Important Birding Areas in Rwanda
Rwanda, known as the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills,’ is a hidden gem for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. This small but incredibly diverse East African nation is home to a remarkable array of bird species, making it a captivating destination for ornithologists and wildlife lovers alike. In this guide, we unveil the most Important Birding Areas in Rwanda, each offering a unique and rewarding opportunity to witness the country’s avian treasures. Whether you’re an avid birder or a casual observer, Rwanda’s natural beauty and vibrant birdlife are sure to leave you spellbound.
Details about Important Birding Areas in Rwanda
The countries in East Africa are blessed with incredible opportunities for birding. In the case of Rwanda or even Uganda, birdwatching can start as soon as you come out of the airport or even in the large cities. Urban Birding in Kigali is suitable for those who have limited time to venture into the countryside or visit the major national parks.
You will be surprised by the birding opportunities while visiting Kigali. Birding in Kigali can start from the hotel gardens but perhaps visiting Lak Nyarutarama that borders the main golf course in Kigali would be a smarter choice. This lake has beautiful tracks and walkways that are excellent for spotting black headed herons, the grey capped warbler, white faced whistling duck and winged geese. The government of Rwanda has recently developed a large park as one leaves the city center which is becoming very popular among birders.
You can also visit the Nyabarongo wetland to spot little egrets, spur winged geese, squacco turaco and yellow billed stork. Mount Kigali is also an excellent spot for birding in Rwanda. Here you can see red chested cuckoos, African paradise and southern black flycatchers among many others.
Nyungwe National Park
Nyungwe National park is the largest and oldest montane forest in Africa. There are over 300 species of birds found on the forest. The Bigugu Mountain in the forest is one of the best spots for observing the birds as they feed on the tree canopies. One can also move out of the forest and go to the Gisakura tea estate which is a favorite of the birds. The Red-collared Babbler is arguably the most popular and attractive species in Nyungwe National Park.
Nyungwe forest also hosts the Albertine owlet, Blue-headed sunbird, Grauer’s Swamp Warbler, Grauer’s Warbler, Handsome Francolin, Handsome spur fowls, Neumann’s Warbler, Purple Breasted Sunbirds, Regal sunbird, Rwenzori Batis, Rwenzori Nightjar, Rwenzori Turaco and the Red collared babblers among others. The best way to explore this forest is by walking or biking through part of the Congo Nile trail which cuts through the forest or using one of the well-developed forest trails that lead to the different sections of the forest.
Another way of exploring the forest and spotting the birds is by going for a canopy walk. The canopy walkway in Nyungwe forest is 160 meters long and is built on top of the trees giving you an aerial view of the vast forest and its creatures. If you have enough time you can also visit the Kamiranzovu swamp
While birding in Nyungwe forest, you need to hire a birding Guide to move with you and help identify the birds and forest trails. A professional birding guide will help you identity species like the Archer’s Robin-Chat, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Black-headed Waxbill, Doherty’s Bush-shrike, Eastern Mountain Greenbul, Great Blue Turaco, Grey Cuckooshrike, Montane Oriole, Mountain Illadopsis, Mountain Sooty Boubou, Pink-footed Puff back, Red-chested Owlet, Regal Sunbird, Ruwenzori Batis, Ruwenzori Blue-headed Sunbird, Sharpe’s Starling, Slender-billed Starling, Striped-breasted Tit, Stuhlmann’s Double-collared Sunbird, Stuhlmann’s Starling, Thick-billed Seedeater, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, White-starred Robin and the Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher.
Nyungwe forest is very dense and viewing the birds can be difficult because most of them prefer to stay on the trees. Your experienced birder should be able to take you to the best spots of the forest where you can have clear views of the birds. Birdwatching in the forest will also expose you to other forest creatures and particularly the primates like Angola Colobus, Golden monkeys and the chimpanzees of Rwanda.
Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park is a collection of lakes, wetlands, rolling hills and savannah which combine to attract 310 species of birds. The park lies in the north eastern side of the country close to the border with Tanzania. The best birding sports are around Lake Ihema, its islands, marshes and wetlands. A boat ride on Lake Ihema is an effect way to spot the birds in the Park but birding trips on the savannah are organized early in the morning and evening. The morning sessions are arguably the most fun as there is a lot of bird activity.
The most common specie in the park is the Red-faced barbet but Akagera is also home to the endangered papyrus Ganolex. It is also important to note that Akagera national park is arguably the best place to spot the elusive Ring-necked Francolin in Africa. During your safari in Akagera National Park, expect to spot other interesting species like the Carruthers’s Cisticola, Grey-crowned Cranes, Northern Brown-throated Weaver, Papyrus Gonolek, White-collared Oliveback and White-Winged Swamp Warbler.
The African Starling is arguably the most beautiful bird in Akagera. They have amazing feathers which change color and glitter in the mid-day sun. Spotting this bird is one of the highlights of a birding safari in Akagera.
We shouldn’t forget to mention that the elusive Shoebill stork is resident here but spotting them requires time and patience. The best time for birding in Akagera is during the dry season (May to September). The southern sector of the park has more variety of butterflies and birds than the northern sector.
While in Akagera national park, expect to encounter the famous mammals like elephants, giraffes, hippos, lions and countless antelopes. Accommodation can be in tented camps or standard cottages depending on your preference and budget.
Volcanoes National Park
This park is more famous for gorilla trekking, golden monkeys and hiking one of the volcanoes like Karisimbi. However, this does not change the fact that it is one of the best places for birding in Rwanda. About 200 species can be found in the park. 27 of them can only be seen here while in Rwanda while 16 are endemic to the volcanoes in the Virunga ranges of mountains.
Among the species to look out for are the Archer’s ground robin, Cinnamon bracken warbler, Grauer’s rush warbler, Rwenzori batis, White-tailed blue-flycatcher, Black and white manikin. The Volcanoes national park is bordered by Mgahinga National Park in Uganda and the Virunga National Park in Congo ensuring that some of the species found in these two countries can be seen in Rwanda.
Gishwati-Mukura National Park
This is Rwanda’s newest national park and is found in the Northwestern part of Rwanda. Even before it became a national park, Gishwati was known as Rwanda’s prime spot for birding with 395 species on offer. Some of them include the Martial Eagle, Purple-breasted Sunbirds, Red-throated Alethe, Regal Sunbirds, Ruwenzori Batis, Ruwenzori Turaco, Strange Weaver, Stripe-breasted Tit and the Grey Crowned Crane. Most of the species are forest dwellers or those endemic to the Albertine Rift.
There are also those that migrate all the way from Congo for most parts of the year. While looking out for the birds, expect to encounter baboons, chimpanzees, blue and golden monkeys. For the best birding experience in Gishwati-Mukura National Park, you should go during the dry season. The wet/rain season presents a lot of difficulties including mud-filled trails which can be very slippery.
Lake Kivu is more known for its beautiful beaches, islands and as one of the best places for sport fishing sport in Rwanda. It is easy to forget that the Lake is a top birding destination in its own right. The natural beauty of the lake and its islands attract White-breasted Cormorants and Pied Kingfishers. Thousands of migratory birds can be sighted feeding round the lake during certain months of the year together with the residents.
For a complete birding experience in Lake Kivu, you must visit Nkora Island. Nkora Island is a small fishing village with an amazing collection of water birds and even cave bats. You will also get to mingle with the local fishermen and learn about how they make ends meet.
Wetlands, Marshes and Nyabarongo River
10 percent of Rwanda is made up wetlands, swamps and marshes. The major wetlands and marches include Rugezi, Akanyaru and Rugezi. These wetlands provide naturel feeding and nesting grounds for the birds because they keep away most predators while also proving insects and frogs for food. The Rugezi Marsh is a top birding destination and the only RAMSAR site in Rwanda.
The marsh covers an area of about 6,734 hectares, and is host to about 43 bird species including the Grauners Swap Warbler, Papyrus Genolek, Papyrus Yellow Walber and Thick Billed Seedeater. As you go southwards from the marsh, you will find open waters in what is Lake Nyagafunzo. This lake is a birders paradise in its own right. It offers opportunities to spot the Lesser Jacana and White-backed Duck.
The wetlands in Nyabarongo river are not well known but offer wonderful birding opportunities. The Nyabarongo river is a tributary of the great river Nile and empties its waters on river Akagera which then flows to Lake Victoria. The Wetlands are home to Garuer’s swamp warblers and papyrus gonoleks. You can also encounter swamp elephants and the elusive Sitatunga while on a birding mission here. Other wetlands and marshes that host birding sanctuaries are those in Bugesera District and Akanyaru.
Akanyaru wetlands are found along the border with Burundi. They stand out for their floating vegetation and papyrus swamps. Here you can spot the about 54 species of birds including the lesser kestrel, Madagascar squacco Heron, pallid harrier and the endangered papyrus Gonolex.