Birding in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

March 25, 2024
News Journeys Uganda

Birdwatching in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a delightful experience for nature enthusiasts. Nestled in Uganda, this park offers a rich diversity of avian life amidst its stunning landscapes. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is Uganda’s smallest national park, covering 33.7 square kilometres.  It’s approximately a 9 to 10-hour drive from Kampala, or you can opt for a chartered flight to Kisoro Airstrip, which is close to Mgahinga.  While the park is renowned for gorilla trekking and golden monkey tracking, its volcanoes, forests, and vegetation also offer great sights to birdwatchers.  Over 185 bird species have been recorded in Mgahinga, with over 13 considered endemic to the Albertine Rift. Some of the most sought-after birds in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are truly captivating. Birdwatchers and enthusiasts flock to this stunning park to catch glimpses of these remarkable avian species, such as the Ruwenzori Turaco: A colourful multi-hued turaco found exclusively in the Albertine Rift montane forests. Displays large crimson wing patches during flight and gracefully bounces through trees. Often seen in pairs or small groups along the bamboo forest trail, the Ruwenzori Batis: A lovely black and white batis, endemic to the Albertine Rift montane forests. It inhabits altitudes of 1,340 to 3,300 metres. Males have yellow eyes, while females have orange eyes. It is mostly observed in pairs along the Sabinyo Gorge trail, among others

Bird species found in Mgahinga National Park.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda is a haven for birdwatchers, offering various avian species. Let’s explore some of the remarkable bird species found in this beautiful park and their fascinating behavioural characteristics:

  • Ruwenzori Turaco: A colourful multi-hued turaco found exclusively in the Albertine Rift montane forests. It displays large crimson wing patches during flight and gracefully bounces through trees. Often seen in pairs or small groups along the bamboo forest trail.
Rwenzori Turaco
  • Ruwenzori Batis: A lovely black and white batis endemic to the Albertine Rift montane forests. It inhabits altitudes of 1,340 to 3,300 metres. Males have yellow eyes, while females have orange eyes. Mostly observed in pairs along the Sabinyo Gorge trail.
  • Dusky and Shelley’s Crimsonwing – this is one of the nest trails for this bird. It was last sighted in 2022 with our great guide and director at Journeys Uganda Paul Tamwenya with a couple from South Africa who made a second attend in June, it is a very shy bird species and a few birding guides in Uganda have had a chance to see it.
  • Kivu Ground-Thrush: A spectacular and scarce bird native to the Albertine Rift montane forests. It is considered a subspecies of the Abyssinian ground thrush. Adults have a deep rufous-orange head and a distinctive white eye ring. Less rufous on the breast and flanks, with olive-brown upper parts. Recognisable by two distinctive white wing bars on folded wings
  • Rwenzori (Collared) Apalis: A handsome bird species in the family Cisticolidae. Slim, long-tailed bird with grey upperparts and mostly white underparts. Features a black chest band and rufous flanks. Distinguished from the Rwenzori apalis by its white throat. Commonly spotted around forest edges, often in pairs or small flocks.
  • Blue-Headed Sunbird: A striking sunbird species with iridescent blue plumage on the head. Often seen flitting among flowering plants, sipping nectar. Adds vibrant colour to the forest canopy.
  • Red-Throated Alethe: A small, shy bird with a reddish throat. It inhabits the forest understory. Known for its melodious song.
  • Purple-Breasted Sunbird: A sunbird species with a purple breast. Feeds on nectar from flowers. It adds a touch of elegance to the forest.
  • Cinnamon-Chested Bee-Eater: A bee-eater with cinnamon-coloured plumage on the chest. Often perches on branches, scanning for flying insects.
  • Archer’s Robin-Chat: A delightful bird with a melodious song. Often seen perched on branches, singing its heart out. Its distinctive call echoes through the forest.
  • Alpine Swift: A swift species adapted to high altitudes. Known for its rapid, agile flight. Often seen soaring above the mountain slopes and one of the migrating birds from Northern Europe
  • Yellow-Vented Bulbul: A small, lively bird with yellow undertail coverts. Commonly found in forested areas. Its cheerful calls add to the park’s ambience.
  • Doherty’s Bush-Shrike: A striking bird with a black mask and crimson underparts. Prefers dense vegetation. Listen for its melodious whistles.
  • Western Green Tinkerbird: A tiny, greenish bird with a distinct call. Often heard tapping on tree trunks. Its drumming sound resonates in the forest.
  • Scarlet-Tufted Malachite Sunbird: A jewel-like sunbird with iridescent plumage. Feeds on nectar from flowers. Spot its vibrant colours near flowering plants.
  • Rwenzori Double-Collared Sunbird: A sunbird species with a metallic green back. Males have a striking double collar of iridescent feathers. Females are more subtly coloured and an endemic to the Albertine Rift

These birds contribute to the rich avian tapestry of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Whether you’re an avid birder or a casual observer, their presence adds magic to the lush forests and misty trails.

Best places to spot bird species in Mgahinga National Park.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda offers excellent birdwatching opportunities. Here are some of the best places to spot birds within the park:

  • Sabinyo Gorge Trail

The Sabinyo Gorge Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a captivating hiking experience that takes you through the spectacular lower slopes of Mount Sabinyo. The trail typically takes 5-6 hours to complete. The trail leads through distinct vegetation zones, offering a rewarding but strenuous hiking adventure. As you ascend, you’ll encounter lush forests, bamboo thickets, and scenic waterfalls. From the trail, you’ll enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding Virunga Volcanoes and the lush Mgahinga Park where Silver meets Gold. The vistas are truly awe-inspiring.

Bird enthusiasts will be delighted by the diverse avian life along the trail.

Keep an eye out for species like the Rwenzori Turacos, Rwenzori Nightjars, Waxbills, Black Kites, Archer’s Robin-Chat, Dusky Crimsonwing White-necked Ravens, Cinnamon-bracken Warblers, Speckled Mousebirds, and Paradise Flycatchers, Mountain Yellow Warbler, Evergreen Forest Warbler,  Malachite Sunbird, Regal and Blue-headed, Strange Weaver among others. While hiking, you might also spot some mammals, including duikers and golden monkeys. The trail allows you to visit Rugezi Swamp, where you can encounter interesting forest animal species such as elephants and giant forest hogs, along with various bird species. The trail leads visitors to Garama Cave, approximately 4 kilometres from Ntebeko reception. This cave served as a refuge for humans during the late Iron Age. The Batwa people also used it as a hiding spot after raiding neighbouring Bantu-speaking tribes. Inside the cave, you’ll find the Batwa’s subterranean council chamber. Exploring the Garama Cave is a fascinating 3-hour round-trip trip.

The cost for the Sabinyo Gorge Trail is as follows:

Foreign nonresidents: USD 30

Foreign residents: USD 15

East African residents: Shs 15,000

The trek to the caldera is free of charge.

  • Bamboo Trail

The Bamboo Trail in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park offers a captivating hiking experience through lush forests and bamboo thickets. The trail winds through the lower slopes of Mount Sabyinyo, one of the Virunga Volcanoes. As you hike, enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape, including the Virunga Massive and the Rift Valley. The trail takes you through distinct vegetation zones, from dense forests to bamboo thickets. Bird enthusiasts will appreciate the diverse avian life along the trail. Keep an eye out for native wildlife, including monkeys, gorillas, and various bird species such as Ruwenzori Turaco: A colourful multi-hued turaco found exclusively in the Albertine Rift montane forests, Ruwenzori Batis: A lovely black and white batis, endemic to the Albertine Rift montane forests, Kivu Ground-Thrush: A spectacular and scarce bird native to the Albertine Rift montane forests, Rwenzori Apalis, White-starred Robin, Scarlet-Turfed Malachite Sunbird and the Dusky Crimsonwing among the different bird species expected.

  • Buffalo Wall Trail

The Buffalo Wall Trail is a scenic route within Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, located in southwestern Uganda. The trail runs along the northern edge of the park. The dry stone wall serves as a barrier to keep buffaloes within the park. The trail is an excellent spot for birdwatching, offering opportunities to observe various avian species such as the Dusky Turtle Dove, Crowned Hornbill, Black Kite, Grey Crowned Crane, African Stonechat, Grey-Capped Warbler, Cape Rocbin-Chat, Yellow-bellied, Black-crowned and Kandt’s Waxbills and Yellow-Vented Bulbul.

What is the best time to go birding in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park?

The best time for birdwatching in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park depends on the seasonal conditions and the availability of bird species.

Ideal Months:

The birdlife in Mgahinga is good year-round. However, the optimal periods for birdwatching are:

April to mid-May: During this time, fruits are abundant, attracting various bird species. October to November: Another favourable window for birdwatching.

Rainfall Patterns: June and July have the least rain, making them suitable for birding. March to mid-May experiences the most rain, which might lead to delays due to impassable roads and slippery hiking trails.

Nesting Season: The main nesting season for birds in Mgahinga is May and June. During this period, you can observe breeding behaviours and nesting activities.

Food Availability:From late May through September, food resources are abundant, enhancing bird activity.

Migratory Birds: Migratory birds visit the park from November to April. Keep an eye out for these seasonal visitors during this time.