The top 7 birds you can’t afford to miss in Uganda

Uganda is arguably the most attractive country in Africa for bird watchers, not only because of the unusually large number of species recorded within its borders, but also because it offers easy access to several bird-rich habitats that are difficult to reach else where. Uganda’s remarkable avian diversity- approximately 1,010 species recorded in an area similar to that of Great Britain can be attributed to its location at a transitional point between the East African savanna, the West African rainforest and the semi-desert of the north.

The key to Uganda’s diversity is its variety of habitats: arid semi-dessert, rich savannahs, lowland and montane rainforests, vast wetlands, volcanoes and an Afro-alpine zone. Uganda covers an altitude from 650 to 5000m. (Source: Uganda travel guide)

1. The african fish eagle

The African Fish eagle also referred to as Haliaeetus vocifer is a large eagle Species that exists in the parts of Sub Saharan Africa where expansive open waters masses exist with adequate supply of its preferred food, fish.  It comes as no surprise that they are fairly common in Uganda because of its water bodies.

The African fish eagle is a bird of great political significance as it appears as the national bird on flags of numerous African countries including South Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

African fish eagle

This bird is considered is considered a large bird where the female is larger than the male weighing avaeragely 3.2-3.6kg  compared to the 2 -2.5kg of the male  This sexual dimorphism (the difference between two sexes of the same species apart from their sexual organs )is usually observed among birds of prey.

African fish eagles are believed to mate for life. When a pair meets they will stay together till does them apart. The pair also goes ahead to build and maintain multiple nests which because they are reused , they do get really large sometime some getting to 2m wide and 1.2m in depth. Fancy builders you can call them

Want to know how they are able to snatch slippery prey like fish out of water without dropping them ? They have special structures on their toes called spiricules that sort of act as suction pads.

African fish eagle

2. The Shoebill

An extremely endangered bird , there are estimates that only 5000 remain the wild and only 200 are in existence in Ugandas wild.

The shoe bill

Part of the reason they are rare and critically endangered is  that they are very anti-social birds. Immediately after hatching  and some growth, the larger chick will commit fratricide (killing ypur own brother or sister)without hesitation and it too will be kicked out of the nest by the mother as soon its gets the very basic survival skills.

The  Shoebill is so antisocial that even durong feeding , its usual that that individual birds will keep a distance of 20m  Thank God they atleast meet during mating season or else they would be no Shoe Bills to intrigue us.

They are also formidable hunters in their preferred habitats, the swampy and marshy areas. With their comical but incredibly strong beak and curved hook at the end of the beak which is used as a spear , they are quick to spot prey in shallow waters and deliver precise but fatal attacks that always leave their victims helpless and ready and this terror can go on for upto 25 years.

An interesting shoebill is Sushi , a captive shoe bill at UWEC that demands visitors to bow before you approach it or they risk injury or Sushi will fly away in contempt.

3. The great blue turaco

The great blue turaco features a turquoise-blue head with a bluish-black crest at the fore crown and the crown. The bright appearing yellow bill with red tip is visibly large and curved and is the largest among the turaco species.

The Great Blue Turaco feeds primarily on fruits, shoots leaves and flowers from numerous plants and occasionally on some insects too  They always gather to feed in small groups in fruiting trees except during the hottest hours of the day, they start to feed at dawn and throughout the day to the dusk. At the end of the day, each group reaches its usual night perches.

Great blue turaco

Fun Fact: The chicks are fed with regurgitated leaves, just like our parents used to first chew medicine and give whilst babies

With short round wings, Turacos aren’t the best flyers you will find, every time they try to fly to an upper branch, they clumsly  come back to the lower branch but they have made up for this shortfall with unique feet that give them the ability to climb to reach the fruit trees they live in. They can move quickly and deftly through the trees, using a fourth toe that can rotate around the foot all the way to the front, giving them a better ability to grip branches while climbing at odd angles. So even if may not get to see much mastery of this bird in flight, but watching them move so well through the branches with nothing but their feet is still a sight to behold

Turacos unlike the shoebill are family loving and oriented birds. After the female laying 2 blue birds(usually), both parents will take turns incubating them for about a month. When the chicks finally hatch, one of the two parents has to stay with them 24hrs a day until after two months when the chicks start venturing out of the nest and start practicing their short falls. If this aint family spirit, tell me what is!

5. The Stardard night jar

The Standard-winged Nightjar is one of the more impressive members of the Caprimulgidae family. Birds of this family are commonly called nightjars, from their jarring cries, or goatsuckers, from the ancient superstition that they used their very wide mouths to milk goats.

These birds are especially an incredible spectacle during the mating season  During the mating/ breeding season, the male grows highly-specialized central flight wing feathers of up to 38 cm long, primarily of bare shaft with feather plumes on the end. The feathers are used as part of a flight display to attract a female. Just what will male wont do to attract female?

The standard night jar

This picturesque bird demonstrates a vivid example of sexual selection because only males have these extraordinary wings and only during the short breeding season. We all know girls for loving the flash, one only can wonder what tricks the many males use when flashing these wings since all of them have them. You have to stand out to be noticed.

Its every birder’s dream and on most birder’s bucket lists to see these nature wonders during their breeding season, a more breathtaking sight is when they take flight.

6. The Crested crane

The Crested Crane is the national bird of Uganda. It appears on their flag and their coat of arms and can be found abundantly near the country’s many lakes and rivers that create fertile marshes rich with wildlife.

Uganda is abundant with the kind of wet, flat marsh and grassland these birds love, and the bird has become a symbol closely tied to the nation of Uganda. But their numbers are dwindling drastically due to the destruction of their habitats. Their habitats’water is being being depleted watering crop fields. Estiamted to be 65000 birds in the wild now , they have been classified as endangered.

The crested crane

Just like the country men it represents, the crested crane is omnivourous meaning it eats both plants and meat. They eat a mix of leaves and seeds from a variety of plants, as well as insects, worms, and frogs. They have also been seen eating small fish, snakes, and various aquatic eggs.

The Grey-Crowned Crane has a breeding display that involves an elaborate dance with various jumping and bows. Though this behaviour is fairly common among birds, the crested crane dances all year round even during non-breeding seasons with the young also participating every now and again.

crested crane

The crested crane can live to upto 22 years in the wild. You might be wondering why this is a shocking stat. Well the average life span for a song bird is 2 years in the wild so the crested crane lives 11 times more than the expected life span.

Fun fact: These beautiful and regal birds also practise monogamy (one sexual partner for life). They will stay with the same partner they bonded with when they were young, breeding with the same every year and raising their young together. Tell us this aint cute??

7. The shelley’s crimson wing

The shelley’s crimson wing is one of the rarest finches  Finches are small to medium-sized passerine birds in the family Fringillidae. Finches have stout conical bills adapted for eating seeds and often have colourful plumage. They occupy a great range of habitats where they are usually resident and do not migrate.

Fun fact: The shelley’s crimson wing is so rare that up to now there are only two known photographs of this bird in the wild. Its rarity is due to its extereme shyness, flying for short distances and staying in very dense forest growth and bamboo thickets.

Shelley's crimson wing

If as a birder you are serious though to catch a glimpse and take the third known picture of this rare colourful bird, the best place to statrt is in the low density areas of three parks in Uganda – the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP), the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, and the Rwenzori Mountains National Park (RMNP)

Listed as endangered by the IUCN (Find link),  Bird international does not just want to believe that a bird can be this rare and they are concerned for the shelley’s existence. So much so that they have recommended that studies should investigate the status, assess the threats and distribution of this species so that a conservation action plan can be designed for its conservation.

Learn more about the best places to watch birds in Uganda from Africa Geographic.

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