Book reviews:    Birds of southern Africa

Birds of southern Africa
Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey, Warwick Tarboton
1 86825 196 9 (softcover, also available as hardcover)
Third impression 1995
Struik Publishers
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For lots of birders in southern Africa this book is their principal bird guide. It is a very comprehensive field guide with all of the over 900 bird species occurring in the region included. Wether or not this book will be your favourite bird guide depends on your preference for either drawings or photographs. This book has drawings, which most birders seem to prefer. There are 200 color plates with more than 4000 images. The book is published by Struik in a series of field guides comprising all southern African nature and wildlife. There are books about mammals, birds, reptiles, trees, butterflies etc. All these books are the same very nice A5 size. A bit big to put in your pocket but they will fit into a bagpack easily. I have the paperback version which needed to have the cover strengthened with plastic. It's available also as hardback as well, which might be a bit stronger.

Birds of southern Africa lists more than 900 species occuring in the region. The book starts with a small introduction about the habitat types of the region. Then the different bird familes are described shortly. Standard in most South African bird guides is the use of bird numbers, which may seem strange at first. But it is very handy when comparing several different books.

The main part of the book consists of pages with color drawings on the right and descriptions on the left, as shown in the picture here. Where necessary different drawings are shown for male and female birds or for adult and immature differences. Lots of birds also have drawings showing the underside of the wing for easy identification of flying birds. Where applicable detailed drawings of bill shape or tails are also added. Specially the raptors are shown in great detail in several extra color plates.

For each species there is a distribution map. The text consists of remarks about identification, a few remarks about habitat and call. The name in afrikaans is also listed. The description of the species is rather short, but this guide is meant for identification purposes mainly. If you want to study more about these birds, another book might be more appropriate.

There is always a lot of talking between birders wether drawings or photographs are better for an identification guide. Most birders seem to like drawings as these can show the birds in ideal circumstances. It is much more difficult to find good photographs of the bird, showing the characteristic posture and usual plumage. Personally I like photo guides better. If the photographs are good quality they show the bird how it really is. With drawings you have to translate the drawing to the real bird. So it depends very much on the quality of the photographs and the drawings. This book has very good drawings for the majority of the birds. Wether you will prefer this book over the photographic guide is up to you. Personally I would love to have both of them with me, since they complement each other very good.

Conclusion: The author Ian Sinclair is one of the most famous South African birders and has written many very good books. This one is a very good identification guide for use in the field. In southern Africa it is one of my favourite book on birds, together with the photographic guide. I can defenitely recommend this book to anyone visiting southern Africa. It is available in nearly all South African bookshops and certainly in all park shops in Kruger NP.

But of course you also can order this book directly from Amazon: ordercom.gif (402 bytes) orderuk.gif (400 bytes) orderde.gif (350 bytes)

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All text and images 1991 - 2011 Hans Martens