birding in rwanda
Albertine Rift endemics

by Gaël R. Vande weghe

13 october 2022

The Albertine Rift is the western branch of the East African Rift and is ranging from western Uganda, through Rwanda, Burundi to western Tanzania and eastern DRC. It is one of Africa’s richest biodiversity zone, with high levels of endemism in the mountain forests above 1,700m. In Rwanda, these forests are protected in Nyungwe National Park, in Gishwati-Mukura National park with two distinct forest remnant and in the Volcanoes National Park. A last forest patch, currently with a lesser level of protection, Busaga forest, is a small hill culminating at 2,200m and is covered by a sacred forest still harbouring an important biodiversity.

Birds are emblematic of this richness with well over 40 species endemic to the Albertine Rift.  They can only be found in parts of remaining mountain forests and some adjacent habitats, almost always above 1,700-1,800m. While most are common birds, relatively easy to see, a few like the Shelley’s Crimsonwing or the Rockefeller’s Sunbird remains some of the continents greatest rarities. The richest section is believed to be in eastern DRC in the Itombwe mountains, but Nyungwe forest comes very close, probably second in terms of richness, and most certainly first in terms of protection.

In Rwanda, between 28 and 31 ‘ARE’ species exists, the number varying according to preferred taxonomy and on the confirmation of one last species, the Congo Bay Owl. They are the country’s most sought after species for any birdwatchers. 

Here are some of the most frequently encountered.

Handsome Francolin | Pternistis nobilis

Nyungwe National Park, on the side of the main road.


Rwenzori Turaco | Gallirex johnstoni kivuensis

Nyungwe National Park – At Uwinka, where it is particuarly common.


Grauer’s Owl | Asio graueri

Nyungwe National Park – On the side of the main road at Uwasenkoko.

Only 5 records in Rwanda

Rwenzori Nightjar | Caprimulgus ruwenzorii

Common in mountain forest and mountain forest edge.

Here close to the border wall of Volcanoes National Park at Singita Lodge.

Albertine Boubou | Laniarius holomelas

At the base of Bisoke Volcano. Volcanoes National Park.

Common, often hidden

Willard’s Boubou | Laniarius willardi

On Ndambarare trail, Nyungwe National Park

Fairly common, often hidden

Rwenzori Batis | Batis diops

In Uwinka, Nyungwe National Park | Common

Stripe-breasted Tit | Melaniparus fasciiventer 

In Karisoke, Volcanoes National Park | Common

Grauer’s Warbler | Graueria vittata

On the Banda road, in Nyungwe National Park | Fairly common

Neumann’s Warbler | Urosphena neumanni

On Kamiranzovu Waterfall trail in Nyungwe National Park

Common, hard to see

Grauer’s Rush-warbler | Bradypterus graueri

In Uwasenkoko, Nyungwe National Park | Common

Red-faced Woodland Warbler | Phylloscopus laetus laetus

Uwinka, Nyungwe National Park | Common

Mountain Masked Apalis | Apalis personata personata

Uwinka, Nyungwe National Park | Very common

Rwenzori Apalis | Oreolais ruwenzorii

Nyungwe National Park – On the canopy walkway trail.


Kungwe Apalis | Apalis argentea

Gisakura, Nyungwe Nationa Park | Fairly common

Photo by Kyle Kittleberger

Yellow-eyed Black-flycatcher | Melaenornis ardesiacus

In Kamiranzovu, Nyungwe National Park | Common

Archer’s Robin-chat | Dessonornis archeri archeri

Understory in Mukura forest | Common

Red-throated Alethe | Chamaethylas poliophrys poliophrys

On Ndambarare trail, Nyungwe National Park. | Common

Kivu Ground-Thrush | Geokichla tanganjicae

Around the Kamiranzovu forests in Nyungwe National Park


Red-collared Babbler | Turdoides rufocinctus

On Bigugu trail, Nyungwe National Park | Fairly common

Blue-headed Sunbird | Cyanomitra alinae tanganjicae

On the Banda road, Nyungwe National Park | Common

Stuhlmann’s Sunbird | Cinnyris stuhlmanni graueri

Bisoke Volcanoe in Volcanoes National Park | Very common

Stuhlmann’s Sunbird | Cinnyris stuhlmanni schubotzi

Uwinka, Nyungwe National Park | Common

Regal Sunbird | Cinnyris regius regius

Uwinka, Nyungwe National Park | Very common

Purple-breasted Sunbird | Nectarinia purpureiventris

On Igishigishigi trail, Nyungwe National Park | Common

Strange Weaver | Ploceus alienus

Nyungwe National Park – Along the Bweyeye road.


Dusky Crimsonwing | Cryptospiza jacksoni

Common in most of Nyungwe National Park