Lupita Island Birds

Bird Life on Lupita Island in Lake Tanganyika -
South Western Tanzania Ufipa region, Rukwa

Scarlet-chested sunbird  at Lupita Island

The geography of Tanzania is diverse, with many different climates.  It straddles the equator and there are two main seasons - wet and dry. The avifauna of Tanzania include a total of 1049 species, of which 26 are endemic, 30 are accidental and two have been introduced by humans. The species of birds vary in each region because of the country’s geographic diversity. From mountain forest to tropical coast there is every conceivable range of terrain: desert, open savannah grassland, lowland forest, bush and scrub, mountain, lakes and mudflats.

Rukwa ecosystem is a biologically rich area of western Tanzania including Lake Tanganyika and the islands, Lupita included, off the mainland near Kipili village. It has been recorded that there are upward of 500 species of birds occurring in this ecosystem.

This does not consider the vast array of migratory birds that are flying over Lake Tanganyika to their destinations, often stopping to rest on the islands en route.

Tanzania has ratified the convention on biological diversity, the convention on international trade in endangered wildlife, the convention on migratory species and the African-Eurasian water bird agreement. It also participates in UNESCO’s man and biosphere programme and three biosphere reserves have been designated. Tanzania is also signatory to the convention for the protection, management and development of the marine and coastal environment of the Eastern African region and related protocols. Lake Tanganyika comes under this protocol.

Lupita Island is an ornithologically poorly known area of southwestern Tanzania. A full species checklist has not been updated and is therefore not available but is likely to exceed 400 species. The closest list covers Mahale mountains national park.  Regular monitoring of water birds is likely to reveal that the Great white pelican often flies over the islands of Kipili on its way towards the more northern areas of Lake Tanganyika.


Birds seen or recorded on Lupita Island:


Water birds:


The Common squacco heron has been seen in the reeds in various hidden areas

around Lupita island.


And it is surmised that the African open billed stork also spends some time

in the hidden reeds of the shoreline of Lupita island.







Cormorants – a lone fisher bird often seen in the waters nearby to the shore.

Just its head shows as it dives repeatedly for fish in the deep waters.

It can often be seen on rocks with its wings spread open.







Darters - a similar fish-eating bird also known as the African snake bird named for

its long snake like neck that can be seen above the water as it swims

with its body submerged looking for fish in the lake.




We also have a variety of Kingfishers on the island. They often sit on the boat ropes

at the dock waiting to dive into the shallow waters to catch small fish:

the Giant kingfisher,

the Pied kingfisher,

the Malachite kingfisher

and the Dwarf kingfisher to name but a few.










A pair of African fish eagles regularly come to roost on the high up overhanging

branches of the indigenous trees over the lake. Their distinctive call can be heard

echoing around the island in the early morning stillness.



Often seen sitting on the rocks around the island is the beautiful Palm nut vulture

looking like a bird of prey but classed as a vulture. It doesn’t stay long but to see one

is certainly a beautiful sight.

Not a water bird but more than often on the water’s edge.



Some migratory birds spotted on Lupita:

There are a variety of small falcons and small birds of prey that have their migratory route over Lake Tanganyika, sometimes coming to rest on Lupita Island.


The Lesser kestrel is a migratory bird.

It is actually a small falcon and has been spotted in the thick bush near

the lake edges resting while on its way south - but this is a rare sighting.



Another small bird of prey is the Pallid harrier whose scientific name comes from

the Greek word circus due to its circular flight patterns. It has been seen while

taking refuge for a few days on its migratory route as this passage

is within its wintering range.





The Glossy ibis has been heard flying over Lupita at the end of a day;

distinctive by its noisy high-pitched call.









The European bee-eater is a beautiful green bird with a light orange head

that can be seen at certain times of the year. Normally in flocks, it flies

through swarms of insects catching them in its beak as it flies.


Lupita island has a variety of Sunbirds, who are most prolific when the rain has settled in and the buds and new flowers start to grow on the bushes and the trees around our main the areas. Below are some that we see often.





The Marico sunbird with its distinctive red and purple slash across the chest,

can often be seen hanging from the flowers in our Lupita garden.




The Variable sunbird is also a welcome guest to be watched from the verandahs.

Small and quick, it darts between the various plants seeking the best nectar.







The Scarlet-chested sunbird is found over most of Tanzania and is often seen

on Lupita. Normally travelling in pairs, the female is brown with very little colour.





The Collared sunbird. Usually found in pairs, these sunbirds are common all

ver Tanzania. They enjoy lush bush, gardens and lowlands.

They are often seen drinking at the water bath on Lupita.




Birds seen regularly on Lupita island



The Common Bulbul is the most prolific bird on Lupita island, coming first to the

water table and bathing.

They are normally in family groups and chatter amongst themselves.






The Trumpeter hornbill is a large bird with a distinctive beak.

Settling in the trees in Lupita forests making a loud distinctive noise like

the cry of a baby. Often heard early morning and sits in small groups.

Eating berries and hard seeds from the trees on Lupita.






Another hornbill found on Lupita is the Silvery-cheeked hornbill.

These birds live in pairs and can also live in large flocks.

Eating reptiles, small birds and fruits. They normally live in tall trees in thick forest areas.




Nightjars are nocturnal birds. With pointed wings and a long tail, their shape

s similar to a kestrel or cuckoo. Their grey-brown, mottled, streaked and

barred plumage provides ideal camouflage in the daytime. They have an

almost supernatural reputation with their silent flight.

The first indication that a nightjar is near is usually the male's churring song,

rising and falling.

The Cisticola is a small brown bird with various markings depending on the species.

There are many different Cisticola that can be seen on Lupita, including

he Winding, the Short-winged, The Siffling, the Stout, The Trilling, the Singing…

o name but a few. Their markings vary only by subtle changes.

It is a quick flying bird enjoying long grasses and forest areas.

The Cisticola is common all over Tanzania.



The Pel's fishing owl is a large species in the family Strigidae.

It feeds nocturnally on fish and frogs snatched from the surface of lakes and rivers.

It roosts silently in the rafters of the empty cottages on Lupita,

waiting for the night to fall before searching for its food.

A beautiful bird with a distinctive low vibration of sound.

No sound can be heard as it flies through the night. Quite rare and very shy.



Crested barbet. Normally found in pairs or family groups around termite mounts

or on the ground looking for bugs.
A brightly coloured bird we have seen on occasion on our many sandy ant hills.





Paradise Whydahs are beautiful birds often seen on Lupita. Most commonly seen

are the Eastern paradise whydah and the Broad-tailed whydah.

They are quite widespread across Tanzania and enjoy insects as their main diet.

Found in semi-arid acacia country.  The female is a brown bird, quite unremarkable.



Southern cordon bleu finch or waxbill as they are also known.

A very common bird in all areas of Tanzania. Frequent visitors to Lupita,

often in groups.

A very small bird with an unremarkable call.





The Red-cheeked cordon bleu is distinctive by the red mark on the side of its head.

Found throughout Tanzania and Lupita Island.




The African fire finch is a common bird in these areas. Gregarious,

it is often found around human habitation. A small bird with quick movements.





The Red-billed fire finch very similar to the African fire finch but not so widespread.

Found more on the fringes of Tanzania and Congo. Found in groups.

Very small quick bird.






The Broad-tailed warbler
Not an easy bird to see as it prefers thick bush and grasses. But is often seen

hanging on to the long grasses around the island. Has an interesting flight-pattern.




African moustached warbler
A shy bird often found in pairs in thick bush or grassland. Its shrill singing

can often be heard from concealed perches. Seen on Lupita from time to time.





Familiar chat. A dull brown bird with no special features, often found in pairs

and has been seen among the rocks on Lupita. Or feeding on insects on the ground.

There have been various chats sighted on Lupita.






Dark-capped yellow warbler. Often seen in pairs. The male has a black top on its head.

A shy bird liking thick bush, sings loudly from hidden bush at dawn.

Enjoys being around water and has been seen in the trees around the water’s edge.








Helmeted guinea fowl. Lupita island has its own resident flock.

Unusually they are very quiet, not making the load squawking noise normally

associated with these ground birds. We think it is because Lupita has

monitor lizards who find guinea fowl a tasty treat. So they have learned to be quiet.



In conclusion

Lupita island over the centuries has become a little oasis for birds, often as a place to rest on the way to somewhere else (Lupita means a place to rest on your journey to another destination). Predator birds and many other birds fly in from Europe or Asia to spend their winters in Tanzania or in neighbouring African countries around Lake Tanganyika. 

The water birds find the undisturbed area a haven for catching the small fish so necessary for their survival. Not in large numbers, the water birds use Lupita as a stop-off point on their way to the mainland, where they will normally find better shallow waters than around Lupita island.

Our resident birds change and flow with the seasons. The rainy season brings birds who relish the new insects erupting from the ground, the dryer season attracts a different type of bird feeding off the dry seeds and pods on the trees and in the grass. To name all the birds visiting Lupita is an impossible task. But above we have put together some of the more commonly seen species.

We are proud of the rich avifauna that we have and take care not to disturb the delicate habitat that they use.​​

Download our bird list here