The rainforests of Africa are a treasure trove of biodiversity, boasting an incredible array of flora and fauna. Among the myriad of species that call these lush habitats home, birds stand out as the most vibrant and diverse inhabitants of the rainforests.
In this article, we will explore some of the fascinating rainforest birds that grace the canopies and forest floors of Africa, weaving their splendour into the rich tapestry of its ecosystems.
African grey parrot
One of the most iconic and intelligent parrot species, the African Grey Parrot, is native to the dense rainforests of West and Central Africa. Renowned for their remarkable mimicking abilities and cognitive prowess, these birds are often kept as pets.
However, their populations face threats due to habitat loss and the illegal pet trade. African greys are frugivores, feeding mainly on fruits, nuts, and seeds.
Little is known about their behaviour in the wild, but they are monogamous, and pairs typically mate for life.
Great blue turaco
A strikingly beautiful bird, the great blue turaco is a spectacular sight in the rainforest canopy. Its deep, teal-coloured plumage stands out amid the forest foliage.
It has a fan-shaped, blue-black crest and an orange-tipped yellow bill. Great blues are social birds found in small flocks.
Found in the central and western regions of Africa, these large frugivores subsist on a diet of fruits, flowers, and leaves and play a crucial role in seed dispersal, contributing to the forest’s ecological balance.
African crowned eagle
Among Africa’s largest and most powerful raptors, the African crowned eagle commands attention with its impressive size and hunting prowess. Crowned eagles primarily hunt medium-sized mammals, such as hyraxes, monkeys, and small antelope.
They live in the rainforests and dense woodlands, with a population concentration in East Africa. African crowned eagles are bold raptors and fiercely territorial. They are known to attack humans that veer too close to their nesting sites. The species is in decline due to deforestation.
Endemic to the Congo Basin rainforest, the Congo Peafowl is the only African peafowl species. This unusual groundbird is shy and elusive, inhabiting the lowland forests where its droppings and feathers tell of its whereabouts.
While it is less flamboyant than its Asiatic cousins, the males have deep-blue plumage with an iridescent sheen in shades of green and violet. The Congo peafowl is an omnivore. It feeds on fruits as well as insects and other invertebrates.
Populations are in decline due to hunting and habitat loss.
Known for its vibrant plumage and explosive calls, the African Pitta is a small passerine bird found in the understory of Central and West African rainforests. Despite their bold colouration and loud call, African pittas are rarely observed due to their elusive behaviour.
They inhabit riparian and coastal forest thickets, where they flit about, foraging leaf litter for insects and invertebrates, adding a splash of color to the forest floor.
There are only two species of rockfowl, and both inhabit the dense rainforests of tropical West and Central Africa. These peculiar birds capture the imagination of bird enthusiasts and researchers alike.
Also known as bald crows, they are slender birds with large beady eyes, featherless heads, and brightly coloured facial skin. While the species are named for their neck colouration—either white or grey—they are markedly different in appearance.
The white-necked rockfowl has darker upper plumage, bright yellow facial skin, and dark brown “ear muffs” and its mysterious gray-necked relative has gray upperparts and blue, red, and black facial skin.
These rainforest rockfowl are ground-dwelling birds that feed on insects and other invertebrates in their damp, rocky habitats. Both species are threatened by the destruction of forest habitats.
The copper-tailed starling gets its name from the dazzling copper-colored feathers adorning its square-shaped tail that intensify during the breeding season, creating a sharp contrast against its dark, glossy plumage with iridescent sheen in shades of purple and blue.
This stunning species inhabits moist, lowland forests in West Africa, where it forages the canopy for insects and fruit. The species is classified as “near-threatened” on the IUCN Redlist.
African green broadbill
Also known as Grauer’s broadbill, this little green marvel of the rainforest bears a striking plumage that seamlessly blends with the verdant foliage of its forest habitat. It has a black and streaked yellow crown, a black eye mask, and a powder-blue throat.
Unlike other broadbill species, it has a small bill. This insular species is endemic to the montane forests of the Albertine Rift, where it can be spotted flitting about, foraging for seeds, fruit, buds, and flowers.
This species faces the ongoing threat of habitat loss due to deforestation and human encroachment. The Albertine Rift, with its unique ecosystems, is particularly vulnerable to these pressures.
This mysterious species is endemic to the riparian forests of the Marungu Highlands. Sunbirds are tiny birds—comparative to hummingbirds—that occupy a similar niche in African ecosystems.
The Marungu sunbird is a relatively large species, with colourful males cloaked in green and red. The females, by contrast, have drab brown plumage. Prigorine’s sunbirds are found in montane forests and forest edges.
They migrate short distances as the seasons change. Deforestation threatens their highly localised habitat.
White-crested tiger heron
Also known as the white-crested bittern, this enigmatic species inhabits dense, lowland forests, wetlands, and mangroves in West Africa. It is a stout bird with dusky, barred plumage and a distinctive white crest for which it is named.
Typical of herons, the white-crested tiger heron subsists on a largely piscivorous diet of fish, crabs, frogs, crayfish, snakes, and insects. Its loud booming call can be heard echoing through the rainforest.
Vermiculated fishing owl
This large, wary species inhabits riverine forests. It is endemic to West-Central Africa. Name for its heavily patterned plumage, the vermiculated fishing owl has a tuftless, round head, yellow bill, and large brown eyes.
It hunts nocturnally and spends its days in well-hidden roosting sites. Lucky birders may hear its deep hooting call or spot its tawny plumage amid the foliage.
Congo serpent eagle
This dusky eagle specialises in hunting snakes and other reptiles and amphibians amid the dark understories of the African rainforests. It has dark upperparts, barred flanks, a white breast, and a long, banded tail.
This species is found in dense primary forests in West and Central Africa. Its dark eyes are adapted for hunting in low-light conditions. The Congo serpent eagle is a vocal bird. Its loud, mewing call may be confused with the call of a hornbill or turaco.
Another raptor of the rainforests, Cassin’s hawk-eagle is a small species of booted eagle. It lives in primary rainforests in West, Central, and East Africa, where it preys on tree squirrels and small birds.
This species is remarkably similar in appearance to the Congo serpent eagle—a similarity attributed to mimicry. The latter eagle, with its specialised reptilian diet, may benefit from this resemblance since its predators, prey, and rivals may confuse it with the bird-eating, hawk-eagle.
Also known as Swindern’s lovebird, this small, skittish parrot inhabits lowland rainforests, forest edges, and clearings across equatorial Africa.
It is bright green with a black band on the nape for which it is named. Small flocks are often spotted flying high above the canopy, giving high-pitched flight calls. This lovebird has a very specific diet comprising the seeds and fruit of native plants and is especially dependent on strangler fig trees.
Despite its widespread distribution, the black-collared lovebird is rare in parts of its range.
An attractive bird with a large blood-red bill and brilliant blue wing patches, rump, and tail contrasting against chocolate brown upperparts and white underparts. It is a vocal bird with a harsh alarm call and whistling song.
Despite its name, this species is not piscivorous, nor is it associated with water. Chocolate-backed kingfishers are among the insect-eating kingfisher species. They inhabit lowland rainforests in West and Central Africa.
Hornbills are synonymous with tropical and sub-tropical Africa. The black-casqued is among the most peculiar, forest-dwelling species. This massive species is widespread across the tropical rainforests of Africa.
It has a casqued bill which is larger in males and bright blue bare skin around the eyes. Males and females can also be distinguished by the colour of their ruffly, feathered hoods, which are black in males and chestnut brown in females. These unique birds feed on fruit and insects.
They are found in pairs or small flocks, flitting about the forest canopy. Black-casqued hornbills are known for their intelligence.
Red-bellied paradise flycatcher
Paradise flycatchers are small, passerine birds of the monarch family. The males have long, elegant tail streamers. Several species can be found in the forests of tropical Africa, among which the red-bellied is the most common and widespread.
It is similar in appearance to other flycatchers, with its dark hood and rufous upperparts, but can be distinguished by its rusty-red belly—a characteristic for which it is named.
This is an energetic, noisy bird with a sharp call that can be heard in the dense forests of West and Central Africa.
Yellow-bellied wattle eye
A tiny, colourful bird of humid lowland and montane forests of West, Central, and East Africa, the yellow-bellied wattle eye is a rainforest beauty. It is a plump bird with an exceptionally short tail.
Its plumage is dark above and bright yellow below, and it has distinctive blue or green eye wattles. Yellow-bellied wattle-eyes live in the dense understory. They hop about the branches and foliage, gleaning for small insects.
This tiny dazzler is the smallest of the Cinnyris genus. The double-collared sunbirds are remarkably similar with overlapping ranges. The males are brightly colored, with iridescent hues typical of sunbirds. Females are drab olive-green and pale brown.
This species can be distinguished by the short, somewhat straight bill and the bright red breast band of the male. The tiny sunbird inhabits forests, forest edges, and clearings, where pairs forage the canopy for nectar, insects, and spiders.
They are also found in gardens and villages, foraging among mixed-species flocks.
Also known as the African wood pigeon or gray wood pigeon, this species lives in equatorial African rainforests and gallery forests. It is a large, gray pigeon with red, bare skin around the eyes and a pale gray tail band.
The Afep pigeon feeds on seeds and grains and is often seen solo or in small flocks perched on dead trees.
Sabine’s puffback is a large-billed species of the bush shrike family. It is native to the rainforests of West and Central Africa, where it can be found in the canopies of moist, lowland forests.
Sabine’s puffbacks feed primarily on insects, such as grasshoppers, crickets, moths, caterpillars, and termites. Similar to other bicolored shrikes, the male has iridescent black upperparts and white underparts in contrast to the female’s rusty-brown plumage.
It can be distinguished from other species by its large bill and unique whistling songs that can last several minutes.
Not only are the rainforests of Africa crucial for global climate regulation, but they also serve as sanctuaries for an incredible diversity of bird species. From the enchanting African Grey Parrot to the majestic Congo Peafowl, these birds contribute to the ecological balance of their habitats.
Only a small percentage of African rainforests are subject to long-term management plans, leaving much of this dwindling biome subject to exploitation in the form of deforestation by logging and mining—activities are compounded by the climate crisis. As a result, many rainforest species are in decline.
Stricter conservation measures are needed to safeguard threatened species and preserve the rich biodiversity that defines Africa’s majestic rainforest ecosystems.