Did you know that you can actually visit Rwanda for just a bird watching tour? This is very possible much as it is often ignored by tourists on Rwanda safaris, who instead visit the country for only chimpanzee tracking, gorilla trekking, golden monkey tracking as well as game drives within Akagera National Park. However, there are over 750 exceptional species of birds that can be sighted within the land of a thousand hills hence making it a must-visit birding paradise.

With the country’s small size (26,338 square kilometers/10169.1 square miles), it is obvious that there is a high concentration of birds within every square kilometer compared to other relatively large countries with slightly higher number of bird species. Take the neighboring Uganda for instance that covers an area of 241,038 square kilometers with about 1061 species of birds, Rwanda is definitely an ideal birding spot.

The most interesting fact about birding in this country is that it is conducted in varying habitats that range from Tropical rainforests, wetlands/swamps, lakes and rivers to savannah plains offering views of several Albertine Rift endemic species, aquatic, swamps, forest and savannah bird species among others.

There are currently over 8 important Birding Areas in Rwanda, offering exceptional species that you can’t afford to miss during Rwanda safaris. These include Kigali City, the three main National Parks (Akagera, Nyungwe Forest and Volcanoes National Parks), wetlands/marshlands such as Rugezi, Nyabarongo and Akanyaru wetlands as well as Cyamudongo forest.

Volcanoes National Park

Besides protecting part of the World’s remaining critically endangered mountain gorillas, golden monkeys and five of the Virunga volcanoes, this National Park is a home to over 180 birds species including 53 of the total 74 bird species of the Afro-tropical highlands biome, 17 of the 25 species of the Albertine Rift mountains, 13 species that are endemic to the Rwenzori Mountains and 16 bird species native to the Virunga Mountains. Some of the common ones you are likely to encounter include Lagden’s bush-shrike, the Kivu ground thrush, African green broadbill, Rwenzori batis and the Rwenzori Turaco among others.

Nyungwe Forest National Park

Situated in the south-western corner of Rwanda, this National Park is a home to Africa’s largest montane rainforest and is a haven to more than 310 species of birds including 71 of the 74 species of the Afro-tropical highland biome species, 11 of the 23 birds of the Guinea-Congo Forest biome as well as 25 species endemic to the Albertine Rift Mountains. Much as the site is characterized by steep hills and deep valleys, there are wonderful meandering roads across the forest to the peak of the mountains, thus offering tourists with mind-blowing views of the surrounding area.  Some of the wonderful species of birds in this Park include the stripe-breasted tit, Rockefeller’s sunbird, the masked mountain Apalis, Rwenzori Turaco, Grauer’s Rush, regal sunbirds, mountain sooty Boubou, Archer’s robin-chat, yellow-eyed black flycatcher, the blue-headed sunbirds, handsome francolins, the Kungwe Apalis, Rwenzori hill babblers, Rwenzori double-collared, red-collared mountain babblers, strange weavers, Congo Peacock, Blue-headed sunbirds and many others.

Akagera National Park

Located in the North-eastern corner of Rwanda, Akagera National Park offers the highest number of bird species in the country (with over 520 species that call it home) across different ecosystems that include Lakes, wetlands/marshes and savannah plains. All these habitats support rare bird species such as the elusive shoebill stork, sousa’s shrike, Carruther’s Cistola, Miombo wren-warblers, Red-faced barbet, Tabora Cistola, broad-tailed warblers, Papyrus Gonolek, Ring-necked Francolin, black and familiar chats, white-collared Oliveback, Bennett’s woodpeckers, Papyrus canary and purple-crested turaco among others.

Cyamudongo forest

Cyamudongo is a small remnant forest covering around 410 hectares, situated in the extreme south-western side of Rwanda near Nyakabuye Town close to the Rwanda-Democratic Republic of Congo border. Even with its small size, it takes pride in numerous species of birds including 33 of the 74 Afro-tropical highland biome species, 8 of the 24 Albertine Rift mountains endemics as well as four species of the Guinea-Congo Forest Biome that exist within Rwanda. Besides birding, the site is known to be a wonderful chimpanzee tracking destination in Rwanda, after Nyungwe Forest National Park.

Akanyaru marshland

This wetland is situated in the southern part of the country and is a home to several papyrus swamp and marshy bird species. Notably, there are 54 species of the wetland species including 11 species of the Lake Victoria basin biome, 3 species of the Afro-tropical highland biome species as well as one specie of the Guinea-Congo forest biome species have been recorded within Akanyaru wetlands. The key species you will encounter during birding safaris include lesser kestrel, papyrus Gonolek, papyrus canary, Pallid Harrier, lesser swamp warbler, Madagascar squacco heron and the great snipe among others.

Nyabarongo River and wetlands

Nyabarongo River and the surrounding wetland is one of the best spots for Rwanda birding safaris because it offers shelter to several aquatic and wetland bird species such as the grey crowned cranes, papyrus Gonolek, the papyrus canary, white-winged scrub-warbler, papyrus yellow-warbler, the Madagascar squacco heron, Sharpe’s pied babbler, white collared Oliveback, white-winged scrub-warblers, Carruthers’s Cisticola and the Northern brown-throated weaver among others.

Rugezi wetlands

Rugezi wetland is found within a submerged valley in Northern Rwanda, east to Lake Bulera and on the Ugandan border. It is a home to over 43 species of birds including 6 of the 11 species of the Lake Victoria basin biome, one of the 25 species of the Albertine rift mountains endemics as well as one of the 74 species of the Afro-tropical biome.

Tourists are likely to encounter several wetland species such as Pelicans, Papyrus canary, Papyrus Gonolek, storks, white-winged scrub-warbler, Madagascar squacco heron, thick-billed seedeater, Egrets, Grauer’s swamp-warbler, Baglafecht weavers, slender-billed starling, yellow-browed citril, Kingfishers, Jacanas, Carruthers’s Cisticola, ducks, weavers, Cisticola and herons among others during birding safaris.

Kigali City

This site is another exceptional birding Area with areas around Lake Nyarutarama, near the Golf Course being ideal spots for sighting the African spoonbill, Common waxbills, Pied Kingfishers, grey-backed fiscal, grey herons, yellow-billed storks, common moorhens, mosque swallows, red rumped swallows and weavers among others.

In conclusion, tourists can actually visit Rwanda for birding safaris, with important birding areas being Nyungwe Forest, Akagera and Volcanoes National Park, Akanyaru, Nyabarongo and Rugezi wetlands, Cyamudongo forest and Kigali City.