Umusambi Village is famous for its sanctuary of over 50 endangered grey crowned cranes. For this reason, you’re guaranteed to see these beautiful grey crowned cranes. Additionally, Umusambi features a huge wetland area which is perfect for birdwatching and discovering many more birds. Before we explore this birdwatching in Kigali hotspot, let me explain how to get there and the costs involved.
How to get to Umusambi Village
A taxi from the centre of Kigali to Umusambi Village booking through Yego costs around $15. Alternatively, taking that same ride on a moto will cost you less than £3. The journey should take between 30-40 minutes. Umusambi Village has an entrance fee of $15 (15,000 francs). This price is extremely fair considering the amount of trails you can access over the swampland. More importantly, the entrance fee goes towards the support of these endangered grey crowned cranes.
Routes through the Swamplands
There are many marked paths and boardwalks which make this swampland area accessible. You can make your walking for the day as long or as little as you wish. You may choose to walk a small loop or combine all loops for a multiple kilometre walk. As you’re birdwatching I recommend you spend a few hours strolling on these routes to see as much as possible. There are a couple of seating areas where you can relax and eat snacks. For this reason, I recommend you bring drinks and snacks with you. Finally, when you’re done for the day there is a coffee shop outside the entrance to Umusambi.
Camera with Zoom
To get good sharp images of the birds I recommend a camera lens with at least 400mm zoom. Alternatively, with just your mobile phone the panoramic views are outstanding too.
For obvious reasons you must stick to the paths and boardwalks therefore I recommend you take a pair of binoculars to enhance your birdwatching in Kigali experience.
Which Birds am I Likely to See at Umusambi Village?
There’s an information board which shows you the birds you’re most likely to see during your visit. Of course, none of these are guaranteed and you’ll see other birds which are not on this list. Birds on the list include, speckled mouse bird, scarlet chested sunbird, thick billed weaver, fawn breasted waxbill, fan tailed widow bird, black headed gonolek, grey crowned crane, swamp flycatcher, African paradise flycatcher, palm nut vulture, malachite kingfisher and woodland kingfisher. As a matter of fact, during my visit I saw all these birds as well as many others.
The Ponds at Umusambi
There are several ponds at Umusambi Village, this is where you’re most likely to see kingfishers. What’s more, there’ll likely be flycatchers and weavers around these ponds.
Grey Crowned Crane
The grey crowned crane is a guaranteed sighting at Umusambi Village. There are at least 50 of them within the grounds therefore you’ll enjoy viewing these rare and endangered birds.
White Browed Robin Chat
White browed robin chats are common throughout Kigali and you’re guaranteed to see them as you walk around Umusambi Village trails. Additionally, these birds are not shy so you can get up close for a photograph.
Speckled Mouse Bird
Speckled mouse birds are common throughout Umusambi village and indeed the city of Kigali. For this reason, you have a 100% chance of seeing them here.
The malachite kingfisher is a tiny kingfisher which you’ll need a bit of luck to spot. During my visit I saw only one malachite kingfisher. Fortunately, he wasn’t disturbed by me and I witnessed him diving and behaving in his natural manner.
Although pied kingfishers are not on the official list of birds in Umusambi Village I’d say they are the ones that you’re most likely to spot. In addition, you can see pied kingfishers around water in the centre of Kigali as well. Lastly, pied kingfishers are quite large so easier to see than the malachite kingfisher and they often hover in the air before diving into the water.
It’s likely the familiar call of the woodland kingfisher will attract your attention. I heard several but saw only one woodland kingfisher during my visit to Umusambi Village.
Thick Billed Weaver
I saw my first thick billed weaver at Umusambi Village. Later, I discovered these are a very common bird so it’s likely that you’ll see one too.
Black and White Mannikin
As you explore Umusambi Village trails it’s likely that you’ll come across a group of mannikins. You’ll have to be quick to capture one on camera as they’re quite manic.
Fawn Breasted Waxbill
I saw only one fawn breasted waxbill but was quick enough to catch him on camera.
Fan Tailed Widow Bird
Fan tailed widow birds are in abundance at Umusambi Village. As a result, you’re guaranteed to see them. As a matter of fact I’ve seen them in the green areas around Kigali too. No birdwatching in Kigali trip is complete without a sighting of the widow bird.
Black Headed Gonolek
During my stroll around the swamp land I saw several Black Headed Gonoleks. Although you’re likely to see these, they are very shy which makes them difficult to get close to. If you do manage to get close, they really are beautiful birds to photograph.
As you’re searching for kingfishers in the ponds it’s highly likely you’ll see a swamp flycatcher. It’s not the best looking bird but interesting to watch nonetheless.
African Paradise Flycatcher
I mentioned the swamp flycatcher is not a beautiful bird. In contrast, the African paradise flycatcher is certainly an eye-catching bird. It’s likely you’ll see these birds but photographing them is much more difficult. They are incredibly shy birds and will be watching your every move in order to keep a good distance.
Grey Backed Fiscal
You may see a grey backed fiscal as you’re birdwatching in Kigali. They are incredibly common and distinctive in this part of the world.
The African openbill is a type of stork which you may see around the ponds of Umusambi Village.
Green Winged Pytilia
The green winged pytilia is a shy bird therefore if you see one be sure not to move quickly. More importantly, be sure to get a photo and good look at it as you’re not guarateed to see another!
Black Headed Weaver
The black headed weaver is the most common bird in this part of the world and you’re 100% guaranteed to see several. What’s more, these birds are not shy so when you stand still for a while they may fly pretty close. As a result, you are guaranteed to get a good up close weaver picture.
White Browed Coucal
The white browed coucal is not listed on the list of birds to see at Umusambi but you’re highly likely to see one. this is a relatively large cuckoo with distinctive brown wings. If they see you moving, they’ll fly away and hide in a tree. However, if you’re lucky and they don’t see you, they may land close to you and enable you to admire them and take a good picture.
Long Crested Eagle
Finally, let’s end with a raptor. I saw this long crested eagle sitting in a tree from afar. He was sitting in a tree right above the boardwalk too. To my surprise I was able to walk right underneath the tree and he wasn’t disturbed by me. As a matter of fact, after taking several close up shots of him I left and he continued to sit there undisturbed.
Enjoy Your Birdwatching at Umusambi Village Kigali
For the best birdwatching experience I recommend you go early with water and snacks (it opens at 8am). Explore each trail at your own pace whilst looking for birds. Take a break and snack by the pond as you look for the malachite kingfisher. Most importantly, enjoy your time here and spend as much time as you need. Lastly, read more on the official Umusambi Village website.
Enjoy birdwatching? Read about Lekki Conservation Centre in Lagos, Nigeria.