Shoebill birding in Uganda. Best 5 places to visit for the shoebill

Shoebill birding in Uganda is one of the top activities that attract birders from all over the world who want an up-close encounter with the elusive shoebill stork.

The shoebill is a rare and interesting bird that is best seen in Uganda for authentic experiences in its natural habitat of swamps and marshes.

In Uganda, you are able to see the shoebill in many places with ecosystems of swamps and wetlands. These include protected swamps, national parks, and several of Uganda’s lakes and rivers.

The Shoebill stork is a prehistoric-looking bird that makes your heart race whenever you encounter it: It’s indeed Uganda’s ultimate bird – a legendary bird species.  It’s intriguing how the shoebill, with its enormous head size, can weigh up to 6 kg and still manage to easily float on weak vegetation while hunting for fish.

The shoebill stork is named after its shoe-like bill which can grow up to 24 cm in length and 20 cm in width and has a razor-sharp, curved hook at the end. Located in the marshes of East Africa, the shoebill is classified as vulnerable bird species and is a bucket-list sighting for many enthusiastic birders.

Aside from the Shoebill stork, Uganda is home to more than 1000 bird species. That is around 50% of Africa’s bird species and 11% of the world’s bird species. This makes Uganda a prime destination for birders and the epitome of birding tours in Africa.

This article will highlight the best 4 national parks where you can enjoy shoebill birding in Uganda. This is helpful for birders who want to see the shoebill along with other wildlife in the national parks of Uganda.

Best Shoebill sightings in Uganda

1. Mabamba Swamp

Mabamba Swamp Birding on local wooden canoe.
Mabamba Swamp Birding on local wooden canoe.

Mabamba Swamp, located on the shores of Lake Victoria is well known for its excellent shoebill birding experience. It is probably the best place in the whole of Africa for seeing this prehistoric looking bird. 

The shoebill is best spotted in the morning when the birds are out hunting for their prey in the swampy waters. Taking a short boat to the swamp is ideal since it allows you to see many more birds that also live in this wetland.

Since Mabamba is located near Kampala and Entebbe, it can always be added to a longer safari as a day trip at the start or the end of the trip.

1. Murchison Falls National Park

In Murchison Falls National Park, the shoebill is best spotted along the banks of the Nile. This is especially better in the dry season months between December and March as well as June to September.

Early morning and late evening boat cruises to the delta offer great opportunities for seeing many birds along the banks of the Nile. You will also be able to see many elephants, buffalos, hippos, and Nile crocodiles among others.

Murchison Falls is also located close to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary which is a great spot for shoebill birding alongside the walking safari with rhinos.

Mabamba Swamp Birding tour

2. Queen Elizabeth National Park

Queen Elizabeth National Park is truly Uganda’s ultimate birding destination because of its extreme biodiversity. With more than 600 different bird species, you can see more than 50% of all of Uganda’s bird species.

Among the many birds, you will see is the prehistoric-looking shoebill, especially along the southern part of Lake Edward. Queen Elizabeth N.P is classified as an Important Birding Area (IBA) and you will see many other bird species on game drives, especially during the amazing Kazinga channel boat cruise.

In Queen, you will also see the animals that the park is most known for such as elephants, hippos, buffalos, leopards, lions, and chimpanzees.

Queen Elizabeth is well located in close proximity to other incredible birding destinations such as Lake Mburo, Semuliki, Kibale, and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks.

3. Lake Mburo National Park

lake mburo zebras

As with all of Uganda’s savannah parks, Lake Mburo is known for its wildlife prowess – especially zebras. Lake Mburo National Park is however a great destination for birding and provides a thriving home for shoebill storks that can be sighted while exploring the eastern shores of Lake Mburo.

Besides, the shoebill, you will also see many other birds such as pelicans, herons, the cormorant fish eagle, and perhaps the rare fin foot.

In Lake Mburo, guests get to see animals such as zebras, giraffes, buffalos, eland, kobs, crocodiles, and hippos among others.

4. Semuliki National Park


Semuliki National Park is one of Uganda’s most interesting national parks because of its rare ecosystems. Semuliki is a mesh of the East African and Central African flora and fauna which is a result of its proximity to DR Congo.

Semuliki is home to more than 430 different bird species which include some central African endemics and Albertine rift endemics that are rare.

The shoebill is easily spotted close to the Lake Albert area. Albertine Rift Endemics such as the Dwarf Honeyguide and Purple-breasted Sunbird can occasionally be sighted.  

Final Thoughts

These 4 national parks present the best opportunities for one to see a shoebill on safari in Uganda. In case you are planning for a wildlife safari and seeing the shoebill would be an additional advantage, these parks will give you the best chances.

For hardcore birders who want a dedicated shoebill birding experience, Mabamba swamp is the best overall spot. And since Mabamba is near Kampala, it is easy to visit at the start or the end of a safari holiday in Uganda. 

Whether you are a casual birder or an avid birder, we can plan for you a trip that will tick off all the birds you want to see in Uganda. Simply reach out to us via the contact form on this website and we can work with you throughout the whole process of planning a safari that perfectly suits you.  

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