All Princeton Field Guides fall into the “must have” category when it comes to packing for a long holiday of wildlife safaris. But it’s up to the reader and the utility of the guide as to whether it’s essential to bring in a daily bag. Let’s dive into what features this specific field guide has.
Like others in the series focused on avian species, The Birds of East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi by Terry Stevenson, published in 2002, has a plethora of information on bird basics, behavior, habitats and biomes, resident/visitor distribution, taxonomic classification, and nomenclature. This field guide covers 1,388 bird species with 286 color plates containing 3,400 color images, and provides a concise overview of avian species in the modern interpretation of East Africa: Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania. This is approximately 80% of known bird species in sub-Saharan Africa, all found in East Africa! Like its sister guides, Birds of East Africa is a solid reference guide suitable for most birders and appears to cover the same number of species as Birds of East Africa (Helm Field Guide) by the same authors while also being less expensive.
As with other Princeton Field Guides, the bulk of the field guide is laid out with information and the range of each bird species on the left page and a full-color image of each species on the right, often with juvenile, male, and female examples in addition to the underside as seen in flight. The illustrations depict some of the species perched, in flight, and even in different stages of development, breeding, or seasonal plumage (juvenile, adult, breeding, non-breeding). A few species also have illustrations of the nest or close-ups of their tail and undertail-coverts. In the front of the book there is also a two-page visual defining the specific names and features of a bird and its plumage.
The information on each bird is very concise and explains appearance, plumage appearance during certain seasons or stages of life, animal size, wingspan, voices, and the status and biology of the species. Each species’ information comes in a single paragraph and is accompanied by a small map showing the estimated range of that species. The only points of reference are country borders and Lake Victoria, which is Africa’s largest lake.
Measuring 8.5×5.5×1.25 inches (21.5×14.0x3.2 cm) Birds of East Africa is a little taller and not quite as wide as other entries in the Princeton Field Guides series on birds. The book is still small enough to be carried around in a day pack, but hikers or photographers on a day-trip already carrying around a lot of weight might want to forego this book in favor of a more compact and region-specific field guide.
What the Field Guide Doesn’t Have:
Birds of East Africa does not have a glossary of terms related to bird species, their habitats, and their behaviors. There is also no section on “Birding Societies” (groups that may interest you) or “Birdlife Clubs” in specific countries. This is something that exists for the Birds of Southern Africa: Fourth Edition guide and is a valuable resource for birders, eco-tourists, and others interested in interacting with serious birders in the region.
Overview & Comparison:
As with all the Princeton Field Guides the ability to look up so many avian species is straightforward, but not as convenient as some others in the series. Aside from thumbing through the book manually, the only other way to find a specific bird species or family is to use one of the two indexes (unfortunately there is no Swahili index): pages 575-590 have an extensive list of bird species by their scientific name and pages 591-602 have a list of common names in English. This makes the book less accessible to first-time and novice birders than Birds of Southern Africa: Fourth Edition and some other Princeton Field Guides which have an illustrated quick reference. This is probably due to the extensiveness of the species covered, but the authors have helpfully included a list of plates (pages of illustrations) at the beginning so that page numbers for specific birds can effectually be found. As a result while this book is useful for anyone going on safari, it’s most useful to: birders confident in their observational skills, birders with a strong knowledge of names, or those who love pouring over species data after a safari to correctly identify their sighting (which is half the fun!).
The last four pages of the guide are dedicated to a large, 2-page map of the region with key points marked. This is supplemented by a 2-page list of “Important Bird Areas of East Africa” which not only includes national parks and notable game reserves, but also forests, mountain regions, and coastal regions which are great for planning a birding adventure.
Typically located in the back of many books and texts, the “additional reading” section is listed in the front to help prepare the serious bird enthusiasts before their adventure begins. However, because the book has not been substantially changed, if at all, since its first publishing in 2002, the list of “additional reading” is surely missing the latest publications and research released in the past fifteen years.