We found them! Hello parrot lovers! I’m back to Africa, this time in Uganda filming in the Botanic Gardens in Entebbe. I hope to find today some grey parrots, but mostly the brown parrot or Meyer’s parrot. Let’s see what I can find. I came to Uganda to see wild parrots, but there is plenty more to discover in a country so rich in biodiversity. This lush evergreen garden is situated on the Equator and is teeming with life. An African harrier-hawk is patrolling the canopy in search of anything hidden in tree hollows or other cavities. Its long legs are very flexible and allow it to steal chicks and eggs from their nests. Parrots beware! Dig your hollows deeper! The large trees are covered in epiphytes, plants that grow on other plants. All this luxurious vegetation is home to many colourful birds, large and small. I’ve just seen my first African greys in the wild. They passed above us and went to that big tree there. We’re moving hoping to find them. We are following the parrots as they fly from tree to tree and getting brief views of them high up in the canopy. As soon as I get one of them into focus, it flies away again. So I’m following the parrots while the others are watching other birds and monkeys. And soon enough… We found them! Up there, over there. Finally! A wild African grey parrot in its native range! No, wait. It’s two of them! A couple. This could be their nest site. I’m not sure though. I can’t see a hollow deep enough to protect the eggs and chicks. Oh, look! Squirrels. Parrots aren’t alone in the high canopy. There are nest raiders too. Remember the African harrier-hawk? Many parrot nesting attempts fail due to such predators. So the older more experienced birds choose their nest site carefully. They prefer deep hollows high up on the trunk or on one of the main branches. Who knows, these may be just a young couple, practising their skills before they actually start breeding. Look at them, so playful! Healthy African greys are funny and joyful all life long, and they can learn new things at any age. There’s no way of telling how old these two are just by looking at them. All I can say is they are healthy, happy adults, in perfect condition, with complete and clean plumage and glossy black beaks. If they had a dark iris and a dark tinge to the tail I would say they were juveniles, but this is not the case here. These are adults, with whitish iris and bright red tails. Take a look at them, just watch them move freely in the branches, flying around, playing and spending quality time with each other. Why did they freeze like that? What are they looking at? They’re staring at something in the sky, a predator maybe?
Not this black-winged kite. It feeds almost only on rodents.
But wild parrots need to be on guard and keep an eye on all creatures moving around them, just in case they pose a threat. Right now they’re keeping an eye on me from high up in the tree. They seem so happy up there. Don’t you just love watching them enjoying life in the green tropical rainforest? It looks like they’re fighting, but I suspect it’s just a friendly game. On a side note, just to tell you that these loud noises you’re hearing are not the parrots, but Egyptian geese, plantain eaters and other birds sharing the habitat with the grey parrots. As the parrots move, we are moving too, in search of other species. I’m looking for Meyer’s parrots. They’ve been seen in the garden before. But I’m in for a surprise… And this is the red-headed lovebird. Look! Just there in the tree. It’s hard to see these small green parrots in the green canopy. But once I’m in a good position, I can focus my camera on one of them. It has a bright red face, so it’s a male. Females have an orange face, tinged with yellow and juveniles have yellowish faces. I didn’t expect to see these parrots here, in the Botanic Garden. Our guide tells me that he has seen them here only twice. They live in savannahs, rainforests and gallery forests around central Africa, as far west as Guinea and east in Uganda and Ethiopia. In the centre of their range they are resident, but in drier areas they can be nomadic and here in Uganda they occur sporadically, so I’m very lucky to have found them here! They eat mostly seeds of tall grasses such as sorghum, picked from the ground, but also fruits from trees. Interestingly, they nest in ant nests in trees, but also in termite mounds here in Uganda. Ornithologists call them red-headed lovebirds, while aviculturists call them red-faced. Both names are accepted. I wish I could stay here longer, but I must visit Bugala Island, where African grey parrots live. After a strong afternoon rain, the tropical forest looks amazing. It’s time for me to explore it in detail. Now I’m in the forest, going deep up to the other side on the hill hoping to see other parrots. Maybe. I don’t know. We are following a track in the deep, dark forest. There was a big storm. It’s the Equator, so that’s normal. Hopefully, the Sun will stay up and I’m going to see some parrots. In fact, I did see the parrots, but it was just a couple of African greys flying above the canopy. I’m going after them following the only track in this dense forest, going uphill, where there is an abandoned fort. This place in the middle of Lake Victoria is where the search for the source of the Nile ended. British explorer John Speke arrived here in 1858, being the first European to see Lake Victoria.
But this dense jungle has another surprise for me: Pollia condensata, or the marble berry, is a unique plant.
When ripe, its fruits have the most intense blue colour found anywhere in nature.
Amazingly, it’s not due to a blue pigment, but to the microstructure of the skin. The light gets scattered and only the blue waves bounce back from it. I have to be careful not to step near these safari ants, as their bite is quite annoying.
They are important predators in the rainforest ecosystem. But I’m here for the parrots.
Since I can’t find them in this dense jungle, a local guide will help me find them closer to his village. Next morning we are moving again, this time following our guide on his motorcycle. So these are the infamous oil palm plantations that are replacing the native tropical rainforests!
It’s morning and today we have a full day in Kalangala and on the island we’re searching for the African greys. This is a man-made habitat. We have farms here and an oil palm plantation which of course is favoured by the greys.
We’re nearing to a point where we’re supposed to see the African greys. Hope! We saw the first two passing by over those trees and going there and they’re still calling from that tree and our guide, he’s calling them with a tape. You see them? Yes. It’s them, it’s them! In that tree there!
We’re on it. There’s one individual up in that tree, preening itself, preparing for the day. It’s here.
Again, just like in Entebbe, much of the noise comes not from the parrots, but from plantain eaters, turacos and other birds.
But this is the bird I’m after: a wild African grey parrot.
Having spent the night in a communal roost, perhaps with dozens of its kind, in begins its day taking care of its plumage. Preening is vital for all birds. This is how they keep their plumage in working condition. So a healthy parrot will do this a few times a day, every day. It’s part of their daily routine.
When a parrot stops taking care of its feathers, it’s probably sick and in trouble.
The troublemaker here is this plantain eater. He scares the parrot, who has to move away.
The parrot begins calling and soon another one will join it. Parrots are social animals, even those who don’t live in large flocks like budgerigars. When you see a wild parrot like this one, alone in a tree, you know it’s not going to be long before it goes in search for its flock or mate. Or until a fellow parrot will join it. And it happened! But they seem to be fighting, just like I’ve seen in Entebbe.
So what’s going on here? I haven’t seen Senegal parrots doing that in The Gambia. Are African grey parrots more aggressive in nature? Is this just a game, a quirky way of saying “I missed you”? I wish I could observe wild African grey parrots for a while to understand their behaviour. For now, I’m happy to be here in Uganda, watching wild greys and listening to their calls. I’m on my way back to where we left the car and here’s this last African grey, alone on a tall tree.
I can see and hear it very well. I have been waiting for this moment for years!
So I better keep recording before it leaves to find its group or before my group arrives here.
Listen carefully to the change in its voice just before it takes off.
That’s the African grey flight call. It’s time to go and explore a much larger and wilder forest in Uganda: Kibale National Park. This is a vast, unspoilt tropical rainforest habitat where not only parrots, but large animals thrive, such as chimpanzees and forest elephants. We’re now at the edge of Kibale National Park.
Behind me is this large oil palm where African greys stop in the morning and the evening. So we’re sitting here waiting for them to show up hopefully and to film them for you.
Oh, look at that! A palm-nut vulture. It’s looking for palm nuts – obviously! Notice how it holds the fruit with its foot, almost like a parrot. You may think that its presence here will scare the parrots who would want to come, but that’s not the case. These birds are mostly vegetarian and are no threat to African grey parrots. They sometimes feed in the same tree together.
Despite this, no parrot is keen on stopping by today. I’m coming back early next morning. Waking up early today pays off. Not only for this gorgeous sunrise, but take a look at that tree. My first flock of African grey parrots!
As the ones we’ve seen on Bugala Island, they spend their first hour of the morning taking care of their plumage and vocalising. Sadly, not for long. All eight of them leave the place without stopping to feed in the oil palm.
Well, at least I’ve got a bit of footage of them in flight. Can you hear their flight calls? Yes, that one! It was a very beautiful morning today. We’ve seen the parrots, we’ve filmed them a bit in that tree, but after this they went down to the forest. Only one came back just a minute ago and went the other way towards the lake. So unfortunately, they didn’t stop in this big palm tree to film them up close. We’ll see if we can find others during the day.
It’s breakfast time, but we keep watching and filming birds around the lodge, hoping the parrots will come back. There’s plenty to see here and if you love nature you will never get bored in Uganda. Finally, my patience is rewarded. A single African grey lands on the large palm and I enjoy the best views of this wonderful parrot.
It doesn’t touch the fruits, in fact it stays only a couple of minutes before leaving for good. Maybe the palm has too little left, or maybe there is a better food source for parrots elsewhere. This is a huge area of prime habitat and the parrots can go wherever they please. The following day I’m exploring the rainforest starting before sunrise. I want to see the home of African grey parrots and meet some other animals too. We start before dawn actually and it’s dark enough for us to use torches. But in the tropics the sun rises fast, so light should come up soon. The forest is very thick, but there are good tracks and access is pretty easy. We are looking for the green-breasted pitta, a local rarity, but I’m hoping for parrots too.
We didn’t see the bird, but look what we’ve found! Chimpanzees enjoy good protection in Kibale Forest and other large rainforests in Uganda. Over a thousand of them live here along with twelve other species of primate. It’s easier to see monkeys in the Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary near Kibale. These are red-tailed monkeys. Researchers follow them all day in this area, studying their behaviour.
Black-and-white colobus are also easy to see here. But I’m moving out of the forest, as the open habitats look just right for brown parrots. It took me a while, but after fleeting views of flying parrots I finally get good views of a perched bird.
I have recorded this and all my other parrot observations in iNaturalist, so they can be used for research. To find other Meyer’s parrots I’m travelling to Uganda’s large savannah parks. From dense rainforests to open savannah with Borassus palms, habitats look good for Meyer’s parrots. But after two days of extensive searches, I come back with no parrot observation. Instead, I enjoy getting up close to all these amazing creatures: savannah elephants, lions, hippos, colourful birds and even a leopard! I didn’t come prepared for such a huge diversity of life, yet I’m only scratching the surface. Murchison Falls National Park has much more to offer to all nature lovers!
I make a last effort to see the brown parrots. Leaving Murchison Falls and going through the magnificent Budongo Forest, I’m heading towards Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. After a brief meeting with these endangered giants, our guide finally finds for us a flock of parrots.
It’s them, the brown, or Meyer’s parrots. They are closely related to the Senegal parrots, which I filmed in The Gambia. They are not so brightly coloured as the senegals, but they are the same size and shape and they can interbreed. Such similar are they, genetically. Meyer’s parrots are opportunistic feeders in a large variety of open habitats, from savannah woodland to gallery forests in really dry areas.
No wonder they have such a wide distribution on the African continent, especially in the East. This is literally my last day in Uganda. Tonight at 11 we fly back to Brussels in Belgium. I’m so happy to have found and filmed all three species of parrot I hoped for! There are other species in the country, but harder to find, as they live in more remote and inaccessible areas. One of them is the black-collared lovebird of the dense forests in the west of Uganda. Imagine the effort for finding them! It took us a while to find this common and widespread species. Finding wild parrots is not so easy!
But when you have local birdwatching experts to help you, your chances of finding what you need are much better than when you explore on your own.
If you made it this far into the video and think you would go to Uganda to see these wonderful creatures for yourself, take a look in the description notes.
You will find here all references needed for a successful trip: books, protected areas, trip reports, travel companies and expert birding guides. Speaking of which, I wish to thank here to our trip organiser, Agnes Kamugisha, for her excellent job of finding us the best itinerary and booking superb ecolodge and hotel accommodations.
And a big thank you to Arshley Brian, our award-winning birdwatching guide, for his help during the whole trip. We’ve had help from many other local people wherever we went in Uganda: birdwatchers, nature guides, park rangers and hotel staff. I’m grateful to them too. Thank you so much for watching my video! If you have enjoyed it, please share it with your friends and subscribe to Discover Parrots as I have others coming.