Birds of Southern Africa: Fourth Edition, published in 2011, has a plethora of information on bird basics, behavior, habitats and biomes, resident/visitor distribution, classification, and nomenclature. This field guide covers more than 950 bird species in the southern Africa region which includes the countries of: Namibia in the west, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique along the eastern coast; as well as South Africa, Swaziland, and Lesotho. Birds of Southern Africa is a shining example of how to create a thorough and easy to use guide for identifying and finding wildlife and is yet another stellar reference book by Ian Sinclair.
Most useful for beginner and intermediate birders and wildlife enthusiasts will be the glossary of terms related to bird species, their habitats, and their behaviors, as well as the illustrated glossary defining visually and textually the features of a bird and its plumage. Of particular interest for self-guided bird-watching safaris or beginners wanting to experience bird-watching in a group will be the sections on “Birding Literature” (for further reading), “Birding Societies” (groups that may interest you), and “Birdlife South Africa Clubs.”
Looking up one of the nearly 1,000 avian species noted in Birds of Southern Africa couldn’t be easier for novice naturalists, eco-tourists, and veteran birders. Aside from thumbing through until you find the right bird, the field guide provides several easy ways to find a specific species’ information for English speakers:
- The inside of the front cover has a visual quick reference containing 128 bird illustrations for easy visual identification.
- On the back cover a quick reference alphabetically lists 204 bird groups (falcons, sparrows, etc.) using their common names in English.
- Pages 449-453 have an extensive list of bird species by their scientific name.
- Pages 454-458 have an extensive list of birds by their common names in Afrikaans.
- Pages 459-464 have the same common name list in English.
Any method provides a page number directing the reader right to the correct page and they’re all very easy to use. Less experienced safari tourists will probably get the most use out of the illustrated quick reference, while people on guided tours and guided safaris will benefit most from the common name indexes.
The bulk of the field guide is laid out with information and range of each bird species on the left page and two or more full-color images of each species on the right. The images depict each species perched, in flight, and some species also have images also denote different stages of development or breeding (adolescent, breeding, non-breeding). The information on each bird is very concise and explains appearance, plumage appearance during certain seasons or stages of life, size, wingspan, voices, and the status and biology of the species. Each species’ information comes in a single paragraph about the same size as this one and is accompanied by a small map showing the estimated range of that species, along with a few unlabeled reference points of major cities (Johannesburg, Pretoria, Harare).
At a little over 8x6x1 inches the Birds of Southern Africa: Fourth Edition is small enough to be carried around in a day pack, but probably too large and heavy a field guide for hikers or photographers already carrying around a lot of weight. For these individuals the Birds of Southern Africa: Pocket Guide, also by Ian Sinclair, is highly recommended. Avian enthusiasts will want to stick with the larger Birds of Southern Africa: Fourth Edition for a more comprehensive guide.