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Republic of Rwanda

Shoebill Balaeniceps rex ©Photo supplied by tourist authority

Birding Rwanda

Rwanda is a small, landlocked country situated just south of the Equator in the centre of the Africa. Despite its size (which is about 200km east-west by 150km north-south); it has a bird list of 703 species, supports a higher number of Albertine Rift endemics than any other country outside the DR Congo and is undoubtedly the safest and easiest place to see Red-collared Babbler. Further, highlights include Red-Faced Barbet and a possibility of Shoebill.

Sadly, Rwanda is still remembered for the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. However, since then the country has made great efforts in its development and Rwanda is now inside the top 10 safest countries to travel according to a 2017 World Economic Forum report.

Travelling is fairly easy compared to other countries in the region. There are regular flights to Kigali (capital) from several European airports. The country is very clean and has generally good accommodation at various price points. The road network is generally excellent, if a little winding in places, but allows quick access (mostly on surfaced roads) to all the major birding destinations.

The aftermath of 1994 saw several protected areas reduced in size, due to resettlement of refugees. However, the national parks now receive good protection and the country makes great efforts to manage the environment. Although accessible, the national parks retain a feel of adventure and the birding potential at each site is very high. The country has been birded fairly extensively, but there is always the potential to find new records for the country with several new species added to the country list since 2010.

The main attractions for birders are Akagera National Park in the East and Nyungwe Forest National Park in the West. A visit to these two locations should ensure a sizable list including many desirable species. Volcanoes National Park offers similar birds to Nyungwe, but the main focus of activities there is visiting habituated Mountain Gorillas.

Additionally, there are also numerous less-famous locations outside the national parks that allow easy access to good birding and most of these are set up as eBird hotspots.

Kigali itself is quite a green and vegetated city. It offers some good birding for the more common East African species close to the city centre. The small lake in Nyarutarama can be quite productive with fairly recent records of White-collared Oliveback and Purple Swamphen, Grey-headed Bushshrike and Bat Hawk.

More detailed accounts for key birding areas and target species are provided in the Reserves Section Below.

Top Sites

Akagera National Park

Website

Satellite View

Akagera National Park (490 species) covers 108,400ha, it is a mixed park, with rolling hills, savannah, grasslands, woodland, lakes and swamps. It is located approximately 2 -3 hours from Kigali in east Rwanda along the border with Tanzania.

Since 2010, Akagera NP has been managed in partnership between the Rwandan Government and African Parks. The partnership has been very successful in protecting the park and since the re-introduction of Lions (2015) and Eastern Black Rhino (2017) the park has regained its Big 5 Status. Birding in the park is excellent, specialities include the Red-faced Barbet (which is restricted to Savannas in-between the Albertine Rift and Lake Victoria), several Lake Victoria Basin endemic species - Northern Brown-throated Weaver, Papyrus Canary, Papyrus Gonolek, White-Winged Swamp Warbler and Carruther’s Cisticola. The Shoebill is known from the park but is hard to observe without some luck. Brown-Chested Lapwing are seen fairly regularly and other notable species include Ruaha Chat, Bennet’s Woodpecker, Crested Barbet, Miombo Wren-Warbler, Souza’s Shrike, Long-tailed Cisticola, and Cabani’s Bunting. The park is also vitally important for the conservation of Grey Crowned Cranes and is part of a rehabilitation and release program for previously captive birds. The lake shores are great places to observe water birds and raptors are also well represented across the park.

Several accommodation options are available inside the, camping (tent hire available), Akagera Game Lodge, Rusizi Tented Camp and Karenge Bush Camp. A further luxury lodge is being developed. A small community run camp is available near the park entrance.

Mammals: Big 5, hippo, Sitatunga, Roan Antelope, Oribi, Eland, Giraffe, Klipspringer, Hyena, Serval and several others.

A 4x4 is essential to explore the park and care must be taken after rains. By arrangement at reception the park also offers night-drives which offer a good chance to see owls and nightjars and boat trips on Lake Ihema to see numerous waterbirds, herons and African Finfoot. Also see this Webpage

Buhanga Eco-park

Information

Buhanga Eco-park just to the south of Volcanoes National Park can offer good birding and African Pitta has been seen here during its’ migration. This is a small forest of around 31 hectares that is referred to as sacred, and a ritual place where the Kings of Yore in Rwanda were initiated and enthroned for Kingship. It really brings out great beauty of an ecosystem and it’s quite exhausting as you get into the forest walking on stony trails under the covering of tall majestic trees as well as creeping and crawling plants as you are ushered in by beautiful colorful butterflies and various bird species singing in the air.

Gishwati Mukura National Park

Webpage

Satellite View

Gishwati (232 species) and Mukura (163 species) Forests were gazetted as a national park in 2015 and are currently the focus of extensive conservation efforts to restore the landscape between these two parks. Although historically degraded, both forests offer good birding including several AREs. However, no tourism options seem to be currently available (November 2018).

Lake Burera & Lake Ruhndo

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The twin lakes Burera and Ruhndo are not well known for their birding, but the country’s first Woodchat Shrike was observed here very recently - surprises are always possible.

Northern Lakes

Satellite View

Small lakes (232 species) in the vicinity of the volcanoes can offer some interesting birding depending on the water levels.

Nyungwe National Park

Webpage

Satellite View

Nyungwe Forest (322 species) is a vast tract of forest in the southwest covering over 100,000ha, the 300ha Cyamadongo Forest (127 species) is close by. Both offer excellent birding and primate trekking. The birding includes 27 Albertine Rift Endemics (AREs), 28 if you count Willard’s Boubou.

There are two routes to the forest from Kigali, both on excellent roads. The first route via Huye which is feels longer but takes you through the middle of the forest. The second route is via Karongi and Lake Kivu. Much of the forest is inaccessible. However, there is an excellent network of trails available, these are mostly based at Uwinka (in the middle of the forest) or Gisakura (at the west side).

Both trail centres offer rewarding birding and due to differences in elevation offer different species. The speciality of Nyungwe is undoubtedly the Red-collared Mountain Babbler, and Nyungwe is the only safe location for this bird (try the Mt Bigugu trail). Kungwe Apalis is a poorly known species that is also best accessed at Nyungwe. A combination of a drive through the forest and birding from trails should result in a good haul of AREs, including Handsome Francolin, Rwenzori Turaco, Ruwenzori Nightjar, Dwarf Honeyguide, Albertine Boubou, Rwenzori Batis, Stripe-breasted Tit, Grauer's, Neumann's, Red-faced Woodland, Grauer’s Swamp Warblers, Ruwenzori and Mountain-Masked Apalises, Kivu Ground Thrush, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Archer’s Ground Robin, Red-throated Alethe, Blue-headed, Purple-breasted, Ruwenzori Double-collared and Regal Sunbirds, Strange Weaver, Dusky and Shelley’s Crimsonwings. There is also a slim possibility of Willard’s Boubou, Congo Bay Owl, Albertine Owlet, and Rockefeller's Sunbird.

In addition to the AREs there are numerous desirable bird species, Crowned Eagle Cassin’s Hawk Eagle, Mountain Buzzard, Buff-spotted and Red-chested Flufftails, Great Blue and Black-billed Turacos, Fraser’s Eagle Owl, Narina and Bar-tailed Trogons, Least Honeyguide, Tullberg’s and Elliot’s Woodpeckers, Lagden’s and Doherty’s Bushshrikes, White-tailed Blue, White-tailed and White-Bellied Crested Flycatchers, White-browed Crombec, Evergreen Forest and Red-faced Woodland Warbers, Olive-breasted and Kakamega Greenbuls, Waller’s, Stuhlmann’s, Sharpe’s and Slender-billed Starlings, Black-billed and Dark-backed Weavers, Oriole Finch and Kandt’s Waxbill. Violet-Backed Hyliota are also present in the forest and this species warrants close attention as the local sub-species may be a local endemic that requires further research. In addition to birds there are 13 species of primate, including Chimpanzee and Angola Colobus and numerous endemic plant species.

All activities in the park must be undertaken with an official park guide who are generally very knowledgeable, however, if your primary goal is birding it is best to request a specialist bird guide, some of whom are excellent.

Accommodation is mostly based at Gisakura (west of the forest) where there are a range of options from budget to luxury. Other options are available at Kitabi (east of the forest) and Cyangugu / Kamembe approximately 1 hour drive away south west. There is also an airport at Kamembe, with daily flights from Kigali. A car is very useful to get around, though local taxis are available. You don’t need a 4x4 to access the forest.

Rugezi Swamp

Information

Satellite View

The Rugezi Marsh (also known as Ruhengeri Marsh [1]) is a protected area in Rwanda, covering 6,735 hectares (16,640 acres).[2] The wetland is one of headwaters of the Nile, situated in the Northern Province within the Buberuka Highlands. At 2,100 metres (6,900 ft), the marsh is a high altitude peat bog. Close to Volcanoes NP, Rugezi Swamp (194 species) is a globally important site for Grauer’s Swamp Warbler and also supports Grey Crowned Cranes, Carruther’s Cisticola (abundant), Papyrus Canary and Papyrus Yellow Warbler has also been recorded here.

Volcanoes National Park

Webpage

Satellite View

The Volcanoes National Park (200 species) is mostly known for its Gorilla Trekking. Birding is possible, but Nyungwe Forest offers the same species and more. However, Scarlet-Tufted Sunbird is best seen at the Volcanoes and a trek to the summit of Mt Bisoke is your best bet for this bird.

Z Other Sites

Bugesera District (415 species) to the South East of Kigali offers excellent and easy access to many swamps which offer great birding for Papyrus dependant species and water birds. Try the Akagera Bridge, Kamatana Valley Dam, Lake Cyohoha North, Lake Gaharwa and swamps around Gashora for chances for Papyrus Gonolek (relatively common), Papyrus Canary, White-winged Swamp Warbler, White-collared Oliveback, Lesser Jacana and White-backed Duck. In addition, Red-chested Sunbird, Palm Nut Vulture, Blue-naped Mousebird, African Fish Eagle, Buff-bellied Warbler and numerous herons, egrets, ducks and geese.

Mazhoza Parike and Ibanda Makera are small but significant remnants of riverine forest that were once extensive in Rwanda. Although small these are important forests for birds and still support interesting species including Purple Crested Turaco, Mountain Illadopsis, Grey-winged and Snowy Crowned Robin-Chats, Red-Headed Bluebill and Red-throated Twinspot.

Lake Kivu (301 species) might be visited as a stop-over for birders. Some birding is available in hotel gardens in Rubavu and Kibuye and it might be possible to pick up a few extra species. The majority of the habitat along the shore is degraded, however it is a nice place to relax (swimming in the lake is best avoided).

Kigali itself is quite green and vegetated city and offers some good birding for the more common East African Species close to the city centre. The small lake in Nyarutarama can be quite productive with fairly recent records of White-collared Oliveback and Purple Swamphen, Grey-headed Bushshrike and Bat Hawk. Swamps on the outskirts of the city (near Inyange Industries or near Ruliba Clays) can also be very productive.

Contributor

James Hogg

eBird Reviewer for Rwanda and Lebanon

Resident of Rwanda for 4.5 years

jwthogg[AT]googlemail.com

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 703

(As at November 2018)

Most online lists include errors. See Rwanda Birding Club for a corrected and up to date list.

Checklist

iGoTerra Checklist

iGoTerra Checklist

Fatbirder Associate iGoTerra offers the most comprehensive and up to date birds lists on the web

Useful Reading

Birds in Rwanda: An Atlas and Handbook

By JP Vande weghe and GR Vande weghe | RDB | 2011 | Paperback | 336 pages, 444 colour photos, distribution maps for 668 species | Currently only available in Rwanda |

ISBN: 9782746634909

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Birds of Africa: South of the Sahara

By Ian Sinclair, Peter G Ryan, Norman Arlott, Peter Hayman, Alan Harris | Random House Struik | 2010 | Edition 2 | Paperback | 767 pages, 340 plates with colour illustrations; colour distribution maps |

ISBN: 9781770076235

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Birds of East Africa

(Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi) | By Terry Stevenson, John Fanshawe, Brian E Small & John Gale | Christopher Helm | 2004 | Paperback | 640 pages, colour plates, colour distribution maps, colour & b/w maps |

ISBN: 0713673478

Buy this book from NHBS.com

The Birders Guide to Africa

By Michael Mills, Tasso Leventis | Go-Away-Birding | 2017 | Paperback | 544 pages, colour photos, 2 colour maps |

ISBN: 9780620717250

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Wild Rwanda

(Where to Watch Birds, Primates, and Other Wildlife) | By Ken Behrens, Christian Boix & Keith Barnes | Lynx Edicions | 2015 | Paperback | 256 pages, 160+ colour photos, colour maps |

ISBN: 9788496553965

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Organisations

African Bird Club

Website

Since the days of Diane Fossey, Rwanda has been recognised as one of the best places to view gorillas, but few people know any more about the country than just this. Those that visit tend to hop across the north-western border with Uganda, to track gorillas in the Volcans National Park near Ruhengeri. This is one of the best sites to see Ladgen’s Bush-Shrike Malacanotus lagdeni, but tourism activities are heavily focused on gorillas, and hiking and bird watching are so poorly promoted as to appear to be discouraged. Although 17 Albertine Rift Endemics have been recorded, most are more readily seen elsewhere. Fortunately Rwanda has much more to offer, especially to birders…

Association pour la Conservation de la Nature au Rwanda

Website

ACNR, a National Non-Governmental Organization founded in August 1992. Its mission is to promote biodiversity conservation through participatory and sustainable management of natural resources in Rwanda. Our Vision is that All Rwandans understand and are involved in the conservation of natural ecosystems for the benefits of current and future generations.

Rwanda Birding Club

Facebook Page

This group posts pictures and discusses aspects of birding in Rwanda. Under the files section of the page there are up to date bird lists for Rwanda. The lists are available in PDF or Excel. These lists are updated versions of “Birds in Rwanda, An Atlas and Handbook – Vande weghe and Vande weghe – 2011” which is available at the Rwanda Development Board offices, National Park Receptions and bookshops in Rwanda, it is a very informative book and the best source of information on birds in Rwanda.

West African Ornithological Society

Website

The West African Ornithological Society grew out of the Nigerian Ornithologists’ Society, which was founded in February 1964. Its object is to promote scientific interest in the birds of West Africa and to further the region’s ornithology, mainly by means of its journal Malimbus (formerly the Bulletin of the Nigerian Ornithologists’ Society). This journal is biannual and bilingual, a unique feature in Africa.The West African Ornithological Society grew out of the Nigerian Ornithologists’ Society, which was founded in February 1964. Its object is to promote scientific interest in the birds of West Africa and to further the region’s ornithology, mainly by means of its journal Malimbus (formerly the Bulletin of the Nigerian Ornithologists’ Society). This journal is biannual and bilingual, a unique feature in Africa.

Reserves

Abbreviations Key

NP Akagera

Information

Satellite View

Akagera National Park is a little piece of heaven found in North Eastern Rwanda, at the country’s border with Tanzania. It is dominated by swamps and small lakes with flow in the wake of River Kagera. All the water sources work together to create a piece of spectacular scenery. It is quite a remarkable eco-system. The Park was obviously named after River Kagera.

NP Gishwati-Mukura

Information

Satellite View

Here visitors can experience not only chimpanzee and primate tracking, pristine montane forests and some of Rwanda’s most exciting birding, but can also engage with friendly, rural people and know that their visit will make a difference!

NP Nyungwe

Information

Satellite View

The forest has 300 species of birds with 27 Albertine rift endemics and 121 forest species. The flora is particularly rich with 200 species of trees and more than 100 species of orchids! The park has an extensive network of walking trails that leads you through various waterfalls and viewing points. Nyungwe offers scenic views over the forest, lake Kivu and sometimes also the Virunga…

NP Volcanoes

Website

Satellite View

Travellers are once again making their way to the beautiful bamboo and rainforest-covered slopes of this volcano-crowded national park in Rwanda's northwest…

Forums & Mailing Lists

Rwanda-Burundi Birds

Mailing List Discussion Group

A group dedicated to all the news and information about the bird species in Rwanda & Burundi, and their distribution and ecology. We encourage members to share their sightings and information on locations, all which will contribute to our knowledge of the birds in these two countries.

Guides & Tour Operators

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

Mission Africa Safaris

Tour Operator

Mission Africa Safaris is a leading tour company registered in Uganda. We help put together exciting safaris in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo. Our expereinced and knowledgeable guides/office personnel will ensure you have a memorable time while on your tour. Our packages include bird watching, game drives, nature walks, mountain hiking, gorilla tracking. cultural visits among many other. We give affordable rates to our clients and incorporate a personal touch and quality while dealing with our clients - You can be one of them.

Rainbow Tours

Tour Operator

…Some 650 species of bird have been recorded from Rwanda. These include many of the sought-after Albertine Rift Endemics…

Speedway Safaris

Tour Operator

Speedway Safaris is a tour and travel company based in Uganda specialising in organising trips to National Parks, gorilla tracking, hotel bookings, chimpanzee trekking, mountaineering excursions, birding trips, adventure travels, sightseeing expeditions, car hire, community tours, guided nature walks plus vacation and customized tours in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania…

Volcanoes Safaris

Tour Operator

Nyungwe Forest This massive montane forest, in southern Rwanda, the largest in Central Africa, has thirteen species of primate including chimpanzee, Rwenzori colobus and l`Hoest`s monkey. The colobus live in large groups, including a four hundred-strong semi-habituated group thought to be the largest troop of arboreal primates in Africa. Around 300 bird species, 24 of which are regional endemics and over 100 varieties of orchids and butterflies are other attractions…

Wildlife Tours Rwanda

Tour Operator

Rwanda has approximately 735 bird species including 44 Albertine rift endemics plus 4 pure endemics; the avitourism potential has been over shadowed by the gorilla tourism dominance and lack of publicity, awareness about birding products and good birding guides...

Trip Reports

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

CloudBirders

Trip Report Repository

CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.

2008 [08 August] - Christian Boix

Report

…But the star-bird of the morning was to be a very complying Lesser Jacana that strutted confidently across floating vegetation, almost ignoring our presence. Black Crakes were as ubiquitous as ever and African Rails were heard across the shore…

2010 [04 April] - Chuck Bell

Report

…we hit some serious turbulence in our small Dash-8 aircraft shortly after we crossed the south shore of Lake Victoria. However, we landed on schedule in Kigali and were met by two drivers, Gaston and Arthur…

2010 [04 April] - Keith Barnes

PDF Report

…The main aims of the Uganda and Rwanda leg was to see a Shoebill stalking in deep Papyrus swamps, score a gamut of rainforest birds in both the lowlands of Budongo…

2010 [08 August] - Keith Barnes

PDF Report

…The main aims of the Uganda and Rwanda leg was to see a Shoebill stalking in deep Papyrus swamps, attempt to see the most unlikely scarce Central African denizen, Green-breasted Pitta…

2012 [02 February] - Oscar Campbell

PDF Report

…Access to the trails is by permit only and you have to be accompanied by a park guide at all times. This is also true if you want to stop and bird along the main road through the park. The main road through the forest is currently being upgraded and hence whilst we were there it was somewhat disturbed; even so we found it very productive. Towards the western end of the park is the Kamiranzovu Marsh at which holds Red-chested Fluff tail and Grauer’s Swamp-Warbler…

2012 [08 August] - Michael Mills

PDF Report

…This year’s journey through southern Uganda and Rwanda was a resounding success in all respects, with great views obtained of the four main target birds, namely Shoebill, Green- breasted Pitta, Grauer’s (African Green) Broadbill and Red-collared (Mountain) Babbler….

2013 [07 July] - Michael Mills

PDF Report

…Our journey through Uganda and Rwanda was once again a resounding success, with great views obtained of the four main target birds: Shoebill at Mabamba Swamp, Green-breasted Pitta at Kibale, Grauer’s Broadbill at Mabwindi Swamp in Bwindi and Red-collared Mountain Babbler at Nyungwe, Rwanda….

2014 [08 August] - Michael Mills

PDF Report

Our “highlights” tour of Uganda and Rwanda was once again a resounding success, with great views obtained of the four main target birds: Shoebill at Mabamba Swamp, Green-breasted Pitta at Kibale, Grauer’s (African Green) Broadbill at Mabwindi Swamp in Bwindi and Red-collared...

2014 [09 September] - Pritam Baruah

PDF Report

Nyungwe National Park in south-western Rwanda protects one of the oldest and largest remaining stretches of Albertine Rift forest. Sized about 1020 sq km, it ranges from 1600 masl to 2950 masl (Mt Bigugu) and covers a wide range of habitats – excellent primary & secondary cloud forests, isolated highland swamps, grassland and bamboo. It is contiguous with the Kibira National Park in Burundi (400 sq km)....

2015 [03 March] - Hilary MacBean

PDF Report

We started in Kigali and travelled to a variety of habitats throughout the country. The key components were Akagera National Park, a dry area of savannah and swamps in the East, close to the border with Tanzania; the Nyabarongo swamps and Bugasera farmlands in the South; Nyungwe National Park in the South West; the Volcanoes National Park in the North and Gisenyi on Lake Kivu in the North West.

2016 [05 May] - David Karr

PDF Report

A business trip to Rwanda offered opportunities for a short, one-day birding trip to Akagera National Park. A protected area since 1934, Akagera is mostly open savanna land, dotted with several lakes and extensive marshland....

2016 [05 May] - David Karr - Kigali – One Day Birding around the Rwandan Capital

PDF Report

A business trip to Rwanda offered opportunities for a short, one-day birding trip to the marshes around the capital, Kigali...

2016 [08 August] - Henk Hendriks - Uganda & Rwanda

PDF Report

It surely is one of the most unspoilt, beautiful forests I ever saw. An advantage is also that an excellent tarmac road traverses the park, giving easy access to the excellent trail system of the park. 26 Albertine Rift endemics have been recorded at Nyungwe including all the endemics of Bwindi with the exception of the Grauer’s Broadbill.

2017 [01 January] - Mathias D'haen - Nyungwe National Park

PDF Report

...I think it’s useless to say that Nyungwe is an extremely good place for birdwatching. Being located in the Albertine Rift, it contains many of its endemics. That does not mean that birdwatching is easy, especially in this period of the year. January/February is called the short-dry period and is not a breeding period for most birds. This means that most birds are gathered in flocks and walking around in the forest is 90% of the time bird-less, until you stumble upon a flock of 20-30 bird species and get about 5 seconds per bird to identify it. Birds were mostly very skulky and observations were often flushing birds between the canopies...

2017 [05 May] - Heinz Ortmann

PDF Report

This short extension to the small, vibrant and land-locked East African country of Rwanda was a special experience. From an emotion-filled visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial to the once-in-alifetime interaction with Mountain Gorillas, and finally the vast bird-rich forest of Nyungwe National Park, we were treated to an amazing time. The variety of activities and substantial time walking the trails of some beautiful forest provided the guests with an incredible experience of this prospering nation.

Blogs

Jared Cole - Rwanda on the Wing

BLOG

A blog about my experience with birds, ecology, and sustainability in Rwanda… Last updated July 2013

Marcell Claassen - Birding Rwanda

BLOG

BLOG from Marcell Claassen - Living in Rwanda almost 4 years now. 10 years guiding experience in East and Southern Africa. **Birding excursions of varying length can also be combined with and/or built into existing itineraries…