Book reviews:    Roberts' Birds of Southern Africa

Roberts' Birds of Southern Africa
Gordon Lindsay Maclean
0 620 17583 4
Sixth Edition, first impression 1993
John Voelcker Bird Book Fund
About 1000 all together !!!
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This book is something like a bible to South African birders. The first version of this book was published as far back as 1940 and turned into a bestseller directly. J. Austen Roberts was born in Pretoria, South Africa in 1883 en died in a traffic accident in 1948. During the first half of this century he was the main ornithologist in South Africa. He worked at the Transvaal museum for 38 years studying birds. Though he did not have a proper academic training, he received several high academic awards and an honorary doctorate.

This hardcover book with about 1000 pages can't be anything else then big. Therefore I would not call this book a field guide but in South Africa it is still often used as one. In bookshops you can even buy a special bag with a strap to carry this book with you into the field without damaging it. For me it is a book that I would rather keep at home. Maybe I would take it with me in a car. The book is very comprehensive as virtually all bird species occuring in southern Africa are in the book. There are some 907 species presented in the book with one or more color drawings.

First in the book is an introduction with information about the scientific classification system of Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species etc. Then there is a how-to-use-this-book part about the description text for the different species. The next part is a special section with identification keys. Following this list, you'll easily be able to determine a bird species.  This is a very nice feature and handy with determination.

There are 77 plates with color drawings in this book. This picture to the left shows plate numbers 13 and 14 with color drawings of raptors as an example. The quality of the drawings is very good. Where necessary birds are shown with several drawings for different sexes, plumages etc. Also many birds have a special drawing showing them in flight or in a specific posture.




book20c.jpg (39427 bytes)The next part of the book (and the biggest part with over 800 pages!) has the description of the different species. For each species the name is listed in english and latin but also in about 7 southern African languages and in german. Also included for each species is a distribution map. Usually the description follows this list: Measurements, Bare parts, Identification, Voice, Distribution, Status, Habitat, Habits, Food and Breeding. The voice description is accompanied by a sonogram, showing the typical bird sound in a very nice diagram. At first these may be hard to work with, but with some experience you'll quickly learn to appreciate them.

At the back of the book there are name indexes in: English, Scientific, Afrikaans, Kwangali, Sotho, Shona, Tsonga, Tswana, Xhosa, Zulu and even German (for the people in Namibia?).



Conclusion: What can one say about such a book? It's comprehansive, it's conclusive. It's nearly perfect. If you live in southern Africa you should defenitely have a copy of this book at home. If you want to take it out into the field? For me it's too big and heavy. But I wouldn't want to miss it. In 1995 I bought it in a small shop in Botswana very cheap, about $25 if I remember correct. But even at double that price it is still worth every cent. A definite recommendation !!!

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All text and images 1991 - 2011 Hans Martens