Ethiopia: Birding the Roof of Africa

For the 2013-2014 itinerary, please click here.

Ethiopia has been dubbed the Cradle of Humanity, chessboard of the gods, and the Roof of Africa, but these epithets are inadequate to describe this unique biological and cultural crossroads with many incredible birding and photographic opportunities. First time visitors are struck by the sheer number of birds living right alongside people.

Hunting is virtually non-existent, and the resulting tameness gives participants as close to a Galapagos experience as is possible on a continental landmass. One of Africa’s finest birding destinations, the healthy combination of lush and impressive forests, breath-taking highlands, moist and arid savannas, many endemics, and a rich assemblage of Palearctic and intra-African migrants, combine to provide long species lists.

The strange mammals of this endemic hotspot are also a key feature with the “bleeding-heart” Gelada Baboons and the critically endangered Ethiopian Wolf both very likely on this tour.

Day 1: Addis Ababa. After arrival in this historic city (where we’ll overnight), we visit Gefersa reservoir in search of the endemic Wattled Ibis, Blue-winged Goose, and Abyssinian Longclaw.

Days 2-3: Addis Ababa to Debre Libanos to Debre Birhan. Crossing the colorful Sululta Plains, where highlanders thresh their teff (a local grain), we will see White-collared Pigeon, Red-breasted Wheatear, and Black-headed Siskin. Lunch near the Debre Libanos Monastery should reveal the impressive Gelada Baboon, the local endemic Rueppell’s Chat, and White-winged Cliff-Chat. Juniper woodlands on the monastery grounds hold Black-winged Lovebird, White-cheeked Turaco, Banded Barbet, White-backed Tit, White-billed Starling, and Black-headed Forest Oriole. The following morning we will be ready for an early assault on the Jemmu Valley where we hope to bag the endemic Harwood’s Francolin, Fox Kestrel, and many other dry country specials. One night will be spent near the Debre Libanos monastery, and the other close to Debre Birhan.

Day 4: Debre Birhan to Ankober. An early start at the escarpment should produce Ankober Serin, a rare and elusive endemic only discovered in 1976. After lunch we plunge over the breath-taking cliffs of the Great Rift Valley and into acacia savanna country in search of the endemic Yellow-throated Serin, as well as White-rumped Babbler, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, White-throated Serin, Shining Sunbird, and Chestnut Sparrow. The night will be spent in the town of Ankober.

Days 5-7: Awash NP. A long and thrilling drive across Afar territory promises to produce many encounters with stoic Afar tribesmen draped in cotton tunics with their outrageous “afro” hairstyles. The day should be spiced up by several bustard species including the impressive Arabian Bustard. Other desirable gems expected include Black-billed and Abyssinian Woodhoopoes, Yellow-breasted Barbet, Orange-bellied Parrot, Nile Valley Sunbird, Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse, and Sombre Chat. The collage of savanna grasslands and acacia woodlands of Awash NP below Fantale Volcano will hopefully produce the poorly known Gillett’s Lark as well as dazzling Rosy-patch Bushshrike, spectacular African Swallow-tailed Kite, elegant Somali Fiscal, and many more. Awash also has thriving populations of Beisa Oryx, Soemmering’s Gazelle, and the impressive Sacred Baboon. These three nights will be spent in a hotel near the park.

Day 8: Awash to Langano. We drive to Lake Langano, stopping at several Rift Valley lakes en-route, finding a wealth of water-loving species that may include Great Black-headed Gull, Black Crowned-Crane, Lesser Jacana, and African Pygmy Goose. We overnight on the edge of Lake Langano.

A Rift Valley lake gem - African Pygmy-Goose
A Rift Valley lake gem - African Pygmy-Goose (Ken Behrens)

Day 9: Langano to Awassa. Early morning birding normally yields Grayish Eagle-Owl, Von der Decken’s Hornbill, White-bellied Canary, and Black-cheeked Waxbill. Palearctic visitors might include Masked Shrike and Common Nightingale. After a hearty breakfast we head for the bustling Awassa Fish Market and its busy lake, which will provide an unforgettable experience as Marabou Storks, Eastern White Pelicans, and the endemic and well-endowed Thick-billed Ravens squabble frantically over fish scraps (and your lunch if you’re not careful). A night will be spent on the edge of Lake Awassa.

Day 10: Wondo Genet. We depart from Awassa early to make the most of our time at Wondo Genet forest. The rapidly disappearing forests here still harbor healthy flocks of the rare endemic Yellow-fronted Parrot and the massive and noisy Silvery-cheeked Hornbill. Other possibilities include Double-toothed Barbet, Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, Abyssinian Woodpecker, Abyssinian Ground-Thrush, Spotted Creeper, Sharpe’s Starling, and Brown Saw-wing. Boisterous troops of Black-and-white Colobus Monkeys also frequent the hillsides. We overnight at a hotel in the forest.

Day 11: Wondo Genet to Goba. This morning we head for the Afro-alpine moorlands and highland juniper forests where Moorland and Chestnut-naped Francolins abound, along with vivacious Abyssinian Catbirds, and Cinnamon Bracken Warblers. We will spend the next three nights in Goba.

Day 12: Sof Omar. Today’s mission is to seek out Salvadori’s Serin, one of Ethiopia’s toughest endemics. While we persevere, we should find Northern Brownbul, Somali Tit, Pygmy Batis, Irania, and the startling Bristle-crowned Starling.

Day 13: Goba to Bale Mountains NP. This morning we ascend arguably the highest and most beautiful road in Africa, crossing vast expanses of gray, spongy moorlands dotted with incandescent red-hot pokers and regal giant lobelias. We scour the spectacular scenery seeking the elegant Spot-breasted Plover, the curious and unabashed Rouget’s Rail, and the magnificent Wattled Crane, along with handsome Ethiopian Wolves bounding across the open plains. Juniper and Hagenia forests cover the escarpment edges and here we search for Montane Nightjar, Abyssinian Long-eared Owl, Bale Parisoma, Abyssinian Ground-Thrush, and Abyssinian Crimson-wing.

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Day 14: Goba to Addis. It’s a long way back to the capital, but we may catch up with Cape Eagle Owl, Somali Crow, or Red-billed Chough as we drive back through the Rift Valley. We overnight in Addis.

Day 15: Departure. Today we head for the international airport for departures or join the southern extension.

Please note that the clients who choose not to do the southern extension will be returning to Addis without the tour leader on Day 14 of the main tour, while the southern extension begins on this day.



Southern extension (8 days)

This add-on has been designed to provide a realistic chance of seeing every southern Ethiopian endemic. From Goba, we will drive south and search several Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco stakeouts until luck smiles on us. Later we explore the incredibly stark Liben Plains in search of the vulnerable and rapidly disappearing Sidamo Lark, and scour the Dawa River for African White-winged Dove, Juba Weaver, and many more. Near Yabello we shall admire the industrious Stresemann’s Bush Crow foraging in groups. The exquisite White-tailed Swallow, our last endemic target, is found among a whole suite of other southern specialties otherwise possible only in northern Kenya.

Day 1 (Day 14 of main tour): Goba to Negele

Days 2-3: Negele

Day 4: Negele to Yabello

Day 5: Yabello

Day 6: Yabello to Arba Minch

Day 7: Arba Minch

Day 8: Arba Minch to Langano

Day 9: Langano to Addis

Day 10: Departure from Addis

As noted above, the southern extension starts on day 14 of the main tour, which is why there are 10 days listed here: 2 from the main tour, plus an additional 8 added to the extension.

A CULTURAL EXTENSION is also available. Please contact us for a detailed itinerary.



CLIMATE: Hot and dry in Awash to chilly and damp on the Bale Mountains.

DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate. The difficult parts of this trip are long drives through hot, dusty terrain. Such drives occur mostly on the southern extension. Although the birding is exhilarating, some of these travel days are wearing. A couple of the hikes are somewhat strenuous.

ACCOMMODATION: Ranges from very basic to moderate. Roads are poor. Occasionally private facilities and hot water are unavailable.


Tropical Birding guides have just published a birding site guide to Ethiopia. It covers all of the major birding areas of the country, and is copiously illustrated with maps and over 110 photos. Click here to learn more.