Birding Safaris in Rwanda: The first thing that springs to mind when thinking of Rwanda are the mountain gorillas, the rolling hills, or the country’s extraordinary comeback from the horrors of the 1994 genocide. Rwanda has never been regarded as a great birding destination. This is due in part to gorilla tourism overshadowing avitourism. In Rwanda, birding and other pursuits such as sport fishing continue to receive little attention. The prominence of mountain gorillas has overshadowed the majority of Rwanda’s other tourist attractions.
Because of the vast variety of bird habitats, Rwanda stands out as a wonderful location for birders. Mountains, montane forests, grasslands, plains, enormous wetlands, rivers, lakes, and, of course, rolling hills are among them. Rwanda has good road networks as well as safe and clean cities. Although birdwatching in Uganda is more popular, Rwanda has better infrastructure (roads and bird trails). Because of her modest size, you can travel the country in less time than, say, Kenya or Tanzania. Rwanda has few endemic bird species, but the Albertine Rift is home to 44 of them.
Best time to go on birding safaris in Rwanda
Birding safaris in Rwanda are possible throughout the year, however certain months provide ideal circumstances for birders. It is worth noting that Rwanda has two distinct rain and dry seasons. In Rwanda, the months of December and January are ideal for birding. These months are remarkable because thousands of migrating birds visit the country to escape the harsh winter conditions in Europe and the Arctic.
Rwanda’s Important Birding Areas
Rwanda has seven key important birding habitats, which are spread among four of the country’s national parks, including Nyungwe, Akagera, and Volcanoes National Park. Let’s go over these birding hotspots in greater depth: –
East African countries are endowed with fantastic birding chances. In Rwanda and Uganda, birdwatching can begin as soon as you exit the airport or even in the larger cities. Urban birding in Kigali is ideal for individuals who do not have enough time to travel to the countryside or visit the major national parks. The number of birding chances in Kigali will astound you. Birding in Kigali can begin in the hotel grounds, but visiting Lake Nyarutarama, which borders Kigali’s main golf course, may be a better option. This lake includes lovely trails and walks where you can see black-headed herons, grey-capped warblers, white-faced whistling ducks, and flying geese. The Rwandan government has lately constructed a big park as one departs the city center, which is gaining popularity among birders. You can also see tiny egrets, spur-winged geese, squacco turaco, and yellow-billed storks at the Nyabarongo swamp. Mount Kigali is also a great place to go bird watching in Rwanda. Among the various species found here are red chested cuckoos and southern black flycatchers.
Nyungwe National Park
Nyungwe forest is Africa’s largest and oldest montane forest. The forest is home to around 300 different bird species. Bigugu Mountain in the forest is one of the best places to see birds feeding on the tree canopies. One can also leave the forest and visit the Gisakura tea estate, which is popular with birds. The Red-collared Babbler is undoubtedly the most well-known and visually appealing bird in Nyungwe National Park. 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 Red collared babblers are among the other species found in Nyungwe forest on your birding safaris in Rwanda.
The ideal method to experience this forest is to walk or bike through a segment of the Congo Nile route that runs through it, or to use one of the well-developed forest trails that lead to different sections of the forest. A canopy hike is another option for exploring the environment and viewing birds. The canopy walkway in Nyungwe forest is 160 meters long and erected on top of the trees, providing a bird’s-eye view of the huge forest and its inhabitants. If you have time, you can also go to the Kamiranzovu marsh.
While birding in Nyungwe forest, you need hire a birding guide to accompany you and assist you in identifying the birds and forest pathways. A professional birding guide can assist you in identifying species such as 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, Montane Oriole, Mountain Illadopsis, Mountain So Pink-footed Puffback, 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.
Because most birds prefer to stay on the trees, watching them in Nyungwe forest might be challenging. Your knowledgeable birder should be able to take you to the best areas in the forest for clear views of the birds. Birdwatching in the forest will also introduce you to other forest wildlife, particularly primates such as Angola Colobus, Golden monkeys, and chimps.
Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park is a collection of lakes, wetlands, rolling hills, and savannah that attract 310 bird species. The park is located in the country’s northwestern corner, close to the Tanzanian border. Birding is excellent near Lake Ihema, its islands, marshes, and wetlands. A boat excursion on Lake Ihema is an effective way to view birds in the Park, although savannah birding expeditions are planned early in the morning and late in the evening. The morning sessions are undoubtedly the most enjoyable due to the abundance of bird activity. The Red-faced Barbet is the most abundant species in the park. Akagera is also home to the rare papyrus Ganolex. It is also worth noting that Akagera National Park is possibly the greatest place in Africa to see the elusive Ring-necked Francolin. Expect to see Carruthers’ Cisticola, Grey-crowned Cranes, Northern Brown-throated Weaver, Papyrus Gonolek, White-collared Oliveback, and White-Winged Swamp Warbler on your safari in Akagera National Park. The African Starling is undoubtedly Akagera’s most beautiful bird. They have magnificent feathers that change color and glitter in the middle of the day. One of the joys of a birding trip in Akagera is spotting this bird.
We should also highlight that the elusive Shoebill stork lives here, but finding them takes time and patience. The dry season is the optimum time to go birdwatching in Akagera (May to September). The park’s southern part contains a greater variety of butterflies and birds than the park’s northern sector. Expect to see elephants, giraffes, hippos, lions, and a plethora of antelopes when visiting Akagera National Park. Depending on your preferences and budget, you can stay in tented camps or regular cottages.
Volcanoes National Park
This park is most known for gorilla trekking, golden monkey encounters, and hiking one of the mountains like Mt Karisimbi. This does not change the fact that it is one of the top birding spots in Rwanda. The park is home to around 200 different species. 27 of them can only be seen in Rwanda, while 16 are endemic to the volcanoes of the Virunga mountain ranges. The Archer’s ground robin, Cinnamon bracken warbler, Grauer’s rush warbler, Rwenzori batis, White-tailed blue-flycatcher, and Black and white manikin are among the species to watch for. Mgahinga National Park in Uganda and Virunga National Park in Congo border the Volcanoes National Park, guaranteeing that some of the species found in these two countries can be observed in Rwanda.
Gishwati-Mukura National Park
This is Rwanda’s newest national park, located in the country’s northwest corner. Gishwati was considered as Rwanda’s premier birding destination even before it became a national park, with 395 species on offer. The Martial Eagle, Purple-breasted Sunbirds, Red-throated Alethe, Regal Sunbirds, Ruwenzori Batis, Ruwenzori Turaco, Strange Weaver, Stripe-breasted Tit, and Grey Crowned Crane are among them. The majority of the species are forest dwellers or Albertine Rift endemics. There are also people that relocate from Congo for the most of the year. Expect to see baboons, chimps, blue and golden monkeys while searching for birds. You should visit Gishwati-Mukura National Park during the dry season for the best birding experience. The wet/rainy season brings numerous challenges, including mud-filled trails that can be quite slippery.
Kivu is well renowned for its picturesque beaches and islands, as well as being one of the greatest sites in Rwanda for sport fishing. It’s easy to overlook the Lake’s status as a premier birding site in its own right. White-breasted Cormorants and Pied Kingfishers flock to the lake’s natural beauty and its islets. During certain months of the year, thousands of migratory birds can be seen feeding around the lake alongside the people. Nkora Island is a must-see for anyone interested in birdwatching in Lake Kivu. Nkora is a little fishing community known for its incredible assortment of water birds and cave bats. You will also have the opportunity to interact with local fisherman and learn about their way of life.
Wetlands, Marshes, and the Nyabarongo River:
Wetlands, swamps, and marshes cover 10% of Rwanda. Rugezi, Akanyaru, and Rugezi are the major wetlands and marshes. These wetlands provide natural feeding and nesting areas for birds by keeping most predators at bay while also providing insects and frogs for food. Rugezi Marsh is a popular birding attraction and Rwanda’s only RAMSAR site. The marsh is 6,734 hectares in size and home to 43 bird species, including the Grauners Swap Warbler, Papyrus Genolek, Papyrus Yellow Walber, and Thick Billed Seedeater.
As you travel south from the marsh, you will come across open water in Lake Nyagafunzo. This lake is a birder’s delight in and of itself. It allows you to see the Lesser Jacana and White-backed Duck. The marshes around the Nyabarongo River are little known, although they provide excellent birdwatching possibilities. The Nyabarongo River is a tributary of the Nile and drains into the Akagera River, which flows into Lake Victoria. Garuer’s swamp warblers and papyrus gonoleks can be found in the Wetlands. While birdwatching here, you may also come across elephants and the mysterious Sitatunga.
Wetlands and marshes in Bugesera District and Akanyaru also serve as birding sanctuaries. The Akanyaru marshes are located along the Burundi border. They are distinguished by their floating vegetation and papyrus marshes. There are approximately 54 bird species to be found here, including the lesser kestrel, Madagascar squacco heron, pallid harrier, and the endangered papyrus Gonolex.
Packing list for birding safaris in Rwanda
To have the finest birding experience in Rwanda, bring high-quality binoculars, pointers, good hiking shoes, a birder’s book (available from tourism shops or park offices), drinking water, and food. You should always travel with an expert local guide who can take you to the best birding areas and help you identify the species. Let’s go over the packing list for your birding safaris in Rwanda in greater detail:
Birders must have binoculars. It is one of the most crucial items to consider while arranging a birding excursion in Rwanda. Most African birds are wary and will flee if you go too close or if they perceive any attention from intruders. One reason for their overabundance of dread of humans is that they are or were frequently hunted for meat by people in various parts of Africa. The best approach to identify them is to bring high-quality binoculars that can be adjusted for better visibility.
A digital camera:
What good are binoculars if you can’t capture decent images of the birds to impress your friends or the larger birding community? A good camera is required for an enjoyable birding experience. We propose that you purchase the greatest camera you can afford in order to capture stunning images of Rwanda and its magnificent birds. The images will also allow you to compare notes with those in the books and determine how successful your journey was.
A voice recorder on the go:
Birds make a variety of call signs/sounds that can be quite fascinating. A competent portable voice recorder is the greatest technique to capture these noises. This can also help you distinguish the different birds when comparing notes in your room.
Rwanda birding books:
Bird identification books are useful for identifying the species you’ve seen. The books are available at national park offices and other significant birding locations. Because it will help you identify the species observed, the book should have a complete collection of the birds (with their images) in the area you plan to visit.
Water and snacks are available.
Birding treks might last for many hours, leaving you thirsty and fatigued. What better way to relieve yourself than by bringing snacks and water? The majority of birding locations are in isolated settings with no restaurants or stores. It’s a good idea to come prepared so you don’t get thirsty or hungry in the bush.
Repellent for insects:
Birds thrive in locations where insects abound. Aside from fruits and grains, insects are their primary source of nutrition. The stings of some of these insects are extremely unpleasant (wasps, bees, mosquitoes and Tses Tse flies). Bring a bug repellent with you to keep them at bay.
Hides and other garments:
Hides are unique camouflage garments used by birders to blend in with their surroundings without drawing the notice of the birds. These customized outfits allow one to approach the birds without being spotted. A decent set of hides is especially vital if you intend to spot any of the elusive species that flee as soon as they detect human presence. Aside from obtaining the hides, you’ll need comfy attire for the jungle or marshes. A good pair of trousers, long sleeves, and a light shirt will keep you safe from insects and the African sun during your birding safaris in Rwanda.