Uganda Birding Beginner’s List: 100 key birds resident in various parts of Uganda.

At almost every level, the sheer variety of bird species in Uganda can be daunting, not only for first-timers to Africa, but also for bird enthusiasts familiar with other parts of the continent. So we decided to help you out with this Uganda birding beginner’s list that showcases 50 key birds resident in various parts of Uganda.

This Uganda birding beginner’s list details some common and/or highly singular birds that are likely to make an impact on Africa safari first-time visitors (or in some cases birders from elsewhere in Africa), whether or not they have any great prior interest in the study of birds.

Excluded from the birding list in order to keep things manageable are the 30-40 bird species whose Ugandan range is restricted to Semliki National Park, the country’s 24 Albertine Rift endemics and the true weavers.

Even allowing for these omissions, Philip Briggs, Andrew Roberts in their Bradt Travel Guides, preference was given to more common, striking and/or individualistic birds over the likes of greenbuls and cisticolas. For ease of reference, the plate number in Stevenson and Fanshawe’s Bird’s of East Africa book is provided at the end of each entry.

Common Ostrich

Common ostrich (Struthio camelus)

World’s largest bird, a flightless savanna resident, in Uganda restricted to Kidepo and the far northeast. Can also be seen at the Zoo in Entebbe. *Plate 1

Pelicans

Pelicans (Pelecanus spp)

Large, charismatic waterbirds often seen swimming in tight flotillas on open lakes and the Kazinga Channel, Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP). Two species are present in Uganda. *7

African darter (Anhinga rufa)

African darter (Anhinga rufa)

Also referred to as the snake-bird after its habit of swimming low with elongated rufous neck (longer than any cormorant) extended in serpentine fashion, fairly common in most freshwater habitats with fringing vegetation, perches openly, often with wings spread open to dry. *8

Goliath heron (Ardea Goliath)

Goliath heron (Ardea Goliath)

As the name suggests, an immense heron (1.5m tall) with lovely cryptic purple-grey and orange markings, commonly seen from boat safari launch trips on the Vicotira Nile in Murchison Falls. *12

Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)

Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)

Peculiar, medium-sized, brown waterbird with no close allies, a backward-pointing crest and long bill that combine to create the hammerhead effect for which it is named. Builds a vast scruffy nest, a good example of which can be seen on the Mweya Peninsula, QENP. *13

Saddle-billed stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis)

Saddle-billed stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis)

The largest and most handsome of several storks common in Uganda, up to 1.4m high, with black-and-white feathering and gaudy red, yellow and black bill, usually seen in pairs, regular on safari game drives north of Murchison Falls. *15

Marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumenferus)

Marabou stork (Leptoptilos crumenferus)

Macabre carrion-eating stork, 1.5m tall, with large expandable air-sac below neck, and black-and-white feather pattern reminiscent of an undertaker’s suit. Common in rural and urban environments—nowhere more so than in downtown Kampala and Entebbe Town. *15

Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex)

Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex)

Unmistakable large grey swamp-dweller, distantly related to pelicans, and the main motivating factor behind many an ornithological tour to Uganda. Shoebill can be easily seen in Mabamba Swamps in Entebbe, on the Nile below Murchison Falls, and Lake Albert in Semliki Wildlife Reserve. *15

Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus spp)

Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus spp)

Stunning and gregarious pink-white algae-eaters, most likely to be seen in large concentrations in Katwe and Flamingo crater lakes in QENP and adjacent Chambura Wildlife Reserve. Two species of flamingo occur in Uganda. *17

Secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius)

Secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius)

Unique grey snake-eating raptor, with stork-like build, up to 1.5m tall, red face markings, black head quills, rare and localised in northern Uganda. *24

African fish eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)

African fish eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)

Stunning fish-eating raptor, resident on most lakes and waterways, as notable for its high, eerie duetting as its bold black, white and chestnut feather pattern. *25

Palmnut vulture (Gypohierax angolensis)

Palmnut vulture (Gypohierax angolensis)

Superficially similar to the fish eagle, and also associated with palm-fringed waterways and lakes, but with more white than black, no chestnut, and a red rather than yellow cere. *25

Lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotos)

Lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotos)

Africa’s largest vulture, dark black with a bare red head, often seen singly or in pairs alongside smaller vultures at kills in Uganda’s savanna reserves. *27

Bateleur (terathopitis ecamlatus)

Bateleur (terathopitis ecamlatus)

Arguably the most striking of Uganda’s large raptors, a predominantly black short-tailed eagle with unique red collar and Lice and bold white underwings seen clearly in flight. Common in Uganda savanna reserves, often seen soaring with a tilting motion reminiscent of the tightrope walkers from which its name derives. *39

Long-crested eagle (Lophaettus ecudatus)

Long-crested eagle (Lophaettus ecudatus)

Handsome, medium-sized eagle, with diagnostic foppish long crest. Unlike many other large raptors, it’s common outside of game reserves, and often, though by no means exclusively, seen close to water. *39

Jackson's Francolin

Jackson’s Francolin (Francolinus jackson)

Large pale-headed wildfowl, localised on east African mountains, and in Uganda restricted to forest edge and open country on Mount Elgon, where it’s common. *47

Helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris)

Helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris)

Gregarious and largely terrestrial wildfowl with striking white-speckled grey feathering and blue head with ivory casque. Panic-prone flocks common in savanna parks. The similar crested guineafawl is a forest resident with an unruly set of black head feathers. *46

African jacana (Octophilornis africanus)

African jacana (Octophilornis africanus)

Unusual chestnut, white and black wader, also known as lily-trotter for its habit of walking across floating vegetation on its splayed feet, common in most wetlands in Uganda. *55

Grey crowned crane or Crested Crane (Balearica regulorum)

Grey crowned crane (Balearica regulorum)

Uganda’s national bird, commonly known as the Crested crane, grey and white feathering and a unique golden crest, common in swamp and associated moist grassland. North of the Nile, check carefully, since the northern black crowned crane has been recorded. *56

African green pigeon (Treron calva)

African green pigeon (Treron calva)

Large, dove-like inhabitant of riparian woodland with cryptic green-grey feathering, often seen in fruiting fig trees. In the north, check against Bruce’s green pigeon, distinguished by a yellow chest. *83

African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus)

African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus)

Familiar caged bird — large, grey, with red tail feathers. Flocks are liable to be seen in any forested habitat, listen out for the loud squawking call emitted in flight. *89

Great blue turaco (Corythaeola cristata)

Great blue turaco (Corythaeola cristata)

Like a psychedelic turkey, this awesome blue-green forest dweller measures up to 75cm from the tip of its red-and-yellow bill to the end of its blue black-barred tail. Small flocks are widespread in forested habitats countrywide, including Entebbe Botanical Gardens. *91

Ross's turaco (Musophaga rossae)

Ross’s turaco (Musophaga rossae)

Another stunner — deep purple with a bold yellow facemask and red crest and underwings. Widespread — but nowhere abundant — resident of forested habitats bordering wetlands or rivers. *91

Eastern grey plantain-eater (Crinifer zonurus)

Eastern grey plantain-eater (Crinifer zonurus)

Large grey turaco-like bird with bold yellow bill and off-white crest, common in woodland and savanna countrywide, its loud chuckling calls a characteristic sound of suburban Kampala and Entebbe. Check against black-faced go-away bird in acacia woodland of Lake Mburo. *93

African emerald cuckoo (Chrysococcyx cupreus)

African emerald cuckoo (Chrysococcyx cupreus)

Brilliant green-and-yellow cuckoo associated with forest, where its deliberate, clear four-note call is as ubiquitous seasonally as the bird itself is impossible to locate in the high canopy. In breeding season, the three-note call of the red-chested cuckoo, variously rendered as ‘it-will-rain’ or Tiet-my-vrou’, also forms an unforgettable element in the Ugandan soundscape, but the bird itself is slightly less elusive. *97

Coucals (Centropus spp)

Coucals (Centropus spp)

Large, clumsy-looking relatives of the cuckoos, associated with rank grassland and swamp, with four species in Uganda of which the blue-headed and swamp-dwelling black coucal are the most enticing. *98

Verreaux's eagle-owl (Bubo lacteus)

Verreaux’s eagle-owl (Bubo lacteus)

Largest of 13 owl species in Uganda, most of which might be seen by chance on night drives or roosting in large trees by day. *101

Pennant Standard winged nightjars (Macrodipteryx spp)

Pennant/Standard-winged nightjars (Macrodipteryx spp)

Most spectacular of 11 nocturnal nightjars recorded in Uganda, the males of both species acquire wing streamers twice the length of their body during the breeding season. It might be seen in display flight in any savanna habitat, especially close to water, but there’s no better place to seek them out than on the road to the top of Murchison Falls after dusk. *106

Pied kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)

Pied kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)

Boldly marked black-and-white kingfisher that hovers still above water for long periods and is ubiquitous in practically any wetland habitat. *111

Giant kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima)

Giant kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima)

Like an overgrown pied kingfisher but with a distinctive chestnut chest; widespread near water with tall fringing vegetation, but nowhere common. *111

Northern carmine bee-eater (Merops nubicus)

Northern carmine bee-eater (Merops nubicus)

Bold red and blue bee-eater, not uncommon and perches openly north of the Nile in Murchison Falls. *117

Broad-billed roller (Eurostymos glaucurus)

Broad-billed roller (Eurostymos glaucurus)

Dark chestnut and blue bird with bright-yellow bill, usually seen in pairs perched high but openly in woodland. Common countrywide including around Entebbe Golf Course. *117

Malachite kingfisher (Alcedo cristata)

Malachite kingfisher (Alcedo cristata)

Exquisite African counterpart to European kingfisher, with blue back and wings and orange chest. Perches still on low reeds or twigs next to rivers and lakes; away from water, check against pink-cheeked but otherwise similar pygmy kingfisher. *113

Red-throated bee-eater (Merops bulocki)

Red-throated bee-eater (Merops bulocki)

Stunning green, red and turquoise bee-eater, essentially west African though range extends into northwest Uganda. Breeds in tall sandbanks on Lake Albert and the Nile below Murchison Falls. *116

Northern carmine bee-eater (Merops nubicus)

Northern carmine bee-eater (Merops nubicus)

Bold red and blue bee-eater, not uncommon and perches openly north of the Nile in Murchison Falls. *117

Broad-billed roller (Eurostymos glaucurus)

Broad-billed roller (Eurostymos glaucurus)

Dark chestnut and blue bird with bright-yellow bill, usually seen in pairs perched high but openly in woodland. Common countrywide including around Entebbe Golf Course. *117

Lilac-breasted roller (Coracias caudata)

Lilac-breasted roller (Coracias caudata)

Dazzling pigeon-sized bird with chestnut back, lilac breast, blue chest and long tail streamers. Common in savanna habitats throughout east Africa, where it perches openly. A popular safari favorite, check it against the Abyssinian roller (no lilac) in Murchison Falls, where both species are present. *118

Hoopoe (Upupa epops)

Hoopoe (Upupa epops)

Distinctive orange, white and black bird with prominent crest, mainly terrestrial though it flies into trees when disturbed. Not uncommon in most wooded Uganda’s savanna habitats. *120

Black-and-white casqued hornbill (Bycanistes brevis)

Black-and-white casqued hornbill (Bycanistes brevis)

Characteristic Ugandan forest resident, a turkey-sized black-and-white bird with gross ivory bill, often first detected through its raucous braying and heavy wing flaps. *124

Abyssinian ground hornbill (Bucorvus abyssinicus)

Abyssinian ground hornbill (Bucorvus abyssinicus)

Predominantly terrestrial hornbill, over one meter tall, very heavily built with black feathering with white underwings, blue and red face patches, and effete long eyelashes. A common savanna resident in Murchison Falls and Semliki National Park. *125

Double-toothed barbet (Lybius bidentatus)

Double-toothed barbet (Lybius bidentatus)

Colorful thrush-sized bird, black with bold red breast, chest and face, yellow eye-patch and heavy pale bill. Might be seen in any wooded habitat, especially near fruiting fig trees. In north of Murchison Falls, check against rather similar but more localized black-breasted barbet. *130

White-browed robin-chat (Cossypha heuglini)

White-browed robin-chat (Cossypha heuglini)

The most common of seven similar thrush-sized species, most of which have orange-red chest, dark blue-black back and bold white eye-stripe. Associated with forest edge, well-developed gardens and other lush vegetation but not forest interiors. *166

Grey-capped warbler (Eminia lepida)

Grey-capped warbler (Eminia lepida)

Distinctive sparrow-sized resident of rank undergrowth, has green back, grey cap, black eye-stripe and red bib. Seldom comes out into the open, but very vocal and widespread, and especially common close to water. *198

Brown-throated wattle-eye (Platysteira cyanea)

Brown-throated wattle-eye (Platysteira cyanea)

Delightful, highly vocal, common and widespread resident of woodland and forest edge, with neat black-and-white markings, bold red eye-wattle and (female only) chestnut-brown throat. *211

African paradise flycatcher (Terpsiphone viridis)

African paradise flycatcher (Terpsiphone viridis)

Stunning and ubiquitous woodland and forest resident, usually blue-black on head and chest, rufous on back, male with extended tail up to twice the body length. A black-and-white morph is common in some parts of Uganda, and intermediate forms exist. In forested habitats, especially Kibale Forest, check against similar red-bellied paradise flycatcher. *212

Silverbird (Empidornis semipartitus)

Silverbird (Empidornis semipartitus)

Striking silver-backed, orange-chested dry-country flycatcher, often seen perching openly in Murchison Falls. *212

Scarlet-chested sunbird (Chalcomitra senegalensis)

Scarlet-chested sunbird (Chalcomitra senegalensis)

Represented by more than 30 species in Uganda alone, sunbirds are small, colourful and often iridescent nectar-eaters, with long curved bills reminiscent of the unrelated hummingbirds which fill a similar niche in the New World. This is one of the more common species in Uganda, jet-black with a bold scarlet chest patch and green head markings. *228

Black-headed gonolek (Laniarius erythrogaster)

Black-headed gonolek (Laniarius erythrogaster)

Brilliant black-and-red thrush-sized bird, common in most savanna habitats, especially riverine thickets. Secretive but not especially shy, its presence is often revealed by loud duetting, alternating loud liquid notes with a softer churring response. *934

Fork-tailed drongo (Dicrurus absimilis)

Fork-tailed drongo (Dicrurus absimilis)

Pugnacious all-black bird with deep forked tail, common in wooded savanna where it perches openly and often emits a series of harsh, nasal notes. Could be confused with similar but more lightly northern black flycatcher. *241

Piapiac (Ptilostomus afer)

Piapiac (Ptilostomus afer)

Smaller and more lightly built than other African crows, glossy black with a red eye, often seen in the vicinity of riverine palms and frequently associated with livestock or wild bovines, eating disturbed insects. Common in Jinja and Murchison Falls. *241

Black-winged red bishop (Euplectes hordeaceus)

Black-winged red bishop (Euplectes hordeaceus)

The most widespread of three red bishop species found in Uganda, all of which are small, bright, black-and-red birds, associated with reeds and rank grassland. *268

Red-cheeked cordon-bleu (Llraeginthus bengalus)

Red-cheeked cordon-bleu (Llraeginthus bengalus)

Diminutive finch with blue underparts and (male only) bold red cheek-patch. Restless flocks regularly encountered in savanna habitats throughout Uganda. *274

Pin-tailed whydah (Vidua macroura)

Pin-tailed whydah (Vidua macroura)

Black-and-white male is small, but with a bright-red bill and tail streamers twice the length of the body. Often accompanied by harem of nondescript females, common in grassland and open savanna. *280

African finfoot (Podica senegalensis)

African finfoot (Podica senegalensis)

Widespread but elusive red-billed resident of quiet lakes and rivers with overhanging vegetation. ranks high on many African birders’ wish list and seen very regularly from boat safaris on Lake Mburo and also in QENP. *8

Best Time for Birding in Uganda

From a birder’s perspective, Uganda is good all year-round, especially since the main birding interest lies in the resident birds. The climate is the main factor to take into consideration. Uganda is a very wet country. During the Wet seasons, roads and forest trails might be in poor condition and rains could interfere with birding time.

In general, the best time for bird watching is from late May through September, when there is less rain and food is abundant. The main nesting season in Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga (key sites for the Albertine Rift endemics) is May and June, but from mid-April to mid-May the rains might still be too heavy.

February and early March is the only time Toro-Semliki is relatively dry, but it is uncomfortably hot in the north, including in Murchison Falls NP. December and January are also good months since the north is not yet too hot and there is less rain in the south.

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