Where to see Shoebill in Uganda?

Where to see Shoebill in Uganda?

February 20, 2024
News Journeys Uganda

Where to see Shoebill in Uganda? Uganda is widely regarded as one of the top bird-watching destinations in Africa and perhaps the entire world. Tourists can indulge in adventurous bird-watching experiences and spot over 1100 species of birds, given the time, luck and perseverance of the group together with a kin birding guide at Journeys Uganda . The country is home to the world’s most sought-after and globally threated species, the Shoebill, and the chances of spotting it in Africa all lie in Uganda and are over 85 percent. Other bird species that bird watchers seek to include are some of the Albertine Rift Endemics which are a great add to the East African bird checklist, also the many Guinea-Congo biome endemics for birders who have not explored West Africa and the only 1 endemic Fox’s, key on the list for Uganda are the unusual Jameson’s Antpecker, the very beautiful leaf-green Grauer’s Broadbill, The Forest dwelling Black Bee-eater always seen around the Neck area of Bwindi, Kibale Forest and low lying Buhoma forest, the attractive  Brown-chested Lapwing, the enormous Great Blue Turaco, Uganda’s National Bird – The Grey Crowned Crane, Karamoja Apalis, Shelley’s Crimsonwing and the Rwenzori Turaco among others. For those interested in observing the Shoebill bird species, which has an established standard of over 1000 shoe bills, the best places to visit are:

Shoebills in Mabamba wetland.

The Mabamba swamp, located to the west of Entebbe and near Lake Victoria, is considered as one of the best places to see the rare Shoebill storks. Bird enthusiasts can have the most delightful experience of spotting these magnificent Shoebills and numerous other bird species during the morning hours at Mabamba swamp which is also an IBA – Important Bird Area, where they hunt for food such as the mud and lungfish, snails and insects. Besides the shoebill stork, the Mabamba wetland is also home to a variety of other bird species, including the Papyrus Gonolek which is another globally threatened bird species, the intra African migrating Blue Swallow, Pallid Harrier, Northern Brown-throated Weaver, Goliath Herons, African Marsh Harrier, Malachite Kingfisher, Whiskered Terns, African and Lesser Jacana, Black Egret, Papyrus Canary, Allen’s Gallinule, White-backed Dark, African Pygmy-goose African Marsh-harrier, Lesser and Greater Swamp-warbler,  Long-toed Lapwing, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Cape Wagtail, Saddle-billed Stork and many others.

Ishasha section in Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Ishasha sector is one of the bird-watching spots in Uganda located in Queen Elizabeth National Park in south-western Uganda, the park is home to over 600 species of birds including the peculiar Shoebill in its natural habitat mostly around the Edward flats and a few sightings on Lake George which is a Ramseur site and other birds include the Pied King Fisher, Spot-flanked Barbet, Falcons, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Little Bee eater, White-tailed and Red-capped Lark, Great Blue Turaco among others. This Ishasha stretch in Queen Elizabeth National Park is well known for harboring tree-climbing lions together with Manyara in Tanzania, the only two places in Africa. The park is also home to many species of animals such as Topi, Cape Buffalo, elephants, antelopes and others.

Sighting Shoebills in Murchison Falls National Park.

Murchison Falls National Park is also another place where bird watchers can reliably spot the distinctive Shoebills mostly around the delta area and the shores of the lake and river banks, many sightings have occurred along the Packwach bridge  and rarely on the launch cruise to the bottom of the falls. It is located in the northwest of the Ugandan capital Kampala taking around 4-6 hours (305 kilometers). The park covers parts of Masindi, Nwoya, Kiryandongo, Packwach and Bullisa districts covering an area of 3840 kilometers (1483 square miles). The national park is a natural habitat to other unique bird species such as the Fish eagle, Bee-eaters, Blue-headed Coucal, Grey Crowned Heron, Black Headed lapwing, Senegal thick-knee, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Kingfishers, Palm-nut Vulture, Goliath Heron and many others.

Lake Mburo National Park.

Lake Mburo National Park is the closest of all Uganda’s national parks to the capital Kampala and it is located westwards along Kampala- Mbarara high way about 3-4 hours’ drive (228 kilometers) from Kampala. Birders visiting Lake Mburo National Park have a great opportunity of seeing the rare Shoebill with its distinctive features and behaviors such as its elusive identity, patience, the kill bill with a hook on the upper mandible and its enormous structure are very enjoyable to observe.  Other bird species that can be seen in Lake Mburo National Park include; African Fish Eagle, Striped Crake, African Swamphen, Lake Mburo is home to the Red-faced Black-collared, Crested, White-headed and Spot-flanked Barbet, Papyrus Gonolek, African-wattled Lapwing, Blue headed Coucal, Blue-naped and Speckled Mousebird, Long-crested Eagle, Green-wood Hoopoe, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Greater-blue Eared Starling, Golden-tailed and Bearded Woodpecker  and many more.

Toro-Semliki wildlife Reserve.

Semliki wildlife reserve is another destination for Shoebills in Uganda where visitors can vividly spot the rare Shoebill storks on once they take a boat on Lake Albert. Toro –Semliki wildlife reserve is located in western Uganda within Kabarole and Ntoroko districts near Semliki National Park which lies on Uganda’s border with Democratic Republic of Congo. Shoebills at Toro-Semliki wildlife reseve can best be sighted in the marshes along the shores of Lake Albert using a boat cruise. One should also expect to encounter other bird species like the Red-necked Falcon, Black-billed Barbet, Abyssinian-ground Hornbill, Red-throated and Blue-breasted Bee-eater, African pygmy goose,  Red-headed Weaver, Black Coucal, Moustached  Grassland Warbler, African crake and many others.

Shoebill stork in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.

The Shoebill stork is a highly sought-after bird species to be seen in Uganda, and the Ziwa Sanctuary is one of the few places where visitors are guaranteed to spot this elusive bird. Those with a keen interest in the Shoebill stork will mostly see them while on a boat ride at Lugogo swamp and rarely on land. The Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is situated on the Kampala-Gulu highway in Nakasongola district, 176 kilometers away from Kampala. Apart from the shoebill stork, this sanctuary offers tourists the opportunity to experience the unforgettable Rhino tracking on foot in their natural environment, thus making it home to the endangered White Rhinos. In addition to the Shoebill stork, visitors will have the chance to observe other bird species such as the Blue-breasted kingfisher, Emerald-spotted Wood-dove, African fish eagle, Pied kingfisher, Yellowbill, White-crested Turaco, African-grey Hornbill, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, African Paradise Flycatcher, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Rufous Chatterer and many more.

Nabujjuzi wetland system

This is one of the main highway wetland which was designated in 2006 as a Ramsar site covering  an area of 1,753 hectares straddling over the districts of Mpigi, Masaka, to Sembabule. Some parts of Nabajjuzi wetland systems are in the river Katonga basin which flows from Lake Victoria to Wamala and empties into lake Edward in the National Park of Queen Elizabeth making it a unique ecosystem and a wonderful habitat for the Shoebills as vegetation in the wetland is characterized  with Papyrus sedge, silver grass with numerous, blue, pick and purplish water lillies. With the exception of the Shoebill Stork, other bird species recorded at Nabajjuzi are considered endemicand near threatened such as the very shy and always rushing Papyrus Yellow Warbler the globally threatened and stunning Papyrus Gonolek , Grey Crowned Crane, Saddle-billed Stork, the visiting Blue Swallow and Pallid Harrier, African Marsh Harrier, Blue-bresated Bee-eater, White-winged Warbler and many more. This swamp is also hope to the Sitatunga which is a swamp dwelling Antelope. Nabajjuzi houses a variety of fish species like the lung and mud fish which are the favorite dish for the Shoebill Stork

The Kyoga basin and the Environs 

This is Uganda’s most shallow lake, located with in the most central part of Uganda with other small lakes in the eastern part namely Bisina, Opeta, and Nakuwa all of which are classified Ramsar sites and IBAs and offer great habitat to the Shoebill stork. The sites were gazetted but tourism is not fully developed within the area, for the few tourists who get there, small canoes are used to such for the bird life in the wetlands mostly the Shoebill.

With exception of the Shoebill, the sites are famous for harboring Uganda’s only endemic bird species, the Fox’s Weaver a very close and if not habitats would easily be confused with Speke’s Weaver. The bird is classified as a Near Threatened species, however, there’s insufficient data about its status and range but lots of thanks to the Uganda Bird Guides club members who in 2018 made lots of efforts to rediscover the species with lots of breeding records in Toroma and the Pian Upe areas

Lake Bisina, Opeta and the environs are home to over 12 different weaver species including Compact, Northern Brown-throated, Black-headed, Lesser Masked, Grosbeak, Slender-billed, Golden-backed, Black-necked, Village, Heuglins Masked, and Spectacled weavers respectively

Shoebill storks, a sought-after bird, can be spotted in various destinations around Uganda due to the country’s conducive environment. These elusive birds are very diurnal and aquatic, spending most of their time around thick marshy and floating island areas and along water bodies, which provides them with good hiding spots in search for their prey.

For detailed itineraries of these attractions, please contact us at Journeys Uganda via email.