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Birding in Rwanda – Birding Safaris and tours

Rwanda has one of the highest bird counts on the continent despite being one of the smallest countries in Africa, at 26.338KMS. Include the high number of birding”specials” to be seen, and the primate experiences as a bonus, and its no wonder that most pundits rank it within the top five destinations for those  seeking a rewarding birding experience.

Rwanda has at least 692 resident, visitors and occasional visiting bird species. An additional 5 locally extinct and another five are yet to be confirmed. This brings the total to a maximum of 702 species(Vande weghe,J.P&G. Vande weghe-2011 in press- Birds in Rwanda, RDB). And of these , there are atleast 12 birds known as Albertine Rift Endemics, a total higher than any country in Africa, other than DRC.

Landlocked and lying just south of the Equator, Rwanda has a diverse topography that  has been shaped by the dynamics of one of Africa’s primary geological features, the Great Rift Valley. Tumultuous subterranean forces have over the last 50 million years contorted, raptured and seared the crust, giving rise to a hugely impressive array of volcanoes, lakes, mountain ranges and forests that define the landscapes of today. Collectively, they makeup the narrower and shorter Western Branch of the rift valley, or because Lake Albert is its first discernable feature, The Albertine Rift or Albertine Eco-Region.

The Albertine Eco-Region

Compromising a chain of mountains  formed through upliftment and volcanic activity, the Albertine Eco-Region stretches across six countries and is regarded as the centre of the Afromontane habitat. It is also a belt of exceptional faunal and floral endemism: over 40 bird species, 34 mammals, 117 butterflies, 34 amphibians and 16 reptiles are to be found. It’s no wonder it’s the most celebrated destination of ecological importance.

Around Kigali

The Nyarutarama lake or “Lover’s Lake” bordering the Kigali Golf Course, is surrounded by a track which offers excellent nature walks and bird watching. This protected area covers 1460 kms  with two lakes- Lake Mirayi in the south and Lake Rumira in the north. The wetlands are fed by the Nyabarongo River, a tributary of the nile, which empties into the Akagera River which in turn, flows into Lake Victoria.


Species with restricted distribution , present in Rwanda
Common name Scientific name Endemism Status
Handsome Francolin Pternistis nobilis Albertine Rift Common
Ruwenzori Turaco Gallirex Johnstoni Albertine Rift Common
Ruwenzori Nightjar Caprimulgus ruwenzori Albertine Rift Common at dawn and dusk
Albertine Owlet Glaucidium albertinum Albertine Rift Very rare
Dwarf Honeyguide Indicator pumilio Albertine Rift Rare
Kivu Ground Thrush Geokichla tanganjicae Albertine Rift Rare unpredictable
Red-throated Alethe Pseudalethe poliophrys Albertine Rift Common
Archer’s Ground Robin Dessornis archeri Albertine Rift Common
Red- Collared Babbler Kuperornis rufocinctus Albertine Rift Common
Ruwenzori Apallis Oreolais ruwenzori Albertine Rift Common
Mountain Masked Apalis Apalis personata Albertine Rift Common
Grauer’s Swamp Warbler Bradypterus  graueri Albertine Rift Common, in high altitude marshes
Grauer’s Warbler Graueria vitaata Albertine Rift Common, hard to see
Neuman’s Warbler Hemitesia neumanni Albertine Rift Common, hard to see
Red-faced Woodland Warbler Seicercus  laetus Albertine Rift Common
Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher Melaenornis ardesiacus Albertine Rift Common
Ruwenzori Batis Batis diops Albertine Rift Common
Stripe-breasted Tit Parus fasciiventer Albertine Rift Common
Blue-headed Sunbird Cyanomitra alinae Albertine Rift Common
Ruwenzori Double-Collared Sunbird Cinnyris stuhlman Albertine Rift Common
Regal Sunbird Cinnyris regius Albertine Rift Common
Rockefeller’s Sunbird Cinnyris rockefelleri Albertine Rift Very rare
Purple-breasted Sunbird Nectarinia purpureiventris Albertine Rift Common
Strange Weaver Ploceus alienus Albertine Rift Common
Dusky Crimsonwing Crystospiza jacksoni Albertine Rift Common
Shelley’s Crimsonwing Cryptospiza shelleyi Lake Victoria Very rare
Congo Bay Owl Phodilus prigoginei Lake Victoria To be confirmed
Papyrus Gonolek Laniarius mufumbiri Lake Victoria Common, only in papyrus
Garruthers’s Cisticola Cisticola carruthersi Lake Victoria Common, only in papyrus
White-winged Swamp Warbler Bradypterus carpallis Lake Victoria Common, hard to see
Papyrus Yellow Warbler Calamonastides gracilirostris Lake Victoria Rare, localized
Red- chested Sunbird Cinnyris erythrocercus Lake Victoria Common
Papyrus Canary Dendrospiza koliensis Lake Victoria Common, around papyrus
Brown-throated Weaver Floceus castanops Lake Victoria Common
Red-faced Barbet Lybius rubrifacies Lake Victoria Common
White-Collared Oliveback Nesocharis ansorgei Lake Victoria Rare


Volcanoes National Park

To the west lies the Volcanoes National Park, which protects the Rwandan portion of the Virunga Mountains , a Transfrontier Conservation Area that includes protected areas in Uganda and the DRC. Forming a complex of mostly dormant volcanoes, it includes Rwanda’s highest point, Mount Karisimbi(4507m), and the two active ones, Mount Nyiragongo and Mount Nyamuragira. While more famous for its mountain gorillas and other primates, Volcanoes boasts almost 165 bird species, with 17 Endemic to the area.

Nyungwe National Park

The Nyugwe National Park is a tropical mountain rainforest and one of Rwanda’s main protected areas, lies on the south- western slopes of the highland region that forms the great divide between the Congo and Nile drainage systems. The park protects one of the region’s largest and oldest remaining patches of montane rainforest and is home to 310 species of birds.

Amongst them are the Regal Sunbird(Cinnyris regius), Red Collared Babbler(Kuperornis rufocinctus), Rwenzori Turaco (Gallirex Johnstoni), Handsome Spurfowl( Pternistis nobilis), Rwenzori Batis(Batis diops), Grauer’s Swamp –Warbler(Bradypterus graueri), Blue-headed Sunbird, Cyanomitra oritis), possibly the rarest of all endemic birds would be the Albertine Owlet (Glaucidium albertinium) known from only five records in the area.

The Akagera National Park

The Akagera National Park in the northeast still covers a sizeable chunk of savannah. A mix of rolling savannah. A mix of roliing grassland interspersed with broad-leafed  and acacia woodland, these lower lying lands are dissected by the Akagera River.

The sought after species here would be; Red faced Barbet(Lybius rubrifacies), Sousa’s Shrike ( Lanius souzae), White-Collared Oliveback ( Nesocharis ansorgei), amongst others. The park has a mosaic of wetlands and lakes, along the course of the Akagera River and the eastern boundary.

Amidst the papyrus and reed beds some of the prized species to be found are; Carruthers’s Cisticola( Cisticola carruthersi), Papyrus Canary( Serinus koliensis) and more.

Wetlands and Marshes

Rwanda’s wetlands and marshes, covering just over 10% of the country, include Rugezi, the fourth of the main protected  areas, as well as the other two locations, Akanyaru Wetlands and Nyabarongo Wetlands, that have been declared Important Birding Areas (IBA’s) by Birdlife International.

If there’s still timeon the schedule, the keenest of birders can still head to a number of forest reserves scattered around the country.

‘Any serious birding expedition should incorporate both the wetter forested and more mountainous western regions, the drier savannas of the east and the many wetland sand marshes” Ian Michler; Safari Operator, Specialist Guide and Photojournalist.

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