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Nyungwe Forest National Park is not only known for Chimpanzee tracking but also bird species worth exploring while on safaris in Rwanda. It is situated in South-western Rwanda between the border of the country and Lake Kivu within the Albertine Rift Valley region and is popular for its extensive vegetation cover that offers home to exceptional species of birds. This Forest National park is divided North-South by Mountains with elevations from 2600 to 2900 meters above sea level which form part of the Congo-Nile watershed.

Due to its thick canopies, it becomes very challenging to identify the bird species that mainly occupy the top of the canopies than inside the forest. It is therefore advisable to conduct the activity in the company of a trained tour guide who will be able to identify the bird species even from their sounds. These tour guides even know which location to find what species of birds and the common birding spots within this National Park include Mount Bigugu and the Igishigishigi trail (during the canopy walk) that allows you to spot the bird species from the top of the trees. Other birding spots in Nyungwe Forest National Park include Kamiranzovu swamp, the Gisakura tea estate as well as Karamba area close to Gisakura.

Nyungwe is probably one of the most important bird watching destination in Rwanda with more than 280 bird species recorded of which the majority are forest specialists and 26 are regional endemics whose range is restricted to a few forests along the Albertine Rift. Bird watching in Nyungwe can be rather frustrating, since the vegetation is thick and many birds tend to stick to the canopy, but almost everything you see ranks as a good sighting.

You don’t have to be an ardent birdwatcher to appreciate some of Nyungwe’s birds. Most people for instance, will do a double – take when they first spot a great blue turaco, a chicken – sized bird with garish blue, green and yellow feathers, often seen gliding between the trees along the main road. Another real gem is the paradise flycatcher, along tailed blue, orange and (sometimes) white bird often seen around the rest house. Other birds impress with their bizarre appearance – the gigantic forest hornbills, for instance, whose wailing vocalizations are almost as comical as their ungainly bills and heavy – winged flight.

And when tracking through the forest under growth, watch out for the red throated alethe, a very localized bird with a distinctive blue-white eyebrow. The alethe habitually follows colobus troops to eat the insects they disturb, and based on our experience it sees humans as merely another large mammal, often perching within a few inches!

The priorities of more serious birdwatchers will depend to some extent on their experience elsewhere in Africa. It is difficult to imagine, for instance, that a first – time visitor to the continent will get as excited about a drab chubb’s cisticola as they will when they first see a paradise flycatcher or green pigeon. For somebody coming from southern Africa, at least half of what they will see will be new to them, with a total of about 60 relatively wide spread east African forest specials headed by the likes of great blue turaco. Ross’s turaco, red – breasted sparrow hawk and white – headed wood hoopoe.

From the east African perspective, however, it is the 26 Albertine Rift endemics that are the most alluring. Depending on your level of expertise, you could reasonably hope to tick off half of these over a few days in the forest. The more common regional endemics are handsome francolin, Ruwenzori turaco (a stunner), strip-breasted tit, red-collared babbler, red throated alethe, archer’s ground robin, kivu ground thrush, grauer’s warbler(confined to high altitude marshy areas), red-faced woodland warbler, kungwe apalis, grauer’s warbler, yellow-eyed black flycatcher , Ruwenzori batis, blue-headed sunbird  and strange weaver.

The guides at Nyungwe are improving and some are excellent, but others haveonly limited knowledge. For this reason, you will be highly dependent on a field guide, and without a great amount of advance research you are bound to struggle to identify every bird that you glimpse. Given the above, relict forest patches and the road verge are often more productive than the forest interior, since you will get clearer views of what you do see.

Nyungwe Birds

Explore some of the most elusive bird species in Africa in Nyungwe Forest National Park. The Park is one of the last and largest remaining montane forest in Eastern Africa and home to hundreds of bird species, some unique orchids and 13 large primates. Nyungwe Forest has good infrastructure, including great hiking trails, an information center, a forest camp site and several upscale hotels. The Nyungwe Canopy Walkway which gives you a unique perspective on the forest was recently voted as the best canopy walkway in the world.

Rwanda is famous for its numerous bird species. The Albertine Rift Valley passes through western Rwanda. This rift gives way to a deep valley surrounded by high mountains, some of which are amongst the highest in Africa. The unique landscape and climate of the Albertine Rift in Rwanda is the cause of the 29 Albertine Rift Endemic bird species which only live here. The diverse habitats of the region is what is behind Rwanda as the best montane birding in Africa.

Nyungwe Forest National Park is a haven to over 310 species of birds that include at least 25 Albertine Rift Mountains endemic species, 71 of 74 species of the Afro-tropical highlands Biome and 11 of the total 23 species of the Guinea-Congo forest Biomes. The Park is very important for the Conservation of montane birds within the region. Some of the notable bird species within Nyungwe Forest National Park include the Red-collared Mountain Babbler, Chapin’s flycatcher, Masked Mountain Apalis, the handsome francolin, and the Rockefeller’s sunbirds, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Archer’s Robin-chat,  Rwenzori Hill Babbler, Neumann’s and Grauer’s Warbles, Mountain Sooty Boubou, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Strange Weaver, Stripe-breasted Tit, purple-throated, Rwenzori Batis and handsome francolin among others.

Birds of Nyungwe Forest National Park

Nyungwe Forest serves as a very important habitat for numerous birds. In 2008 a workshop was held in Kitabi in Nyungwe with participants from ORTPN Research & Monitoring team, ORTPN Nyungwe Bird guides, WCS‐PCFN Bird & Mammal team and WCS‐PCFN Research & Monitoring team in order to update the Nyungwe National Park bird list. The previous list was from 1990 and contained 275 birds.  Information was added to the list from the long term monitoring of birds in Nyungwe as well as observations from other park personnel, especially the ORTPN bird guide. Any new species not already recorded on the list was added following consensus from participants in the workshop. Each species was rated in two ways following the method used by Dowsett et al. on the 1990 list. Firstly in terms of ease of observation and behavior and secondly in terms of habitat:

1 = Not easily seen or rare

2 = Scarce, seasonal or local

3 = Easily seen or common

F = Forest species

NF = Non‐forest species

FE = Forest edge species.

The final list produced from the workshop included a total of 299 bird species (appendix 1). However, this list includes 27 species from the original list created by Dowsett et al. that have never been seen by the Park personnel. It also includes some rare visitor species to Nyungwe as well as migratory birds, forest edge and non‐forest bird species. A total of 183 species have been classified as easily seen or common with 173 of those species being true forest species. There are at least 26 Albertine Rift endemics. All the birds were also assigned conservation risk status as assessed by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2008) which showed 13 species in Nyungwe to be classified as either endangered, vulnerable or near threatened.

What to carry during a birding safari in Nyungwe?

Just like birding in other Jungles, you need to carry the following things for Birding within Nyungwe Forest National Park; Strong waterproof hiking boots are handy, a camera, a pair of binoculars, a rain jacket and sweater, a hat and sunscreen, long sleeved shirts, long convertible pants, a backpack to carry packed lunch and drinking water to keep you hydrated throughout the Birding tour.

When is the Best Time for Birding within Nyungwe Forest?

Birding within Nyungwe Forest National Park is conducted at anytime of the year although the rainy season (March to May and late September to November) offers perfect sighting for the migratory bird species.

Besides the numerous bird species, this Park is a haven to several mammal species including the leopards, Dwarf Galago and golden cats, over 13 species of primates including the Common Chimpanzees hence making it a perfect destination for Chimpanzee tracking, Owl-faced monkeys, Mona monkeys, Olive baboons, the Golden monkeys, bush babies and Vervet monkeys as well as over 250 species of trees are also common within the Park.

In conclusion, Nyungwe Forest National Park is one of the Important Bird Area within the Land of a thousand Hills because it is a haven to over 310 species of birds that include 25 Albertine Rift Mountains endemic species, 71 of the 74 species of the Afro-tropical highlands Biome and 11 of the total 23 species of the Guinea-Congo forest Biomes among others.