Bird watching often takes a back seat to seeing wild game like rhinos and lions in East Africa, but birders are just as enthusiastic about seeing a rare bird as safari goers are about seeing the king of the jungle. Fortunately for bird lovers, East Africa is known for being one of the best places to see birds in the world. From Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park to Tanzania’s Serengeti, here are our picks for the top places to go bird watching in East Africa.
Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda
Located in the northwestern corner of Uganda, this large park features a fantastic waterfall and is home to over 450 species of birds. You can spot martial eagles, lesser flamingos, and giant kingfishers, along with more striking birds like the shoebill and grew crowned crane (the bird featured on Uganda’s flag). The best time to see migratory birds in the park is between November and April.
Masai Mara National Game Reserve, Kenya
The Masai Mara is known for having tons of big game, but birders have a lot to look for in the park as well. The park is absolutely huge — you could spend a week touring the park and barely scratch the surface. There are over 500 bird species known to inhabit the park, including over 50 birds of prey and several endemic species.
Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda
Nyungwe is without a doubt the best place to go bird watching in Rwanda. There are over 600 bird species in the country, and you can see about half of them in the park alone. Head to the Afromontane forest within the park to seek out many of the Albertine Rift endemic bird species, such as the Albertine owl and the red-collared mountain babbler.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda
Despite its name, the park isn’t actually impenetrable (as you can see from the photo above). Most people head to the park to see mountain gorillas, but the park is packed with interesting bird life as well. You can find forest thrush, Grauer’s swamp warbler, the African green broadbill and more within the park.
Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya
If you want to see a sea of pink, look no further than Kenya’s Lake Nakuru. This park is famous for its flamingos (over one million of them) that come every year and are often featured in documentaries about Africa. Three major rivers drain into the lake, making it full of nutrients for the birds. Of course, there’s more than just flamingos at the park — you’ll find up to 450 different species here throughout the year.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Much like Kenya’s Masai Mara, the Serengeti has a much-deserved reputation for having incredible large game. However, birders are in for a show as well, as there are over 1000 species that have been recorded in the country, with a large chunk of them being spotted in Serengeti National Park. It’s also home to several endemic birds, such as the Usambara eagle owl and Loveridge’s sunbird.
Samburu National Reserve, Kenya
While its smaller than the Masai Mara, this 165 square kilometer park still packs plenty of birds in and is about the same distance from Nairobi. There are over 350 species of birds in the park, including small birds like the beautiful lilac-breasted roller and kingfishers, along with giant birds like the secretary bird and Marabou stork.
Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania
Selous is one of the best places to watch migratory birds in Tanzania and there are over 400 bird species that have been recorded in the park. Some of the most notable birds in the park include the Pel’s fishing owl, the spur-winged lapwing and the white-fronted bee eater. The best time to go is between November and March, and for a better look at the birds, try going on a boat safari.
Mabamba Swamp, Uganda
Mabamba Swamp is the third and final area from Uganda on our list, and is one of the ideal places to spot the shoebill in the world. In fact, it’s the primary reason that people come to the area. The best way to see the birds are by boat, where you can get up close with this odd bird. The park is only about an hour from Entebbe, making it an easy stop for travelers to the area. If you aren’t interested in seeing the shoebill, there are over 250 other birds in the area.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, and there are plenty of smaller places to discover throughout East Africa. Other fantastic places to go include Lake Manyara, Arusha and Mkomazi in Tanzania and the large area around Mount Kenya.
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This article was originally published on October 6, 2015.