Uganda is one of Africa’s most species-rich countries with, according to this report, 1,057 species (although c.20 of these have not yet been officially recognised on the national list). This nicely produced work covers almost all aspects of Uganda’s birds. It has many excellent photographs, mostly by Achilles Byaruhanga, who is the Executive Director of NatureUganda, which provide a good impression of the country’s avifauna, including both common and rare species. As the report rightly demonstrates, birding is an important part of the growing tourist industry, and the state of Uganda’s birds thereby gains extra importance. The four main sections commence with present status, followed by pressures and threats, responses and benefits.
Uganda has a well-established monitoring programme, run by NatureUganda, with c.100 landbird sites and 30 waterbird sites, the majority of which are counted twice a year, in January and July, yielding many data, some of which are summarised here. And, as one might expect, some species are doing well— African Fish Eagles Haliaeetus vocifer and Pied Kingfishers Ceryle rudis have shown remarkable increases— whilst others have proven less fortunate. Most notably, Uganda’s national bird, Grey Crowned Crane Balearica regulorum, is reported to have declined from c.35,000 individuals in the 1990s to around 13,000 in the present decade. There are a few peculiarities in the data presentation, such as the graphs on pp. 28 and 29, where the y-axis units are values of the statistic lambda as used with Timed Species Counts (Freeman et al. 2003, Afr. J. Ecol. 41: 337–348); and Fig. 11b is actually for waterbirds. But in general the presentation is very clear.
Uganda has 30 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), and most of these are regularly monitored, revealing a number of threats, the most important being habitat degradation and, in some cases, loss (deforestation is currently rampant in Uganda, as the growing human population requires more land and there is an ever-increasing demand for charcoal). Wetlands are also being converted, usually to agriculture but also for building sites, and this largely explains the decline in crane numbers.
It is encouraging to note a variety of responses to these threats, such as site-support groups for several unprotected IBAs and a range of public awareness activities, including the lobbying, where likely to be productive, of politicians and others in the class generally known as ‘decision-makers’.
Birds are important pollinators and seed-dispersers, especially in forests, but a more evident benefit is the revenue derived from visiting (and some local) birders. Many of those who have visited Uganda will know that there are really knowledgeable bird guides, both as rangers in the national parks and with the many tour companies Armed with this excellent report, visitors will appreciate Ugandan birding even more.