Shoebill Stork, Balaeniceps rex, walking in the wetland or swamp in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

Are you a birder? Then these 9 East African destinations are must-visits!

Jun 7, 2024
Reading time: 13 minutes

East Africa is one of the ultimate birding destinations. In fact, its birds have more genetic diversity than anywhere else in the world! It also lets you see many species within a relatively compact area. Here's where all birders should visit ...

When thinking about East Africa's birds, picture shoebills, kori bustards, African fish eagles, pink-backed pelicans, saddle-billed storks, grey crowned cranes, secretary birds, grey-breasted spurfowls, Fox's weavers, cisticolas, yellow-collared lovebirds ... there's just an utterly incredible range of heavenly feathered friends to try to find!

Kori Bustard Male with courtship behaviour in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania

Kori bustards are easy spots throughout East Africa

But does East Africa really stack up, as we're claiming?

Well, in terms of global rankings for number of bird species, you have:

  • Tanzania at #12 with 1,074 bird species, of which 31 to 36 are considered endemics.
  • Kenya at #13 with 1,058 bird species, of which 10 or 11 are endemics.
  • Uganda at #16 with 999 bird species, of which 420 are forest birds.
  • Rwanda at #47 with 705 bird species, but remember that this is a tiny country (it's only the size of the Crimea!).
Grey-breasted Spurfowl bird standing on ground with blurred forest background at Serengeti in Tanzania, Africa

The grey-breasted spurfowl (or francolin) is found only in Tanzania

Right, so where should you visit within each country to have the most exciting birding experiences?

Here are the top nine parks, reserves or regions within these four bird-rich countries that you as a birder should try to visit ...

1. Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

Murchison Falls National Park in western Uganda has a wide range of ecosystems that allows it to play host to an astonishing 450 bird species. It's also a truly beautiful corner of the world, and so makes it onto our list of The 8 most beautiful national parks in Uganda.

Shoebill stork in flight in.Murchison Fall NP, Uganda

The shoebill stork (or whale head) has become synonymous with Uganda

Of special note for birders are the various waterbirds sustained by the park's waters, which include the Nile River, its delta, and Lake Albert.

Some of the standout birds to look for in Murchison Falls National Park are:

Great blue turaco

Shoebill stork

Puvel's illadopsis

Red-throated bee-eater

Yellow-footed flycatcher

Giant kingfisher

Abyssinian ground hornbill

Giant heron

Pennant-winged nightjar

Marabou stork

Black-headed lapwing

Back-bellied bustard

Grey crowned crane in the Murchison Falls national park. Balearica regulorum during wedding dance. Safari in Uganda.

Grey crowned cranes are a sublime sight every time with their yellow-gold 'pom-pom'

We list more birds you can see in the park in 10 compelling reasons to visit Murchison Falls National Park. Or for a full list of bird species take a look at Avibase.

Visit Murchison Falls National Park between late May and September if you also want to go on safari while there, as this is when you'll enjoy the driest and mildest weather. That said, migratory birds are present from November to April.

Fox's weaver (Ploceus spekeoides), endemic to Uganda, perched on acacia tree in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

A Fox's weaver, a Ugandan endemic, perched on an acacia branch

Birders are often amazed at the ease with which you can spot and photograph many of Uganda's most illustrious bird species!

2. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

The main thing people think of when they hear Bwindi Impenetrable National Park mentioned is mountain gorilla trekking. That's the cash cow for this important wildlife conservation site. But birders are also in for a treat when they visit this beautiful mountain rainforest in southwest Uganda!

Uganda's Bwindi Forest with sunset and mist

Bwindi Forest is often shrouded in mist

Uganda has 420 forest birds! We don't need to tell you that this is an incredible number, but it's even more impressive when you consider the relatively small size of the country.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park hosts 350 bird species, of which 14 haven't been recorded anywhere else in the country. It's one of the very best sites for montane birdwatching anywhere in Africa!

African blue flycatcher in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Flycatcher on the branch. Wildlife in Uganda. African safari.

An African blue flycatcher on a branch in Bwindi Forest

Here are some of the standout birds to look for in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest:

Bar-tailed trogon

Great blue turaco

Black bee-eater

Bronze sunbird

Black-and-white shrike-flycatcher

Brown-throated wattle eye

White-starred robin

African green broadbill

Shelley's crimsonwing

Oberlaender’s ground-thrush

Dwarf honeyguide

Chapin’s flycatcher


The north-south road through Bwindi, known as The Neck, is a great one for birders to travel. But there are also many fantastic hiking routes to take you deeper into the jungle.

Great blue turaco in Bwindi Forest, Uganda

A great blue turaco in Bwindi Forest

The best time of year to visit Bwindi National Park in general is December to February or June to September, as it's drier at this time. But in terms of birding, you want to visit in May or June for nesting season and abundant sightings, or between October and April for migratory birds.

Black Bee-eater - Merops gularis, beautiful colored rare bird from African forests, Kibale forest, Uganda.

A black bee-eater

Other notable birding destinations in Uganda

Finally, if you're in Uganda and have more time on your hands, other notable destinations offering incredible birding opportunities are:

  • Semuliki National Park, which protects East Africa's only lowland tropical rainforest.
  • Budongo Central Forest Reserve, a tropical rainforest in the Albertine Rift Valley. 
  • Queen Elizabeth National Park, which is a very popular game-spotting park too.
  • Mgahinga National Park, where you can also go gorilla trekking.
  • Kibale Forest National Park, a great place to also go chimpanzee trekking.
  • Lake Mburo National Park, which boasts about 350 bird species.
  • Entebbe Mbamba Swamp, the ideal location to see shoebills.
Cinnamon-chested bee-eater in Bwindi impenetrable national park in Uganda

Cinnamon-chested bee-eaters can be found throughout East Africa

3. Nyungwe Forest National Park, Rwanda

Nyungwe Forest National Park is located in southern Rwanda in the Albertine Rift (the western branch of the East African Rift, also known as the Great Rift Valley).

An Ayres's hawk-eagle in flight as seen from below in Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda

An Ayres's hawk-eagle seen flying over Nyungwe Forest National Park

Nyungwe Forest is an amazing place to visit for various reasons, including that it has 248 species of orchids and 13 species of primates (including chimpanzees). But more importantly to our purposes here, it's one of the very best East African destinations for birders, hosting an incredible 29 Albertine Rift endemics.

Nyungwe Forest is home to 300 bird species, with 29 of them being Rift Valley endemics! So this is an absolute jewel of a site for birders.

Ours. S. Canopy walkway Nyungwe Forest National Park Rwanda

The 70 metre-high canopy walkway in Nyungwe is perfect for birdwatching

Some of the Albertine Valley endemic bird species to look for in Nyungwe Forest are:

Stripe-breasted tit

Ruwenzori nightjar

Archer's robin-chat

Blue-headed sunbird

Buff-throated apalis

Regal sunbird

Strange weaver

Yellow-eyed black flycatcher

Red-collared babbler

Purple-breasted sunbird

Red-faced woodland warbler

Red-throated alethe

Ours. Treetop canopy walk in Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda (1)

There are also over 200 species of trees to enjoy in the park

Of especial note to visitors in the park are:

  • Kamiranzovu Swamp, a high-altitude marshland with a beautiful waterfall, gorgeous foxglove orchids and two endemic bird species (Grauer's Rush Warbler and the Albertine owlet).
  • The kilometre-long canopy walkway, which is the third longest in Africa and offers an excellent vantage point for birders.
  • Colobus monkey or chimpanzee treks, where you go on a guided hike in the forest to find primates, but also invariably spot many beautiful and rare birds!
  • The 13 different hiking routes, which range from one to eight hours in duration, let you take things at your own pace and look for birds to your heart's content.
Ruwenzori batis (Batis diops), an Albertine Rift endemic, in Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda

A Ruwenzori batis (an endemic) spotted in Nyungwe Forest National Park

Most of the park's bird species are residents, so you can visit throughout the year and have a great birding adventure. July to September is the dry season, and many birds nest at this time. Migratory birds can be spotted between November and April.

The very best birding months in Nyungwe Forest are December, January and February as migratory birds are present and it's not too wet.

Strange weaver (Ploceus alienus) in Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda

A strange weaver spotted in Nyungwe Forest

4. Akagera National Park, Rwanda

Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda is well-known as a traditional safari destination as it has a fantastic big game population, including all of the Big Five. The land consists of savannah, hills, woodlands, lakes and wetland.

African Fish Eagle sitting in the trees in Akagera National Park, Rwanda.

An African fish eagle spotted in Akagera National Park

Akagera National Park is the most diverse bird habitat in Rwanda, with over 480 recorded bird species.

Papyrus Gonolek - Red bird perched on a branch, Rwanda

A papyrus gonolek in the Akagera Wetland

Given all of the game that thrives in Akagera National Park, you can look forward to seeing many raptors when you visit (there are 44 raptor species). There are also plenty of waterbirds, as the park has many lakes and a wetland. A great way to see many of the species is to go on a boat cruise on Lake Ihema, the park's biggest lake.

White-headed vulture, Trigonoceps occipitalis, detail head portrait of bird, sitting on the tree branch with blue sky. Wildlife scene from nature, South Africa

The white-headed vulture is critically endangered

Some of the notable birds to look for when visiting Akagera National Park are:

White-headed vulture

Griffon vulture

African harrier hawk

Shoebill stork

African openbill

Grey hornbill

Fan-tailed widow bird

Black-headed gonolek

Northern brown-throated weaver

White-winged swamp warbler

White-collared oliveback

Carruthers’s cisticola

Great spotted woodpecker (Akagera) is relaxing in the blue sky background, Rwanda

A great spotted woodpecker sighted in Akagera

Other notable birding destinations in Rwanda

If you have more time in Rwanda, some other incredible birding destinations are:

  • Volcanoes National Park, a beautiful protected area of montane rainforest famous for its mountain gorilla treks.
  • Rugezi Marsh, a wetland near the headwaters of the Nile with 43 resident bird species.
  • Lake Kivu, where you can go on lovely lakeshore hikes or boat cruises to spot many of the area's 750 bird species.
  • Gishwati Mukura Forest National Park, which hosts 20 endemic bird species as well as 10 species on the IUCN Red List.
The white-eyed slaty flycatcher lives in the highlands of East Africa

The white-eyed slaty flycatcher lives in the highlands of East Africa

5. Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Lake Nakuru National Park is just heaven for waterbird sightings. A particular drawcard is the millions of flamingoes that can stain the waterline pink. The backdrop to the lake is also sublime, as it's located on the floor of the Great Rift Valley.

Aerial view of Lake Nakuru in the Great Rift Valley with pink line of flamingoes

A stretch of pink is created along the shoreline of Nakuru by its flamingoes

Lake Nakuru in central Kenya sometimes hosts around 1.5 million lesser flamingoes and 9,000 greater flamingoes!

Pink flamingoes on Lake Nakuru, Kenya safari

Lesser flamingoes turn pink because of the algae they eat

Some of the other standout birds to look for in Lake Nakuru National Park are:

Red-knobbed coot

Blackmith lapwing

Sacred ibis

African fish eagle

Hemprich's hornbill

Jackson's hornbill

Kittlitz’s plover

Great white pelican

White-backed vulture

Rüppell's griffon vulture

Black-tailed godwit

Great snipe

A marabou stork and black-headed ibis on Lake Nakuru

A marabou stork and black-headed ibis on Lake Nakuru

Note that many millions of lesser and greater flamingoes flock to the various alkaline Great Rift Valley lakes in Kenya and Tanzania, so you could replace a Lake Nakuru visit with one of them and have an equally awesome adventure. We're talking here of Lakes Naivasha, Bogoria and Baringo in Kenya and Lakes Natron and Manyara in Tanzania.

Lesser Flamingos in the beautiful landscape of Lake Bogoria, Kenya

Lesser flamingos on Lake Bogoria

6. Arabuko Sokoke Forest Reserve, Kenya

Arabuko Sokoke Forest can be found just inland from the central eastern coastline of Kenya. This important coastal forest (the largest in East Africa) protects four endangered mammals as well as six threatened bird species. Overall, 600 bird species have been spotted here, and there's a high level of endemism.

Sokoke scops owl pair from Arabuko Sokoke Forest in Kenya

A pair of Sokoke scops owls spotted in Arabuko Sokoke Forest

Here are some of the standout birds to look for in Arabuko Sokoke Forest:

Sokoke pipit

Clarke's weaver

Amani sunbird

Little-yellow flycatcher

Spotted ground thrush

Terek sandpiper

Crab plover

East coast akalat

Northern carmine bee-eater

Southern-banded snake eagle

Fisher’s turaco

Plain-backed sunbird

African Paradise Flycatcher and Ashy Flycatcher in Arabuko Sokoke Forest Sanctuary in East Africa, Kenya

African paradise flycatcher and ashy flycatcher in Arabuko Sokoke Forest

Birders should visit Kenya between November and April as this is when migrant birds come to the Rift Valley and coastline. If you want to combine your birding holiday with a safari or beach holiday, you might like to read Best time to visit Kenya for safaris, beach holidays and diving.

The Clarke's Weaver (Ploceus golandi) is endemic to Kenya, here at Sabaki River of coastal Kenya

Clarke's weaver is endemic to Kenya

Other notable birding destinations in Kenya

Avid birders should also consider visiting these parks and reserves while in Kenya:

  • Samburu National Park in north-central Kenya which has blue-necked ostriches.
  • Tsavo East National Park in south Kenya which has more than 500 bird species!
  • Maasai Mara National Reserve, which is especially good for raptor sightings.
  • Mount Kenya National Park, which boasts six mountain endemic bird species.
  • Aberdare National Park, whose forests and moorlands host 290 bird species.
Ours. Blue-necked or Somali Ostrich (Struthio molybdophanes) in Samburu Buffalo-Springs NP, Kenia

A blue-necked (or Somali) ostrich in north Kenya

Kenya claims the third spot globally for a Big Day (number of bird species spotted in a single day)!

7. Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania

A grey heron hitching a ride on a hippo in the water in Selous!

A grey heron hitching a ride on a hippo in Selous!

Selous Game Reserve in central Tanzania is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the second largest wildlife sanctuary in Africa, the undisputed jewel in the crown of Tanzania's Southern Safari Circuit, and an utterly gorgeous spot on the globe. And on top of all this, more than 450 bird species have been recorded here!

Close up of a Pel's fishing owl sitting on a branch against a tree trunk

A Pel's fishing owl

The Rufigi River is the soul of Selous, and it has created or sustains a wide range of beautiful habitats that attracts all sorts of birds. We're talking riverine forest, a network of lagoons, islets, swamps, groundwater forest, woodlands, and more.

Brown-hooded Kingfisher in the selous game reserve - Tanzania

A brown-hooded kingfisher in Selous

Some of the standout bird species to look for in Selous Game Reserve are:

African wattled lapwing

African spoonbill

Pearl-spotted owlet

White-headed lapwing

African skimmer

Böhm’s bee-eater

Yellow-billed stork

Palm-nut vulture

Rock pratincole

Racket-tailed roller

Dickinson’s kestrel

White-backed night heron 

You can go on guided bush walks or safari drives to look for wildlife and birds.

White-fronted bee-eater, Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania

A white-fronted bee-eater in Selous

For migratory birds and nesting residents, visit Selous National Park between November and April.

8. Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

Tarangire National Park forms part of Tanzania's famous Northern Safari Circuit. This savannah park is famous for its big game (especially its large elephant herds), enormous baobab trees, and massive red termite mounds. It also has over 550 bird species!

Baobab tree in Tarangire National Park

Elephants shelter from the heat under a baobab tree in Tarangire

Tarangire National Park boasts more breeding bird species than anywhere else on Earth! It's birding heaven.

Lilac-Breasted Roller (Coracias caudata) in Kruger National Park, South Africa

Lilac-breasted rollers abound within Tarangire

Visitors to the park will enjoy game-spotting along with their birdspotting, as you must stay in your 4x4 while in the park given there are lions and other predators about. That said, you can get out and enjoy a stretch and some birdspotting at the picnic spot above the river.

 An ashy starling on a termite mound

An endemic ashy starling on a termite mound

Some of the many standout bird species to try find while in Tarangire are:

Masai ostrich

Eastern crested guineafowl

Maccoa duck

Denham's bustard

Kori bustard

Black-tailed godwit

African woolly-necked stork

Lappet-faced vulture

Rüppell's griffon

Martial eagle

Nubian woodpecker

Yellow-collared lovebird

red-and-yellow barbet, Tarangire National Park

Red and yellow barbets can often be spotted on the park's termite mounds

The best months in Tarangire National Park for birding are October to May, as this is when winter migrants are present in the park. But go earlier rather than later, as the park's swampland can become impassable from late March.

Hornbill in a tree in Tarangire National Park

A Von der Decken's hornbill spotted in Tarangire

If you'd like to know more about this fantastic game reserve, please read The incredible wildlife of Tarangire National Park.

9. Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Ngorongoro Crater, arguably the world's eighth natural wonder, is home to over 550 bird species! That's a truly staggering number given this one crater (or, more accurately, caldera) is just 264 km².

For comparison, Tarangire National Park (which has the same number of bird species as Ngorongoro Crater) is 2,850 km² – that's 10 times the size of Ngorongoro Crater. 😱

 two ostriches walk on the green grass of the African savanna against the backdrop of mountains in a large crater. Ngorongoro National Park, Africa

Two common ostriches in Ngorongoro Crater

You cannot walk inside Ngorongoro Crater, although you can do hikes in the tangled rainforest that covers its rim. To drop down into the crater bowl, you must go with a tour guide in a safari vehicle.

There are various habitats to explore once down there, including lakes, wetland and woodland. Sightings of many large birds and waterbirds are a guarantee!

Dark-capped bulbuls, birds, perching on branch at Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania

Two dark-capped bulbuls spotted in the crater

Some of the exciting bird species (both easy and hard to spot) to look for in Ngorongoro Crater are:

Secretary bird

Lesser flamingo

Saddle-billed stork

Kori bustard

Jackson's Turaco

Hildebrandt's spurfowl

Rufous winged sunbird

Usambara weaver

Rufous-tailed weaver

Crested francolin

Purple-crested turaco

Pink-backed pelican

Ngorongoro Crater, flamingoes, grey crowned herons, lake, zebras, wildlife

Ngorongoro Crater is utterly chockfull of wildlife

A real drawcard of Ngorongoro Crater is that it allows you to see many rare, beautiful, migrant and endemic birds in a short space of time.

Hamerkop by water in Ngorongoro Crater

A hamerkop found in the crater

If you’re keen to see the migrant bird species that visit the crater, then plan your trip between September and April.

Finally, if you'd like to know more about the crater and its mind-boggling array of wildlife, as well as other bird species that can be found here, please read 12 great facts about Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater.

Black kite flying over Ngorongoro Crater

A black kite seen in Ngorongoro Crater

Other notable birding destinations in Tanzania

  • Jozani Forest–Chwaka Bay National Park in Zanzibar, which boasts over 60 bird species, including many waders.
  • Lake Manyara National Park, whose lake is often covered in flamingoes, pelicans and other waterbirds.
  • Arusha National Park, which is within sight of Mt Kilimanjaro and attracts many species with its beautiful Momela Lakes.
  • Serengeti National Park, where you can also witness the incredible Great Wildlife Migration.
A Zanzibar red bishop perched in a tree

A Zanzibar red bishop

So, are you as excited as ever to go birdspotting in East Africa? If not, there's no way you're actually a birder!