When it comes to birding, Rwanda is among Africa’s most exciting destinations – within this relatively small and compact country, there over 1450 bird species of which 27 are Albertine Rift endemics.
Highlights include the Red-Faced Barbet, Shoebill Stork, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Papyrus Gonolek and the Miombo Wren-Warblers.
Rwanda has seven Important Birding Areas (IBAs) including the three National Parks—Volcanoes, Akagera and Nyungwe. The other IBAs are at: Rugezi Swamp, Akanyaru, Nyabarongo and Cyamudongo.
Rwanda’s location in the Albertine Rift makes for an ideal and stunning landscape for bird enthusiasts. Bird watching in Rwanda can appeal to every level visitor – from the absolute novice (who maybe only visited for the primates) all the way to the most serious of birders, due to the diversity and appeal of certain species. Birding is experienced throughout the year, with the migrant bird season being from December through to February.
Below are the birding destinations
At the Nyarutarama Lake near the Golf Course in Kigali one can spot the African Reed Warbler and Great Sedge Warbler, the Winding Cisticola as well as the Common Waxbill, Grey-backed Fiscal, Tropical Boubou, Red-rumped and Mosque Swallows, African Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Stork, Great White Pelican, Common Moorhens, Grosbeak Weaver, Grey Heron, Yellow-backed (Black-headed) Weavers, and the Pied Kingfisher.
Akagera National Park
The wetlands and lakes of Akagera National Park are home to the elusive Shoebill stork, and is one of the easiest sites in the region where it can be seen. In addition, Akagera supports a mixture of acacia and papyrus species, including Red-faced Barbet, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Papyrus Gonolek, White-headed, Black and familiar Chats, Carruther’s and Tabora Cisticolas, White-winged and Broad-tailed Warblers and Miombo Wren-Warblers.
Nyunge National park
In the southwest of the country, Nyungwe National Park is a vast tract of virgin forest, one of the largest uncut natural forest reserves remaining in Africa and home to more than 300 species of birds, 27 of which are regional endemics. Much of the forest is unexplored, with access being extremely difficult, because of the steep high hills and deep valleys. However, an excellent winding tarmac road bisects the forest, following the crest of the mountains. This road is one of the few places in the world that allows the visitor to look directly into and even down on the rainforest canopy. Along this road you can find most of the Albertine Rift endemics, including Handsome Francolin, Rwenzori Turaco, Mountain Sooty Boubou, Rwenzori Batis, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Archer’s Robin-chat, Rwenzori Hill Babbler, Grauer’s Rush, Neumann’s and Grauer’s Warbles, Masked Mountain Apalis, Stripe-breasted Tit and Strange Weaver, and a full range of Rwenzori double-collared, purple-throated, blue-headed and regal Sunbirds. A speciality is the Red-collared Mountain Babbler, which has its only easily accessible site here, as does Kungwe Apalis. Recent possible sightings of Rockefeller’s Sunbird show that much is left to be discovered, and perhaps even such gems as the Congo Peacock (found only 70km distant in the DR Congo) could exist in the remote dense forest!
There are also good forest tracks for birding based around the Gisakura Guesthouse and the RDB Tourism & Conservation Campsite at Uwinka, where some of the more skulking species can be seen such as the Red-throated Alethe, Archer’s Robin-chat, Kivu Ground Thrush, Collared Apalis, and Shelley’s and Dusky Crimsonwing. Other special birds here include White-bellied robin-chat, Doherty’s and Lagden’s bush-shrikes, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Great Blue Turaco, Barred long-tailed cuckoo and White-bellied crested flycatcher. At night, Rwenzori Nightjar is not uncommon, Albertine Owlet may be found, and there might be a possibility to see the Congo Bay-owl.
Tucked away in a flooded valley near Gicumbi and the Ugandan border, the 100 sqkm Rugezi Swamp is, despite being recognized as both a Ramsar Wetland and Important Bird Area, very rarely visited by tourists, and the reed-and-papyrus marshes here are home to some 43 different bird species, including several endemic to the Albertine rift mountains, such as the endangered Grauer’s Swamp-warbler. Other threatened or vulnerable species resident here and endemic to the area include the Papyrus Gonolek and Papyrus Yellow Warbler. Most of the swamp is covered in vegetation, but there’s an unexpected and stunningly pretty area of open water at the south end of the marsh called Lake Nyagafunzo, which attracts a compelling variety of herons, pelicans, egrets, and cranes
Covering 300 sqkm over a narrow, 80 km-long band along the course of the Akanyaru River, the Akanyaru Wetlands start off in the south straddling the Rwanda – Burundi border, and wind their way north to the village of Ntarama, where the sluggish Akanyaru joins the much larger Nyabarongo River. Though they’re probably less-visited than any other birding site in the country, the papyrus-dominated swamps here have been recognized as an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International and are home to more than 54 species, including the vulnerable Papyrus Yellow Warbler and Papyrus Gonolek, along with examples of Great snipe, Pallid harrier, and the Malagasy pond heron
With more than 150 km of jagged, winding coastline on it’s Rwandan side alone, Lake Kivu is far and away the largest body of water in the country, and its many dozens of coves, cliffs, islands, islets, and beaches provide ample habitat for a wide variety of waterbirds. To see many of them, you won’t even have to leave the grounds of your hotel. Bring a pair of binoculars to any of the numerous lakeside lodges, and you’re likely to see any number of fish eagles, cormorants, pelicans, or kingfishers on the hunt, along with lovely examples of Double-toothed barbet, Pin-tailed whydah, Malachite kingfisher, and the iconic Crested crane, all without ever leaving the comfort of your balcony, though we still of course recommend that you do!