Grauer's (African Green) Broadbill (Pseudocalyptomena graueri).
This small, special, and unique Albertine Rift Endemic is easily seen in Uganda's Mubwindi swamp in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park though can also be found in Itombwe/Kahuzi (Democratic Republic of Congo).
They feed on insects especially small magots and fruits of the Alangium chinense in canopies and middle levels of both tall and medium trees. On a trip to Uganda in Bwindi, you will find out that the Broadbills often make a high-pitched note call while feeding and flying thus making it easier to recognize their presence while searching for them. However, it would be very difficult to find them because they are very well camouflaged with the leaves.
Broadbills mostly breed twice a year (February and March then June and July). These are the periods the broadbill has been observed on the nest though there are earlier and late breeders. However, the first period (Feb-March) has been seen as unsuccessful. This is because of the very heavy rains that destroy nests when the bird has laid eggs which causes them to give up and at times the nests are destroyed when chicks are inside and unable to help themselves leading to their death. The other period (June-July) is successful because there are very few rains that leave the bird to successfully lay eggs, feed the chicks, and fledge them with less or no disturbances making them fly in August.
Green-breasted Pitta (Pitta reichenowi).
Almost a Pigeon-sized dark-blue bird with bright spots on the wings, creamy supercilium and throat, a very clear green breast in males though not very in the female especially non-breeding and sub-adults.
Like many of the other Pittas, the Green-breasted Pitta breeds once a year though not all the birds in the forest breed at the same time. Being very territorial, Uganda’s Kibale forest makes the search for this bird a little easier because there are more than four territories controlled by different couples and these breed at different times of the year. So, this makes this park good all year through. During the breeding season, the couple displays every day between 6:30 AM and 7:00 AM. However, when the two birds have been separated during their feeding, they can display any time of the day to locate each other. The whole breeding process takes between two to three months, this is from when the eggs are laid till the chicks are flagged off when they are left to feed alone always on the ground, especially around decaying logs. They only fly to the middle branches when flashed.
Green-breasted Pitta is distributed in the three lowland forests of Uganda: Kibale, Semuliki, and Budongo. However, the activity is more emphasized in Kibale because it is where close monitoring takes place. I call it “The Game in the Wild.”
First written about by a European explorer called King Whale in the early 1500 AD in the swamps of Sudan who first named it King Whale Head. The Shoebill is a large bird that is believed not to undergo evolution from the time it has been known on Earth. It has a very minor relation to the Pelicans according to the DNA that was carried out in Sweden. So, this still places it in its own family.
The Shoebill had a very strong cultural attachment to the Arab fishermen of Sudan who called it Abu-Markub meaning father of the shoe because of the shape of the bill hence the name Shoebill. The fishermen believed that whenever they entered the swamp to fish and saw the shoebill first, it was a bad omen (they could not catch fish) therefore, they killed it or avoided the area.
Shoebills lay two eggs on thick grasses on the edge of the water or small islands that take 90 days (three months) to hatch. However, all the eggs don’t hatch at once, the first one to hatch takes advantage of the other and fights them to death a reason the population does not multiply hence making it Vulnerable per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They live for 25-30 years feeding on mainly Mudfish, Lungfish and Catfish though other reptiles and amphibians like snakes and frogs are caught on bad days. This makes them active when the weather is cool though they are patient hunters and fly up in the sky when hot. Shoebills have few predators, mainly snakes and crocodiles that eat the eggs and chicks but when fully mature, they only have competitors, the human being. Easily seen in the Mabamba swamp, it's “The Swamp Bizarre of Africa.”
Abyssinian Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus abyssinicus).
Roaming in the grasslands of the Eastern, Northern and Northeastern parts of Uganda, the Abyssinian Ground Hornbills are special birds to the people of Uganda due to their cultural attachment. People who live in these areas especially the Bantu speaking languages call it “Gulu Mpa Enkuba” meaning God give me rain. When these birds are moving in drier areas, they keep calling and it goes, God give me rain and because they always move towards the beginning of the rains, it suddenly rains hence making the belief a reality.
Towards the breeding period, the Abyssinian Ground Hornbills pair up and live for a lifetime. The nest is made by both the male and female always in trees and dead palm trees. The female is then covered in the nest an activity which is done mainly by her. The male brings mud and other soft wood then he helps outside. A small hole is left for communication and passing food by the male. The small hole also is used as a passage for the female’s waste. After the female lays two eggs, she sits on them for a period of 45 days. After a period of 90 days, the female with the help of chicks, breaks the nest, and the female comes out to help the male collect food and feed the chicks. After 80 days, the chicks break the nest completely as they get ready to fly. At this stage, the parents no longer feed them, so they are forced to look for food. They feed on fruits, snakes, snails, frogs, and small rodents mainly on the ground. They often fly on trees to roost or rest.
Chocolate-backed kingfisher (Halcyon badia).
Another Monotypic of all its subspecies and Endemic to Africa. A beautiful relatively medium-sized kingfisher, almost like the woodland or Blue-breasted kingfishers but rather very white throat to the belly.
Like many of the kingfishers, the Chocolate-backed kingfisher breeds four times in a year. They make their nests in canopies of thick-leafed trees, tangles of the middle starter or low in the base/ground of the forest. They sit on the eggs for a period of 21-25 days and the chicks take two-three weeks to fledge off. While on a birding safari in Uganda in Budongo’s Royal Mile, this kingfisher is always heard calling on the bare branches of the middle and near the beginning of the leaves of any tree in the forest.
The chocolate-backed kingfisher feeds on a patch like many of the other kingfishers. Targeting flying insects and maggots on dead branches. In Uganda, this kingfisher can be seen in both Semuliki National Park and the Royal Mile of Budongo Central Forest Reserve. However, the Royal Mile is easier because of the access as it can easily fly by the birding walkway after just a few minutes of calling it.
Papyrus Gonolek (Laniarius mufumbiri).
A common but rather shy swamp inhabitant. Always calling in the middle to the top of the papyrus but doesn't come out. Avery beautiful shrike that is always in pairs and dueting (both male and female call almost together and it sounds like one bird is calling). They are very territorial both the male and female, not allowing any other to come near, especially for the breeding couple. This makes them respond to calls very first though may not come out. They call back as a warning or alerting the other caller about the territory.
Towards breeding, the female makes a particular call to let the males know and come closer with various calls. The one that impresses the female will be chosen and they start making the nest together. After, the females lay eggs and start sitting on them while the male keeps around to protect the female and the nest. In about one week to hatching, the female will not leave the nest, food is brought by the male until the chicks are one week old on the nest then the female can start helping the male get food.
While birding in Uganda, you will find that most of the lowland papyrus swamps are good habitats for the Gonolek because of the plenty of small amphibians, Arthropods, and many other insects and that they feed on. An African birding trip to undisturbed papyrus swamps is ideal for it.
African finfoot (Podica senegalensis).
A wide-spread but rather elusive semi-aquatic grebe-like bird found in a range of habitats across the African continent. They have been seen on waters of rivers, lakes or ponds in forests and savannas preferring thickly vegetated and dark areas. During a Uganda Birding Trip, the African Finfoot have mainly been seen on water though they are semi-aquatic. They mainly feed on aquatic invertebrates including adults and larval mayflies also fish and amphibians.
They mostly make nests on logs and strong vines above floating water. This makes their breeding mostly unsuccessful especially towards the rainy seasons as the water levels go high and wash away the nests. The females lay two to four (2-4) eggs that on a successful breeding time all hatch and chicks take not more than one week to fledge off the nest. However, the chicks have less chances of survival to maturity because of many predators on the water like snakes, crocodiles and raptors like Long-crested Eagles, African Goshawk and many more.
A Uganda Birding tour leads you to areas like Lake Mburo National Park in the Western region where this African Finfoot is breeding and a resident. These birds are usually seen singly but pairs are also seen especially towards and during breeding. After the breeding period, mothers are often seen with the chicks that can be from four to one (4-1) on water in dark points of Lake Mburo in the park.
The African Skimmer (Rynchops flavirostris).
The cloud-forming hunters. The Near-threatened species of birds as per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They belong to the genus Rynchops in the family Laridae. The African Skimmers live in large groups that comprise up to fifty (50) pairs along the banks of Lakes and Rivers of drier countries.
They are partial intra-African migrants preferring lower water levels as they favor their feeding. Skimmers feed in flight, with their wide wingspan and long sharp-pointed beaks, They fly above the water and fix the beaks in the water to catch prey. They mainly feed on fish but other aquatic life like the frogs and snails are also caught. An African birding tour leads you to areas where African Skimmers are aquatic feeders but terrestrial living.
While birding in Uganda, African Skimmers are seen breeding in the sands on the banks of the Kazinga Channel in the Queen Elizabeth National Park and the River Nile (Victoria Nile) in Murchison Falls National Park. This is normally during the months of June to August though other months can also be successful depending on the level of water and availability of food. They lay one to three (1-3) eggs though really four (4) hatch before the increase of water levels.
Gray-crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum).
The Uganda’s National bird. A very elegant and beautiful crane bearing all the three colors that appear on Uganda’s national flag. Black symbolizes the Dark color of Africa, and Yellow symbolizes the abundant Sunshine received in Uganda. Uganda receives sunshine at least six hours a day. Red symbolizes the red-blood brotherhood. Given the skin color, we all have red blood.
The Gray-crowned cranes are one of the most social birds that always live and roost in pairs and flocks. When the female is ready for breeding, the males will perform a dance near the ready female who chooses the best performer. Once a couple is formed, they remain and stay together for a lifetime, when one dies, the other remains single until she or he dies. They normally lay two eggs that hatch chicks without a crown and dull brown in plumage. However, the plumage changes with age as they as well develop the crown.
An African safari leads to swampy areas that are always filled up with these birds in large flocks, feeding on mainly muddy and swampy inhabitants like, frogs, snails, snakes, and small rodents that come across.
On the Ugandan flag, the crane is standing on one leg meaning the country is in motion of developing being a near-middle income country.