Akagera is one of the most important ornithological site in Rwanda, with a checklist of 550 species recorded before its area was reduced in 1997 now probably closer to 525 species. In addition to being the best place in Rwanda to see a good selection of savanna birds and raptors on a safari in Rwanda, Akagera is as rich in water birds as anywhere in East Africa, and one of the few places where papyrus endemics can be observed.
Among the more colourful and common of the savanna birds are the gorgeous lilac-breasted roller,black headed gonolek easily picked up by its jarring duets, little bee-eater, Heuglin’s robin-chat, Meyer’s parrot, spot flanked barbet and double-toothed barbet. Less colourful, but very impressive, are the comical grey hornbill and noisy bare-face go-away bird. The riparian woodland around the lakes hosts a number of specialized species, of which Ross’s turaco, a bright-purple, jay-sized bird with a distinctive yellow mask, is the most striking.
A notable feature of Akagera’s avifauna is the presence of species such as the crested barbet, Arnot’s white-headed black chat and Souza’s shrike, all of which are associated with the brachystegia woodland of Southern Tanzania and further South, but have colonized the mixed woodland of Akagera at the Northern most extent of their range. More noteworthy still, the red-faced barbet, a localized endemic of savannas between Lake victoria and the Albertine Rift, is quite easily seen in Akagera indeed, a pair was recently seen nesting in the dead branch of a ficus tree at the entrance to the car park at Akagera safari lodge. A localize species associated with broken grassland in Akagera is the long-tailed cistocola. Finally, the savanna of Akagera is one of the last places in Rwanda where a wide range of large raptors is resident ,white-backed and Ruppell’s griffon vultures soar high on the thermals, the beautiful bateleur eagle can be recognized by its wavering flight pattern and red wing markings, while brown snake eagles and hooded vultures are often seen perching on bare branches.
Most of the savanna birds are primarily of interest to the dedicated birder , but it is difficult to imagine that anybody would be unmoved by the immense concentrations of water-associated birds that can be found on the lakes. Pelicans are common, as is the garishly decorated crowned crane, the odd little open-bill stork and much larger and singularly grotesque marabou stork. Herons and egrets are particularly visible and well represented, ranging from the immense goliath heron to the sectretive black-capped night heron and reed-dwelling purple heron.
The lakes also support a variety of smaller kingfishers and shorebirds, and a prodigious number of fish eagles, whose shrill duet ranks as one of the most evocative sounds of Africa. On a more esoteric note, the papyrus swamps are an excellent place to look for a handful of birds restricted to this specific habitat, the stunning and highly vocal papyrus gonolek, as well as the more secretive and nondescript Caruther’s cisticola and white-winged warbler. Akagera is also one of the best places in Africa to see the shoebill, an enormous and unmistakable slate-grey swamp-dweller whose outsized bill is fixed in a permanent Cheshire-cat smirk. A useful birding report on Akagera can also be sourced online.