera National Park
Located in north-eastern Rwanda, Akagera National Park is Rwanda’s finest savanna park well known for its incredible wildlife sightings and stunning landscape consisting of open grassland and undulating hills. Akagera is rich in bird life with over 750 species of birds including endemic species, papyrus endemics, low elevation species, savanna specials and raptors. The park is made up of open savanna grasslands, dense thickets, swamps, acacia trees and small lakes all which are great habitat for birds. Birds in Akagera National Park include Bare Faced Go-Away Bird, Yellow-billed Stork, Sacred Ibis, White-browed Coucal, Folk Tailed Drongo, Hadada Ibis, Ross’s Turaco, Augur Buzzard, Long Crested Eagle, Grey-backed Fiscal, Village Weavers, Red-eyed Dove, European Bee-eater, Hidebrandt’s Francolin, Red-knecked Francolin, Crested Barbet, Hooded Vulltures, Bateleur Eagle, White-backed Vultures, Long-tailed Cisticola, Meyer’s Parrot, Red-faced barbet among others.

Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe Forest National Park is a bird watcher’s paradise with forest specials, Albertine Rift Endemics and mid elevation species. Over 300 species of birds have been recorded in Nyungwe Forest and what makes Nyungwe a top birding hotspot in Rwanda is that 27 Albertine Rift Endemics are found here. Key ornithologists and bird enthusiasts from across the world have visited Nyungwe Forest National Park in search of the endemic species, the thick forest has good birding trails that are best exhausted with the professional site guides.

Birds in Nyungwe Forest national park include Abyssinian Thrush, Great Blue Turaco, Rwenzori Turaco, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Black-faced Apalis, Yellow-whispered Greenbul, Equatorial Akalat, Mountain Oriole, Red-throated Alethe, Doherty’s Bushshrike, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Banded Prinia, Rwenzori Double-collared Sunbird, White-headed wood hoopoe, Red-faced woodland Warbler, Rwenzori Batis, Regal Sunbird, Shelley’s Crimson wing, Grey-cheeked Hornbill, Dusky Crimsonwing, Rockfeller’s Sunbird, Ruwenzori Nightjar, Mountain Masked Apalis, Albertine Owlet, Handsome Francolin, Neumann’s Warbler, Stripe-breasted Tit, Kungwe Apalis and Strange weaver among others. In addition to birds Nyungwe is home to 85 species of mammals, 32 amphibians and 38 reptile species, on a lucky day you might come across the wildlife along the different forest birding trails. Wildlife in Nyungwe Forest include Yellow-backed duiker, Weyns’s duiker, Bushbucks, Bush pigs, Golden cats, Side-strapped jackal, Carnival genet, Serval cat, Wild cat, Black-fronted duiker, Congo clawless Otter, Mongoose, Giant forest hog, Palm civet Squirrels and Western tree hyrax. It’s important to note that some of these animals are rarely seen as some of the wildlife is nocturnal and Nyungwe forest being a large rain forest, wildlife here moves around quite a lot in search of food.

Volcanoes National Park
Located in North-west Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park is a great birding destination as it boasts of over 180 species of birds 17 of which are Albertine Rift endemics. The park is famously known for the mountain gorillas and golden monkeys but is also rich in avifauna, most visitors use the opportunity to combine birding and gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park. The park protects part of the Virunga ranges that are shared by three countries and on a clear day you can see the mountain peaks from the Kinigi park headquarters.

Birds to look out for include Rwenzori Turaco, Collared Apalis, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Archer’s Ground Robin, Handsome Francolin, Dusky Crimson Wing, Strange weavers, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Kivu Ground Thrush, African Green Broadbill, Lagden’s Bushshrike, Rwenzori Hill babbler, Rwenzori double collared Sunbird, Masked Mountain Apalis, Rwenzori Batis, Scarlet-chested Sunbirds. White-tailed Blue-Flycatchers, Red-billed Fire-finches, Cinnamon-breasted Bee-eaters, White-browed Robin-chat, Spotted Eagle-owl, Spot-flanked barbets, Double-toothed barbet, Gabar Goshawk, European Honey-buzzard and Grey woodpeckers among others.

Other Birding Areas in Rwanda

In addition to the above birding hot spots, Rwanda has more to offer when it comes to birding. These include;

Rugezi Swamp
Located in the north of Rwanda, Rugezi Marsh is home to the Grauer’s Swamp Warbler an Albertine Rift Endemic that is highly sought after by specialist birders. The swamp in addition offers sightings of other water birds and papyrus dwellers, 43 species of birds have been recorded at the swamp and its surroundings. Birds to look out for include Papyrus Gonolek, Grey-crowned Cranes, Thick-billed seed-eater, African Stonechat, African Sacred Ibis, Papyrus Yellow Warbler, Long-toed Lapwing, Fantailed Widowbird, Bronze Sunbird, Cape Wagtail, Rufous-bellied Heron, Winding Cisticola, Little Rush Warbler, Lesser Jacana, Malachite Kingfisher, Little Grebe, Papyrus Canary, Variable Sunbird, Yellow Bishop, Black Headed Waxbill,, White-faced Whistling Duck among others. Rugezi Swamp is a protected Ramsar Wetland Site and an Important Bird Area (IBA). Birding Rugezi Swamp is usually combined with birding in Volcanoes National Park.

Salama Wetland
Salama Wetland is situated north of Rwanda as well and is a small wetland that can offer a bit of bird sightings. It is a few kilometres away from Musanze town so is a perfect stop for some birding as one is heading to Rugezi Swamp. Birds to look out for here include the Hamerkop, Long-toed Lapwing, Yellow-billed Duck, Common Sandpiper, Grey Heron, African Openbill, Hadada Ibis.

Nyarutarama Lake
The lake is situated within Kigali City convenient enough for a quick birding excursion if you are short on time, Lake Nyarutarama is located near the Kigali Golf Course and is perfect for bird watching as it offers opportunity to see water birds as your bird around the lake. Birds to look out for here include Grey-capped Warbler, Hadada Ibis, Red-billed Teal, Spur-winged Geese, African Spoonbill, Black Crake, Cattle Egret, Yellow-billed duck, Black-headed Heron, Black-kite, Swamp Flycatcher, Little Grebe, Winding Cisticola, African Hobby, African Fish Eagle, Pygymy Kingfisher, White-browed Coucal, African Hobby, White-faced Whistling-Duck etc.

Nyandungu Eco-Park
The Eco-tourism park was recently opened by the Rwandan Government in 2022 and offers amazing opportunities for bird watching as it is a restored wetland site with 10km of walking and cycling paths. Nyadungu Eco-Park is located on the eastern side of Kigali and 226 species of birds have been recorded at this site. Birds that you can expect to see while birding here include Spot-flanked Barbet, Black-necked weaver, Buff-bellied Warbler, Narina Trogon, Red-faced Crombec, White-collared Oliveback, Black Crake, Little Bittern, Malachite Kingfisher, Black Cuckoo-shrike among others. The park is situated close to the city as it is just a 30 minutes’ drive from Kigali, this makes it perfect for a day trip or a perfect stop at the beginning of a long birding safari. The park has an onsite restaurant and café where one can have meals and spend the rest of the day bird watching.

Which of the above are Important Bird Areas (IBAs)
1. Nyungwe Forest National Park
2. Rugezi Marsh
3. Volcanoes National Park
4. Akagera National Park
5. Nyabarongo Wetlands

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