Rwanda stands out as a prime location for African Montane bird watching, offering fantastic opportunities for eco-tourism. The country’s excellent road network, focus on safety, and a variety of habitats make it an exceptional destination for bird lovers. Moreover, Rwanda’s compact size allows birders to explore numerous birding sites within a short trip, granting access to some of the most sought-after bird species on the continent.
Rwanda is home to 703 bird species as of November 2018, and exciting discoveries have been added to the list since 2010. Among the remarkable resident species, the 29 Albertine Rift Endemics and various Lake Victoria Basin Endemics are a must-see for avid birders.
Birds Unique (Endemic) To Rwanda
Rwanda does not have any bird species that are entirely unique to the country. However, it is home to 29 Rift Valley Endemic birds. These birds can be found in the high-altitude rainforest area around Nyungwe National Park, as well as in Volcanoes and Gishwati-Mukura National Parks.
- Albertine boubou
- Albertine owlet
- Archer’s robin-chat
- Black-faced apalis
- Blue-headed sunbird
- Congo bay owl
- Dusky crimsonwing
- Grauer’s swamp warbler
- Grauer’s warbler
- Handsome francolin
- Kivu ground thrush
- Kungwe apalis
- Neumann’s warbler
- Purple-breasted sunbird
- Red-collared babbler
- Red-faced woodland warbler
- Red-throated alethe
- Regal sunbird
- Rockefeller’s sunbird
- Ruwenzori apalis
- Ruwenzori batis
- Ruwenzori double-collared sunbird
- Ruwenzori nightjar
- Ruwenzori turaco
- Schouteden’s swift
- Strange weaver
- Stripe-breasted tit
- Willard’s sooty boubou
- Yellow-eyed black flycatcher
Download the entire Rwanda Bird List by Gaël R. Vande weghe
Best Time For Bird Watching in Rwanda
Rwanda is a great place for birding throughout the year, with a focus on the resident birds. The best bird-watching in Rwanda is in Nyungwe from January to June, when most birds are vocal. However, April can be challenging due to heavy rainfall. The Dry season from June to September is easier for hiking and gorilla trekking.
The best places for bird watching in Rwanda
While many birders will want to concentrate on Nyungwe National Park in the western part of the country and Akagera National Park in the east, there are numerous exceptional birding opportunities throughout Rwanda. Even around the capital city of Kigali, rewarding birdwatching experiences await visitors, making it a truly inclusive destination for bird enthusiasts of all durations. Let’s explore the best places for bird watching in Rwanda.
Birding in Nyungwe National Park
Nyungwe National Park, a lush tropical montane rainforest, harbors an impressive 322 bird species along with 13 primate species and unique plant life. Notably, 29 bird species are exclusive to this park. The renowned Red-collared Babbler, a stunning bird, is a major highlight and you can safely spot it only in Rwanda. Other remarkable finds include the Rwenzori Turaco, Rwenzori Nightjar, Handsome Francolin, Grauer’s Warbler, and various Sunbird species. With the assistance of expert bird guides and a well-maintained network of trails, birdwatchers can easily spot these and more.
For those with more time and a bit of luck, sightings of Kungwe Apalis, Kivu Ground Thrush, and Willard’s Sooty Boubou are possible. The elusive Congo Bay Owl, Albertine Owlet, Shelley’s Crimsonwing, and Rockefeller’s Sunbird are some of Nyungwe’s rarer species that, while reported, are seldom seen. Night walks in Nyungwe, soon to be available, offer the chance to encounter the park’s secretive nocturnal species.
Birding in Volcanoes National Park: More Than Just Gorillas
Volcanoes National Park, nestled among dormant and lushly covered volcanoes, is home to Rwanda’s highest summit, Mount Karisimbi. While it’s famous for its Mountain Gorillas, the park is also an exciting destination for bird lovers, hosting a diverse collection of 200 bird species. Among these, 17 can only be found in the Albertine Rift Endemics group.
The birds you’ll encounter here are similar to those in Nyungwe National Park. Yet, the captivating Scarlet-Tufted Sunbird is a unique feature of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. If you’re eager to catch a glimpse of this striking bird, your best opportunity is on a trek to the peak of Mt Bisoke. Adding to Rwanda’s birdwatching allure, the park’s surroundings boast a series of lakes that might tempt birdwatchers with a quick and exciting side trip. Close by, the Buhanga Eco-Park is a potential hotspot for spotting the African Pitta during its annual migration.
Birdwatching in Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park is a captivating savannah game reserve adorned with rolling hills, lakes, wetlands, and woodlands. While it offers the classic experience of an African Big 5 safari, its diverse range of habitats also makes it a prime spot for bird watching in Rwanda. Up to now, a remarkable 490 bird species have been documented in Akagera. The park delivers a comparable adventure to other destinations in the region. Yet, its compact layout ensures convenient access to various habitats, making it an ideal place to compile an impressive Rwanda bird-watching list.
The highly sought-after Red-faced Barbet, limited to specific regions, is a top draw for bird enthusiasts in Rwanda. You can easily spot it around Akagera Game Lodge and Muyumbu Campsite. Additional noteworthy species include the Carruthers’s Cisticola, Northern Brown-throated Weaver, Papyrus Gonolek, White-Winged Swamp Warbler, White-collared Oliveback, and majestic Grey-crowned Cranes. Another prized sighting is the Shoebill, a bird seen quite regularly within the park. Furthermore, Akagera houses thriving populations of raptors and boasts abundant waterbird numbers.
For a captivating bird-watching experience in Akagera, embark on a boat excursion on Lake Ihema, offering splendid views of diverse waterbird species in Rwanda. The chances of spotting the African Finfoot are particularly good, with regular sightings from the deck of the Ruzizi Tented Lodge. As night falls, a nocturnal birdwatching adventure reveals several intriguing species, including the Verreaux’s Eagle Owl and various Nightjar species.
Bird Watching in Gishwati-Mukura National Park
Gishwati-Mukura National Park, Rwanda’s newest national park, is a rehabilitation-focused area in the west of the country. While still under development, it holds promise for bird enthusiasts, with 232 species in Gishwati and 163 in Mukura. Both areas feature Albertine Rift Endemics and forest-bird specials.
Birding Around The Shores of Lake Kivu
A visit to Lake Kivu offers a wonderfully peaceful break during your bird watching journey in Rwanda, with its own share of exciting moments. The lake is home to thriving populations of White-breasted Cormorants, as well as the captivating sight of Pied Kingfishers and Osprey engaging in migratory fishing. Along the lake’s edges, you’ll encounter some of Rwanda’s more familiar land-based bird species.
The gardens of hotels in Karongi, Rubavu, and Rusizi are havens for exciting Rwanda bird-watching. Keep an eye out for the Double-tooth Barbet, a frequent visitor to this region, along with species like the Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Familiar Chat, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, and Spot-flanked Barbet. Additionally, the Kinunu area offers rewarding birdwatching opportunities for the more commonly seen species.
Birdwatching in Rwanda’s Wetlands and Marshes
In other parts of Rwanda, wetlands and marshes cover about 10% of the country. Some special birding areas, like Rugezi, Akanyaru Wetlands, and Nyabarongo Wetlands, have been recognized as Important Bird Areas by Birdlife International.
Rugezi Marsh, located in the northwestern part of Rwanda near Gicumbi, holds a unique distinction as Rwanda’s sole RAMSAR Site. It hosts thriving populations of Grauer’s Swamp Warbler. Also, it provides a habitat for Grey-crowned Cranes, Papyrus Canary, and even reports of the Papyrus Yellow Warbler. Toward the southern end of the marsh, there’s an open water area named Lake Nyagafunzo, where a boat ride offers excellent opportunities to see some of the more common waterbirds in the country. You might also come across the White-backed Duck and Lesser Jacana.
Moving to the wetlands and lakes in the Bugesera District southeast of Kigali, you’ll find fantastic birding opportunities that are perhaps some of the most accessible in Rwanda. This region features a mix of habitats, and a remarkable 415 bird species have been documented here. Numerous sites provide an excellent chance to spot the Papyrus Gonolek, Papyrus Canary, White-winged Swamp Warbler, White-collared Oliveback, Lesser Jacana, and White-backed Duck. The latter two species were reconfirmed in Rwanda in 2014 after an extended period without any verified sightings. Moreover, the area is home to the Blue-naped Mousebird, Red-chested Sunbird, Palm Nut Vulture, African Fish Eagle, and various waterbirds and savannah species that add to the vibrant birding experience in Rwanda.
Birdwatching in the Heart of Kigali
Kigali offers an exciting opportunity for urban birdwatching. The gardens of hotels hold captivating bird species, and Nyarutarama Lake, also known as “Lover’s Lake” on the outskirts of the Kigali golf course, is a reliably productive spot. A visit can be pretty rewarding, even if you have just a short time to spare.
You’ll encounter a uniques bird species, including the White-collared Oliveback, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Narina Trogon, Lesser Honeyguide, Brown-backed Honeybird, African Swamphen, Bat Hawk, Black Cuckoo-Shrike, Olive-bellied, Red-chested Sunbird, and Bronzy Sunbirds. Additionally, you might spot the Palm Nut Vulture, African Goshawk, Crested Barbet, Rüppell’s Starling, Grey-backed Fiscal, and Black-headed Weaver.
Notably, Umusambi Village gives close-up views of rescued Grey-crowned Cranes. With a remarkable diversity exceeding 100 species of birds, the restored Umusambi Village nature reserve is the best destination for birdwatching in Kigali. It serves as an exceptional starting point for your birding adventure in Rwanda. Thanks to its well-developed trail network, bird enthusiasts can easily explore the reserve’s grasslands, swamps, bushes, and woodlands, offering chances to spot a wide variety of birds. A full day spent on the birding trail can result in tallying more than 30 species on your checklist.
Recommended Rwanda Birding Books
- Birds of East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi by Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe
- Pocket Guide: Birds of East Africa by Dave Richards
- Wild Rwanda: Where to watch birds, primates, and other wildlife by Ken Behrens, Christian Boix, and Keith Barnes
Tailor-made bird watching tours in Rwanda
Design your very own birdwatching safari in Rwanda, tailored to your preferences and travel style. Choose the finest birding locations and optimal routes that align with your personal journey. Nkuringo Safari’s team of experienced safari specialists is here to provide you with expert insights and guidance, ensuring that your birding expedition in Rwanda becomes an unforgettable and cherished experience.