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Celebrating birds on Global Big Day and every day

Studying the other animals that live in gorilla habitat is part of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s daily work. Birds are one of the most interesting and important groups of species, since they are often good indicators of ecosystem health. Our staff and many of the students we work with are involved in studying, observing and counting the bird species we see both in the forest and on our Ellen DeGeneres campus in Rwanda. 

“Birds are good indicators of climate, and they play a critical role in ecosystem services through pollinating crops, dispersing seeds and more,” says Elias Nizeyimanana, the Fossey Fund’s conservation education coordinator in Rwanda. 

“They are a vital part of the biodiversity in the forests where gorillas live and are also key players in our conservation education programs,” says Deogratias Tuyisingize, Ph.D., the Fossey Fund’s biodiversity research program manager in Rwanda. 


Hooded vultures resting in mountain gorilla habitat

Through initiatives like our citizen science program, students from schools surrounding Volcanoes National Park visit the campus every Friday for bird identification and watching, adds Dr. Tuyisingize. These visits offer them hands-on experience, observing birds in their natural habitats, and an opportunity to learn about their roles in sustaining a healthy environment. 

And on Global Big Day, which is organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, members of our staff, students and citizen scientists from the community count birds in Rwanda, including our Ellen Campus, as well as two regions adjacent to Volcanoes National Park, and at our Nkuba Conservation Area in the DR Congo. 

While Big Global Day is celebrated annually, our work to document bird diversity and conservation is part of our everyday work!  Here are a few of the key species we are studying.   

Birds in mountain gorilla habitat

This year, based on our ongoing monitoring, we are especially pleased to report a thriving population of birds at our Ellen Campus, with a growing count of more than 65 bird species identified. Since opening in 2022, the campus has not only served as a home for gorilla conservation but has also blossomed into a vibrant sanctuary and living laboratory, hosting an array of species, including birds, which greatly enhance our scientific endeavors.

“I feel empowered, as students in the Fossey Fund’s citizen science program actively participate in the conservation of birds, by sharing what they learned with their colleagues and family members. I believe local biodiversity in Rwanda will sustainably thrive as the result of the next generations being equipped with conservation knowledge and skills,” says Nizeyimana.

Among the many interesting bird species we are seeing at the campus are the scarlet-tufted sunbird, the red-eyed dove, the Cape robin-chat, the willow warbler, the hooded vulture and pin-tailed whydah. Some of our campus birds live there year-round, while others are migratory. Some are common and widely seen, while others are facing significant ecological pressures.


Scarlet-tufted sunbird


Cape robin-chat

The hooded vulture is an example of a critically endangered bird we’ve recorded at the campus. This bird is native to sub-Saharan Africa and scavenges for food on the carcasses of wild and domestic animals, but faces a variety of threats, such as poisoning, hunting, loss of habitat and even collisions with electrical infrastructures.

Birds in Grauer’s gorilla habitat

The birds we observe in the forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which are home to critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas, include the endangered grey parrot, which has lost much of its habitat in recent years. In the Nkuba Conservation Area, which we protect in collaboration with local communities, we are seeing these parrots flock to open forest clearings.

These forests are also home to types of hornbills, which are important seed dispersers. One example is the Eastern long-tailed hornbill, which is also on the decline due to deforestation. They are often seen near troops of monkeys, an association that provides mutual benefits in finding foods and protection from predators.


African pied hornbill 


Eastern long-tailed hornbill

Global Big Day is a special day of collecting information for science, but also serves to get people engaged in conservation around the world. Our teams in Rwanda and the DR Congo are excited to play a role in this collaborative effort for biodiversity on this day and every day.