15 Birds of Uganda (With Pictures)

15 Birds of Uganda (With Pictures)

Located in the heart of East Africa, Uganda’s diverse landscape—ranging from dense rainforests and expansive savannas to serene lakeshores and mist-covered mountains—supports over a thousand bird species. 

Uganda also serves as a stopover and wintering ground for many migratory birds. The region’s location along the East African-Eurasian flyway gives Ugandan wilderness spaces a front-row seat to the spectacle of avian migration.

In this article, we look at some of the common as well as rare species among Uganda’s enchanting array of birdlife.

1. Shoebill

Perhaps one of the most iconic birds of tropical Africa, the shoebill is a prehistoric-looking giant that inhabits dense, freshwater wetlands. Named for its massive shoe-shaped bill, it stands tall, at up to four feet in height. This sole-surviving member of its family has blue-gray plumage with pale underparts. 


Shoebills are largely piscivorous, with a preference for lungfish, tilapia, and catfish, but their diet includes a range of wetland vertebrates. They are known for their stealthy hunting techniques and are capable of standing still for extended periods before striking.

The shoebill is a vulnerable species, facing threats such as habitat loss, human disturbance, and poaching.

2. Grey Crowned Crane

As Uganda’s national bird, the Grey Crowned Crane is a symbol of national pride. With its regal appearance and distinctive golden crown of feathers, this unusual bird is an icon of the grassy wetlands and savannas of eastern and southern Africa. 

Typical of cranes, they have elaborate courtship displays involving dancing, head bobbing, and calling in unison as they establish and maintain their lifelong pair bonds. 

Grey Crowned Crane

Gray crowned cranes are omnivorous. Their diet includes seeds, insects, small reptiles and amphibians.

Like other cranes, this species faces a number of threats, including habitat loss and pesticide poisoning. 

3. Great Blue Turaco

With its deep blue plumage, vibrant red facial markings, and prominent crest, the great blue turaco is quite the rainforest spectacle. This African beauty is the largest species of turaco. Its distinctive calls can be heard echoing through the forest. 

Like other turacos, the great blue is frugivorous, relying on the fruits of the forest and supplementing its diet with leaves, flowers, and insects. 

Great Blue Turaco

Great blue turacos are weak fliers that glide from tree to tree in their arboreal habitat, spending most of their time in the treetops. 

The great blue turaco is a prized food for many local tribes and a clan totem for others. The species has a stable population and an extensive range from western Kenya in the east to Guinea-Bissau in West Africa.

Another beautiful turaco that can be found in this region is the multi-coloured Rwenzori Turaco of the Albertine Rift Montane forests.

4. African Fish Eagle

A symbol of Africa, the African Fish Eagle is easily identified by its distinctive white head and tail. It is known for its iconic, high-pitched, and evocative calls, often associated with the sounds of the African wilderness. 

African fish eagles are largely piscivorous, and they are often observed around large water bodies such as lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. They catch fish at the water’s surface with a powerful, swooping plunge, gripping their prey in their large, rough talons.

African Fish Eagle

These eagles are highly territorial and form monogamous pairs that aggressively defend their nesting territories. The large stick nests are constructed in tall trees near the water.

The African fish eagle is a heralded symbol of many African nations and is often featured in cultural stories and folklore. This iconic species draws many birders to Africa’s waterways.

5. Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

One of two species of ground hornbill, the Abyssinian is the lesser-known, with a range confined to the northernmost reaches of sub-Saharan Africa. It is similar in appearance to the southern ground hornbill with its black plumage with white primaries, colourful facial skin, and throat pouch.

The Abyssinian ground hornbill has metallic blue skin around the eye and upper throat. This colouration extends to the throat pouch in females. The bill is long and black, with a red patch near the base. This species also has a prominent black casque, which is larger in males. 

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

Like their southern cousins, Abyssinian ground hornbills are huge birds, well-adapted to their terrestrial lifestyle. They prefer open, arid habitats, walking through dry grasslands, savannas, and rocky scrub, either in pairs or small flocks, searching for small mammals and reptiles to prey on and fruit and seeds to forage.

Ground hornbills produce a deep, booming call that can be heard from miles away. They nest in the cavities of large trees, such as baobabs and palms. The female is partially sealed in with a mixture of vegetation and mud. Both species of ground hornbill are vulnerable owing to a slew of threats, including habitat loss and degradation.

6. Hartlaub’s Bustard

An East African beauty, Hartlaub’s Bustard was named after the German ornithologist. It is a rather special sighting, uncommon in its wooded grassland habitat.  

Hartlaub’s bustard is an elegant long-legged bird with a long, slender neck and intricately patterned plumage in cryptic colouration. It is very similar in appearance to the black-bellied bustard, distinguishable by its sharper black-and-white facial and neck markings.

Hartlaub’s Bustard

Pairs have elaborate courtship displays, during which the male inflates and extends its long neck and gives its clicking courtship call, following which he darts into the air and parachutes back down.  

Like other bustards, this species is believed to be omnivorous, feeding on invertebrates and plant foods, but little is known about this rare and elusive bird.

7. Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill

Another distinctive hornbill that can be found in Uganda, the Black-and-white-casqued hornbill inhabits rainforests in tropical Africa along a narrow stretch from west to east. 

Their loud, honking calls resonate through the forest. As per the name, it has scruffy black and white plumage and a prominent casque on its bill. Black and white casqued hornbills have highly mobile eyes—a rare trait in birds that allows their eyes to move around in their sockets, possibly to enable a wider range of vision in their dense wooded habitats.

Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill

They are frugivores with a preference for figs and supplement their diet with insects and small animals. These birds play a crucial ecological role as seed dispersers in their habitat, consuming a variety of fruits and regurgitating the seeds over a wide area, promoting forest regrowth and regeneration.

8. Regal sunbird

This small, brilliantly colored sunbird inhabits the forests and scrublands of the Albertine Rift Mountains. The male bears dazzling plumage, which features a metallic green and purple iridescence on its upperparts, contrasting with a bright orange-yellow breast and throat. 

Regal Sunbird

Similar to hummingbirds, sunbirds are nectar feeders, utilizing their long, slender bills to extract nectar from a variety of flowers. The regal sunbird also consumes small insects and spiders as part of its diet. 

Populations of this species are declining due to the loss and degradation of their forest habitat.

9. Rwenzori batis

The Rwenzori batis is a small, insectivorous bird species endemic to the montane forests of the Albertine Rift, where it can be spotted amid the foliage of the mid-canopy. Its call is an eerie, piping whistle, adding to the symphony of the forest.

This small Old World Flycatcher has black, white, and gray plumage, typical of batis species. It can be distinguished from other species by its broad, black chest band and white wing stripe. 

Rwenzori batis

The Rwenzori batis is a shy, active bird that forages energetically, gleaning insects from the foliage and twigs, sometimes catching them on the wing.

Despite its confined range, populations are stable. However, habitat destruction may pose a threat to the species.

10. Bar-tailed trogon

A stunning forest-dwelling species, the bar-tailed trogon has bright red and green plumage and distinctive barring on the underside of its long tail for which it is named. This trait also helps to distinguish it from the narina trogon.

Bar-tailed trogon

Despite its striking colouration, the bar-tailed trogon is relatively inconspicuous, quietly keeping to the forest midstory, where it forages for fruit as well as insects and other small invertebrates.

While generally quiet, its song is a yelping crescendo of whistling notes. The species is in decline due to habitat destruction by deforestation. 

11. Green-breasted Pitta

One of two pitta species on the continent, the green-breasted pitta has a pocketed range in tropical Africa. It is rarely seen in its dense lowland forest habitat. But lucky birders may catch its soft, froglike call. Even luckier birders will catch sight of its twitchy display.

The green-breasted pitta is a visually striking bird and a sought-after sighting for birdwatchers. Shades of red, yellow, blue, and black contrast against the verdant green of its breast and belly for which it is named.

Green-breasted Pitta

Either solitary or in pairs, green-breasted pittas skulk amidst the leaf litter of the forest floor, foraging for caterpillars, termites, snails, and other invertebrates. Known for their shy nature, they often stay hidden in the debris, making them challenging to spot despite their vibrant plumage.

12. Grauer’s Broadbill

Grauer’s Broadbill is another shy and elusive species. It is endemic to the Albertine Rift Mountain forests, where its fragmented range is localised to Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

This flycatcher-like broadbill has a plump body and short tail.  Its fluffy plumage comprises soft yet vibrant hues of green, blue, and yellow.

Grauer’s Broadbill

Grauer’s broadbills inhabit the lower canopy as well as clearings in the montane forests, where they forage for seeds, fruit, flowers, and invertebrates.

Their secretive nature and the challenging terrain of their habitat make spotting Grauer’s broadbill a rare and rewarding experience. The species is vulnerable due to habitat loss by deforestation and degradation.

13. Shelly’s Crimsonwing

Yet another rare, endangered beauty of the East African montane forests is Shelly’s crimsonwing. Its range is limited to isolated pockets in the mountains of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Crimsonwings are named for the vibrant red in their plumage. The male of this species bears its namesake colour on its crown, face, and back, contrasting against its darker wings and tail and olive-yellow underparts. Females are olive with orange flanks. 

Shelly’s Crimsonwing

Shelly’s crimsonwings inhabit moist, closed-canopy forests, forest edges, clearings, and valleys dominated by bamboo thickets. Its call is a sharp, high-pitched series of rising and falling twittery notes.

Little is known about this species. However, population declines are apparent, attributed to the potential threats of habitat loss and fragmentation.

Researchers and ornithologists continue to study this elusive bird to gather more information about its behavior, ecology, and population dynamics to formulate effective conservation measures.

14. Handsome spurfowl

Also known as the handsome francolin, the handsome spurfowl inhabits montane forests and shrublands.

This dumpy, partridge-like gamebird can be identified by its rich, red-brown body plumage, grayish head, red facial skin, and red bill. 

Handsome spurfowl

Spurfowl are named for the bony outgrowths at the back of their legs—an adaptation that enables their diet of roots, tubers, shrubs, and other underground plant foods. While much of their diet is procured by digging, they also eat seeds, flowers, and fruit and occasionally prey on insects and other invertebrates. The handsome spurfowl mainly feeds on seeds. They use their spurred legs to scratch around topsoil and leaf litter as they forage.

Handsome spurfowl can be detected by their raucous, crowing call.

While common within their range, recent surveys in Uganda reflect a decline in populations dependent on montane bamboo forests. 

15. Elgon Francolin

Once believed to be a subspecies of the moorland francolin, this newly separated species was named after Mount Elgon—an extinct volcano that straddles the Kenyan border. The Elgon francolin is an attractive bird with intricate patterns adorning its brown, black, and rufous plumage. 

It has a fairly large, curved bill, and while little is known about this species, it is believed to subsist on a diet dominated by bulbs and roots.

Elgon Francolin

Elgon francolins are found at high elevations in moorlands and alpine grasslands. They typically occur in small flocks. While they are mostly terrestrial, these groundbirds are capable of short flights.

The Elgon francolin is classified as “near-threatened” according to the IUCN Red List. Populations are declining rapidly due to habitat loss and degradation by overgrazing and unsustainable agricultural practices.

Mount Elgon’s status as a protected area helps safeguard the habitat of the Elgon Francolin, providing hope for the continued existence of this endemic species.

Final Thoughts

Uganda is a testament to the African continent’s incredible diversity of birdlife. Reserves such as the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Kibale Forest, and Queen Elizabeth National Park are just some of Uganda’s renowned birdwatching destinations. Uganda’s wetlands, such as the Mabamba Bay Swamp and Makanaga wetlands, provide crucial habitats for waders and waterfowl, as well as many nesting and migratory birds. 

From the iconic Shoebill in the wetlands to the elusive Rwenzori Turaco, the birds of Uganda make this East African gem a prime destination for birding safaris.

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