Birds of Uganda

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Located in the heart of East Africa, Uganda’s diverse landscape—ranging from dense rainforests and expansive savannas to serene lakeshores and mist-covered mountains—supports over a thousand bird species. Uganda also serves as a stopover and wintering ground for many migratory birds. The region’s location along the East African-Eurasian flyway gives Ugandan wilderness spaces a front-row seat to the spectacle of avian migration.

In this article, we look at some of the common as well as rare species among Uganda’s enchanting array of birdlife.

1. Shoebill

Perhaps one of the most iconic birds of tropical Africa, the shoebill is a prehistoric-looking giant that inhabits dense, freshwater wetlands. Named for its massive shoe-shaped bill, it stands tall, at up to four feet in height. This sole-surviving member of its family has blue-gray plumage with pale underparts.

Shoebills are largely piscivorous, with a preference for lungfish, tilapia, and catfish, but their diet includes a range of wetland vertebrates. They are known for their stealthy hunting techniques and are capable of standing still for extended periods before striking. The shoebill is a vulnerable species, facing threats such as habitat loss, human disturbance, and poaching.

2. Grey Crowned Crane

As Uganda’s national bird, the Grey Crowned Crane is a symbol of national pride. With its regal appearance and distinctive golden crown of feathers, this unusual bird is an icon of the grassy wetlands and savannas of eastern and southern Africa.

Typical of cranes, they have elaborate courtship displays involving dancing, head bobbing, and calling in unison as they establish and maintain their lifelong pair bonds. Gray crowned cranes are omnivorous. Their diet includes seeds, insects, small reptiles, and amphibians. Like other cranes, this species faces a number of threats, including habitat loss and pesticide poisoning.

3. Great Blue Turaco

With its deep blue plumage, vibrant red facial markings, and prominent crest, the great blue turaco is quite the rainforest spectacle. This African beauty is the largest species of turaco. Its distinctive calls can be heard echoing through the forest.

Like other turacos, the great blue is frugivorous, relying on the fruits of the forest and supplementing its diet with leaves, flowers, and insects. Great blue turacos are weak fliers that glide from tree to tree in their arboreal habitat, spending most of their time in the treetops. The great blue turaco is a prized food for many local tribes and a clan totem for others. The species has a stable population and an extensive range from western Kenya in the east to Guinea-Bissau in West Africa.

4. African Fish Eagle

A symbol of Africa, the African Fish Eagle is easily identified by its distinctive white head and tail. It is known for its iconic, high-pitched, and evocative calls, often associated with the sounds of the African wilderness.

African fish eagles are largely piscivorous, and they are often observed around large water bodies such as lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. They catch fish at the water’s surface with a powerful, swooping plunge, gripping their prey in their large, rough talons. These eagles are highly territorial and form monogamous pairs that aggressively defend their nesting territories. The large stick nests are constructed in tall trees near the water. The African fish eagle is a heralded symbol of many African nations and is often featured in cultural stories and folklore. This iconic species draws many birders to Africa’s waterways.

5. Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

One of two species of ground hornbill, the Abyssinian is the lesser-known, with a range confined to the northernmost reaches of sub-Saharan Africa. It is similar in appearance to the southern ground hornbill with its black plumage with white primaries, colorful facial skin, and throat pouch.

The Abyssinian ground hornbill has metallic blue skin around the eye and upper throat. This color extends to the throat pouch in females. The bill is long and black, with a red patch near the base. This species also has a prominent black casque, which is larger in males. Like their southern cousins, Abyssinian ground hornbills are huge birds, well-adapted to their terrestrial lifestyle. They prefer open, arid habitats, walking through dry grasslands, savannas, and rocky scrub, either in pairs or small flocks, searching for small mammals and reptiles to prey on and fruit and seeds to forage.

Ground hornbills produce a deep, booming call that can be heard from miles away. They nest in the cavities of large trees, such as baobabs and palms. The female is partially sealed in with a mixture of vegetation and mud. Both species of ground hornbill are vulnerable owing to a slew of threats, including habitat loss and degradation.

6. Hartlaub’s Bustard

An East African beauty, Hartlaub’s Bustard was named after the German ornithologist. It is a rather special sighting, uncommon in its wooded grassland habitat.

Hartlaub’s bustard is an elegant long-legged bird with a long, slender neck and intricately patterned plumage in cryptic coloration. It is very similar in appearance to the black-bellied bustard, distinguishable by its sharper black-and-white facial and neck markings. Pairs have elaborate courtship displays, during which the male inflates and extends its long neck and gives its clicking courtship call, following which he darts into the air and parachutes back down.

Like other bustards, this species is believed to be omnivorous, feeding on invertebrates and plant foods, but little is known about this rare and elusive bird.

7. Black-and-White-Casqued Hornbill

Another distinctive hornbill that can be found in Uganda, the Black-and-White-Casqued hornbill inhabits rainforests in tropical Africa along a narrow stretch from west to east.

Their loud, honking calls resonate through the forest. As per the name, it has scruffy black and white plumage and a prominent casque on its bill. Black and white casqued hornbills have highly mobile eyes—a rare trait in birds that allows their eyes to move around in their sockets, possibly to enable a wider range of vision in their dense wooded habitats.

They are frugivores with a preference for figs and supplement their diet with insects and small animals. These birds play a crucial ecological role as seed dispersers in their habitat, consuming a variety of fruits and regurgitating the seeds over a wide area, promoting forest regrowth and regeneration.

8. Regal Sunbird

This small, brilliantly colored sunbird inhabits the forests and scrublands of the Albertine Rift Mountains. The male bears dazzling plumage, which features a metallic green and purple iridescence on its upperparts, contrasting with a bright orange-yellow breast and throat.

Similar to hummingbirds, sunbirds are nectar feeders, utilizing their long, slender bills to extract nectar from a variety of flowers. The regal sunbird also consumes small insects and spiders as part of its diet. Populations of this species are declining due to the loss and degradation of their forest habitat.

9. Rwenzori Batis

The Rwenzori batis is a small, insectivorous bird species endemic to the montane forests of the Albertine Rift, where it can be spotted amid the foliage of the mid-canopy. Its call is an eerie, piping whistle, adding to the symphony of the forest.

This small Old World Flycatcher has black, white, and gray plumage, typical of batis species. It can be distinguished from other species by its broad, black chest band and white wing stripe. The Rwenzori batis is a shy, active bird that forages energetically in the dense, humid forests it calls home.

10. African Green Broadbill

In Uganda, the African Green Broadbill is an elusive inhabitant of the montane rainforests of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the nearby forested slopes of the Rwenzori Mountains.

This diminutive, emerald-colored bird is part of a family that has few representatives in Africa. Its bright green plumage is interspersed with blue and black markings. Its call is a series of high-pitched whistles and chirps that resonate through the forest.

Broadbills are known for their peculiar foraging habits, hopping through the foliage in search of insects, spiders, and other small invertebrates. This bird is a high-priority conservation target, with the aim of maintaining its pristine forest habitat and preventing further habitat destruction.

Uganda is a birdwatcher’s paradise, offering unparalleled diversity and opportunities to observe both common and rare species in their natural habitats. Whether you’re an avid birder or a nature enthusiast, the country’s avian treasures are bound to leave you in awe.

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