Birding in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

Birding in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

Birding in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary: The Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is a remarkable destination for both Rhino conservation and bird watching, It is situated 176 kilometers North of Kampala on the Gulu Highway in Nakasongola District. The sanctuary occupies 70 square kilometres of land on the way to Murchison Falls National Park. The black Rhino was once the only species found in Uganda, but it reached extinction in 1982 due to poaching and political instabilities. The European Union, Disney World, and Kenya gave the southern White Rhinos to the refuge in 2005, the year it was established. With the goal of increasing Rhino numbers until they may be returned to their native habitat and flourish as intended, this started the restoration process. Out of the 6 Rhinos donated between 2005 and 2006, 26 successful births have been registered, bringing the total to 32 southern white Rhinos in the sanctuary.

Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is not exclusively Rhino oriented but also a haven for many other fascinating activities, mainly with a diverse population of bird life. The sanctuary is home to over 300 bird species, including the highly sought after Shoebill Stork. Four birding trails have been developed by the resident bird guides and rangers at the sanctuary. Woodlands, Swamps, and Savannah grasslands are some of the habitats for birds at Ziwa Rhino sanctuary, such as the Shoebill Trek, the Rhino Trek, Lugogo Swamp, best known for the beautiful scenic sunrise, and also nesting Shoebill Storks. The birds at the sanctuary include; Grey-crowned crane, Grey Kestrel, Heuglin’s Francolin, Red-headed Bluebill, Brown Twinspot, Marico, Copper, Red-chested, Scarlet-chested, Pygmy, Gren-headed, Olive-bellied, Olive and Green-throated Sunbird, Namaqua Dove, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Nubian Woodpecker, African-grey and Crowned Hornbill, this is one of the best places for the White-crested Turaco, African Hoopoe, Yellowbill, Rufous Chatterer, African Grey Flycatcher, Fawny-breasted and Common Waxbill, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, African-wattled Lapwing, Purple, Lesser-blue and Greater-blue Eared Starling, Chin-spot Band Black-headed Batis, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Jacobin and Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Wood-chat and Grey-backed Shrike, Red-billed Firefinch, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Brubru,  Shoebill among others.

Habitats for bird species in Ziwa-Rhino Sanctuary

The Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Uganda is a haven not only for Rhinos but also for a diverse array of bird species. Let’s explore the habitats that attract these feathered wonderers:

Woodlands and savannah grassland

Woodlands: The sanctuary’s woodlands provide shelter and foraging grounds for various bird species. Look out for secretive warblers, colourful kingfishers, and elusive owls. Grassland: The open grassy areas are home to ground-dwelling birds like the Grassland Pipit, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Flappet and Rufous-naped Lark, Wood-doves and Black-bellied Bustard. Keep an eye on the grasslands for raptors such as the African Marsh Harrier. Swamps and Wetlands: These areas harbour water-loving birds. You might spot the elegant Great Egret, the striking African Jacana with its long toes, and perhaps even the rare Shoebill Stork.

Savannah: The savannah habitat attracts a variety of avian life. Keep your binoculars handy for sightings of African Hawk Eagles, Crowned and African-grey Hornbills, Striped, Pygmy, Grey-headed and Woodland Kingfishers. Valley Dams: These water bodies provide a crucial resource of water for both Rhinos and birds. Look for waders like the Black-winged Stilt and the massive Goliath Heron. With up to 351 recorded bird species, the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary offers an exciting birdwatching experience. Whether you’re a seasoned birder or a curious novice, this sanctuary offers delightful encounters with Uganda’s avian life.

Bird watching spots in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary:

Nature walk

Take a guided nature walk to further explore the sanctuary. Indulge yourself in the peaceful surroundings, take in the sounds of nature, and watch birds. African Black Crake, Broad-billed Roller, African Black-headed Oriole, Bronze Mankini, Red-cheecked Cordon-bleu, Black-headed Gonolek, Blue-naped and Speckled Mousebird, Violet-backed Starling, White-crested Turaco, Banded Snake Eagle, Black-winged Red Bishop, Fantailed Widowbird and African blue Flycatcher are among the birds to watch for.

Lugogo Swamp:

Lugogo Swamp spans approximately 10 kilometres. It serves as a favourite stopover for travellers en route to Murchison Falls National Park. The community provides the canoes and is compensated for their assistance. This strengthens the community’s relationship with Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary for conservation. You have the chance to go on a night drive to see the nocturnal birds while you are staying at the sanctuary.

This swamp is renowned for its rich biodiversity, including over 150 bird species. Among them, the Shoebill Stork stands out as a sought-after sighting in the sanctuary. This rare Shoebill Stork is mainly spotted along the marshy areas on a canoe ride during the excursions. An early morning Shoebill trek and canoe ride through the swamp provide an opportunity not only to spot the shoebill but also to witness the Ugandan sunrise over the serene waters. This offers bird lovers and nature enthusiasts an enchanting experience as they observe and explore these remarkable birds, such as African Jacana, Black Crake, Pied Kingfisher, Giant Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher, African open-billed Stork, Egyptian Goose, African Fish Eagle, Goliath Heron Great Egret, and other water birds.

Remarkable birds found in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

A flying Shoebill keeps hold of its minor prey.

Shoebill Stork

This large bird species, called shoebills, can be seen in Ziwa’s marshy areas. It is a strange bird with a huge bill that looks like a shoe. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified the Shoebill Stork as vulnerable due to its rarity and habitat loss as a bird species.  With its striking distinctive features, that’s where it derives its name from the enormous, shoe-shaped bill. This bill is not only massive but also resembles an old-fashioned clog or shoe. It’s perfectly adapted for catching and holding its favourite prey, especially the slippery lungfish.

Stork-Like Form: Despite its unique bill, the shoebill has a somewhat stork-like overall form. Its long legs and broad wings contribute to its impressive appearance. Grey Plumage: As adults, shoebills are mainly grey in colour. However, juveniles tend to be more brownish. Large Size: Shoebills are large-bodied birds, standing about 115 cm (3.8 feet) tall. Their size, combined with their distinctive bill, makes them quite memorable.

Solitary behaviour: Unlike some other birds, Shoebills are solitary and do not form large flocks. They prefer the quiet solitude of freshwater swamps and marshes. Loud Bill Clapping: As part of their display behaviour, Shoebills often clap the mandibles of their bills together or clatter, producing a loud, hollow sound. In summary, the Shoebill’s unique bill, stork-like appearance, and solitary nature make it a fascinating and unforgettable bird of the African wetlands.

African Fish Eagle

The African Fish Eagle (also known as the African Sea Eagle) is a magnificent bird of prey found in the wetland areas along the river banks of the ranch. Its striking appearance sets it apart: a deep brown body contrasts with a white head, chest, and tail, all topped off with a formidable yellow beak. The adult African Fish Eagle boasts a mostly brown body, a white head (similar to the Bald Eagle), and large, powerful black wings. Its featherless face is yellow, and its eyes are dark brown. These eagles thrive near freshwater lakes, reservoirs, and river banks.

Pied Kingfisher

This bird is commonly seen along the thickets, woodlands, and savannah territories of the ranch near watering halls. It exhibits unique, distinctive features that set it apart: Plumage and Crest: The pied kingfisher boasts striking black and white plumage. Its head is adorned with a neat crest, adding to its unique appearance as males appear as if they are wearing a vest and females a bra.

Hunting behaviour: One of its fascinating habits is hovering over clear lakes and rivers before swiftly diving to catch fish. Gender Differences: Males sport a double breast band, while females have a single broken breast band. Next time you spot a Pied Kingfisher near a water body, observe its graceful movements as it hovers and dives—a true marvel of nature!

Palm-nut Vulture

This captivating bird of prey found in sub-Saharan Africa can also be found in the ranch’s wetland and savannah grassland areas. As an adult, the palm-nut vulture stands approximately two feet tall and weighs up to four pounds. Its wingspan spans five feet. The plumage is predominantly white, with striking black areas on its wings and tail. A red patch surrounds each eye. Juveniles, which take 3–4 years to mature, are brown with yellow eye-patches. In flight, this species resembles an eagle more than a typical vulture, and it can sustain flapping flight without relying on thermals. Unlike other vultures, it is approachable and can even be seen near human habitation, including large hotel lawns in tourist areas.

The Giant Kingfisher is ready to pounce on its prey.

Giant Kingfisher

The giant kingfisher is found along the water bodies of the ranch, measuring 42–46 cm (16.5–18 inches) in length. It boasts a large, shaggy crest, a black bill, and fine white spots on its black upperparts. Males exhibit a chestnut breast band, while females have a white-spotted black breast band and a chestnut belly. The forest subspecies (M. m. gigantea) is darker, less spotted above, and more barred below than the nominate race, but the two forms intergrade along the forest edge zone. The giant kingfisher is monogamous and a solitary breeder.

African Paradise Flycatcher

The African Paradise Flycatcher is a captivating medium-sized passerine bird found in the savannah and open forests of the ranch, their preferred environments, which provide ample opportunities for insect hunting and nesting. The African Paradise flycatcher primarily feeds on insects. It’s an adept hunter, catching flies on the wing and consuming eggs, larvae, and adult insects. Occasionally, it also indulges in spiders and berries. These birds construct neat cup-shaped nests where they lay clutches of usually two or three eggs. The nests are often situated in open, forested areas or near water sources. Interestingly, their nests can sometimes fall victim to parasitism by cuckoos.

White Egret

The great egret (Ardea alba), also known as the common egret, large egret, or great white egret, is a magnificent wading bird found in the ranch’s wetlands, ponds, and marshes with distinctive features: The great egret stands over 3 feet tall and possesses an elegant, S-curved neck. Its plumage is entirely white, and it has a long, dagger-like yellow bill and long black legs. During the breeding season, adults develop green lores (the area between the eyes and bill) and long, showy plumes on their backs. Its graceful presence near lakes, rivers, and marshes adds to the beauty of these habitats.

African Jacana

The African jacana (Actophilornis africanus) is a striking and unmistakable wader found in the wetlands and shallow waters of the ranch. African jacanas feed on insects and other invertebrates, picking them up from floating vegetation or the water’s surface. They breed throughout sub-Saharan Africa, laying over four black-marked brown eggs in a floating nest. The African jacana has evolved a highly unusual polyandrous mating system, where one female mates with multiple males. The male alone cares for the chicks.

This system results from the combination of two factors: the resource-rich lakes where they live, and the negligible energy expended by the female in producing each egg. The African jacana’s ability to walk on floating vegetation with its long toes and claws is truly remarkable and a testament to nature’s ingenuity!

Grey-crowned Crane

The ranch’s grasslands are home to Uganda’s national bird, the Grey Crowned Crane. The Grey Crowned Crane indeed has a stunning appearance. Its head is crowned with golden feathers, and the upper portion of its body is covered in grey feathers. One particular resident crane in Ziwa is very friendly and is often spotted wandering the camp. It is often reachable by everyone and is constantly curious about its surroundings.

African Pied Wagtail

A predominantly white African Pied Wagtail with black upper parts and a broad upper band across its breast.

The African pied wagtail is a striking black and white bird belonging to the family Motacillidae, and inhabits the ranch’s lowlands, grasslands, rivers, and freshwater marshes. has black upperparts that contrast with white underparts. It features a white supercilium (eyebrow) and a white patch on its folded wing. Juvenile birds appear grayer, while those of the nominate subspecies exhibit grey flanks. Both males and females participate in nest building, but only the females incubate the eggs.

African Pygmy Kingfisher

The African Pygmy Kingfisher is a delightful little insectivorous bird species found in the woodlands of the ranch. It has a beautiful appearance, with blue and orange feathers on its body. Both males and females exhibit similar plumage. It is a tiny kingfisher with rufous underparts and a blue back extending down to its tail. The dark blue crown of the adult distinguishes it from the African dwarf kingfisher, while its smaller size and violet wash on the ear coverts set it apart from the similar malachite kingfisher. Juveniles have less extensive violet on their ear coverts and a black bill instead of orange.

Great Blue-Eared Starling

This brightly coloured bird belongs to the starling family and is commonly found in the open savannah and woodlands of the ranch. Behaviour and Nesting: These starlings nest in holes in trees, either natural or excavated by woodpeckers or barbets. They will also nest inside the large stick nests of the sacred ibis or Abdim’s stork. A nest typically includes three to five eggs, which are usually greenish-blue with brown or purple spots and hatch in 13–14 days. The chicks leave the nest roughly 23 days after hatching. This species is sometimes parasitized by the great spotted cuckoo and occasionally by the greater honeyguide. The Greater Blue-eared Starling is highly gregarious and will form large flocks, often with other starlings. Its roosts, in reedbeds, thorn bushes, or acacia, may also be shared.

Red-Billed Oxpeckers

An iconic image of a cheeky black-feathered bird with scarlet beaks riding on a rhinoceros is shown. Known as an oxpecker, it coexists peacefully alongside black and white rhinos in Africa. They are even known as “askari wa kifaru” in Swahili, which translates to “the rhino’s guard.” The insects, parasites, and ticks that annoy rhinos are feasted upon by these birds, freeing the horned giants from these little invaders. Because they pick excessively at their skin, oxpeckers can occasionally bother rhinos. They do, however, also assist in acting as a warning system for rhinos with low vision. There is a wide variety of birds at the Ziwa Rhino Ranch. The ranch’s various habitats offer a supportive environment for birdlife.

African Hawk Eagle is one of the fiercest in Africa, whose plumage is a lovely mix of blacks, whites, and greys.

Other notable birds in the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary include:

Other species include: Marabou Stork, African Marsh Harrier, Black and White Cuckoo, Black Headed Gonolek, Great Sparrow Hawk, African Cuckoo-hawk, Grey-headed and Woodland Kingfisher, African Hawk Eagle, Bat Hawk, Greater Honey-guide, African Scops-Owl, Curlew Sandpiper, Black-headed Heron, Black Kite, Blue-Cheeked Bee-eater, Blue-spotted Dove, Plain-backed and Grassland Pipit, Goliath Heron, Black-billed and Double-toothed Barbet, Black-bellied Bustard, Greater and Lesser Honeyguide, Grey and Lesser Kestrel, Blue-spotted Woo-Dove, African-grey and Crowned Hornbill, Booted Eagle, Grey-caped Warbler, Laughing Dove, among others.

Best Time to Visit Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary for birding trip

Although Lugogo Swamp is open all year, late May through September is the best time to go birdwatching because there is less rain and plenty of food. Recall that an enjoyable and safe experience is guaranteed by paying attention to safety instructions and honouring the surroundings. Birdwatching in Ziwa Sanctuary is a paradise for birders. There are four different trails to choose from, each leading through savannah, woodlands, or swamps. Early mornings and evenings are ideal for birdwatching, as the birds are most active during these times. So, grab your binoculars and explore the diverse avian life at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary! Every day in the early hours of the morning, canoe rides along the swamp are offered for shoebills. It is during this time that you will most likely see them before they seek cover from the midday sun.

Being a shelter for many other exciting activities like rhino trekking, nature walks, and others, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is mostly known for its unique bird population. Many bird species, including the much sought-after shoebill, can be found in the refuge. Within the sanctuary, the local bird guides have created four designated birdwatching trails. The Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary has a variety of bird habitats, including woodlands, swamps, and savannas. Notable birdwatching locations include the shoebill walk, the rhino trek, and Lugogo Swamp, which is home to nesting shoebill storks and a breathtaking dawn. So don’t miss out on one of Uganda’s tourist destinations, including wildlife safaris.