Birds of Africa: From Seabirds to Seed-Eaters – Review
Birds of Africa: From Seabirds to Seed-Eaters by wife and husband team Tilde and Chris Stuart is a great desk-reference type book cramming information on 108 families of birds into 168 pages (plus an index).
Unlike encyclopedic reference books and field guides Birds of Africa is not divided into individual species, but instead provides an introduction to thousands of African bird species through summaries of each family grouped together by range, genetic relationship, habitats, and diet. For instance, similar terrestrial birds are grouped together (ostrich, cranes, bustards), while secretarybirds are grouped with other raptors (vultures, eagles, hawks, owls). Specialized feeders such as oxpeckers, sugarbirds, and sunbirds are grouped separately from insect-eaters (Old World babblers, starlings, thrushes) and seed-eaters (true sparrows, bishops, and firefinches). This organization of families makes for an interesting read, easy browsing by chapter, and allows for interesting anecdotal subsections on conservation, wildlife trade, and adaptations relating to each grouping shared across sometimes disparate families.
Medium and large full-color photographs bring to life the visual characteristics of incredible avian species ranging from owls and secretarybirds to Old World babblers and sunbirds. Not every species has its own photo, but a broad cross-section of each bird family is represented by photos of individual species. Text supplements the overall behavior and appearances related to individual families. At the end of the book a page is dedicated to suggested reading. 20 pages are also dedicated to a complete list of every species of bird in Africa organized by family as well as an index for determining where a specific species occurs in the book. The table of contents in the front also provides this on a per-chapter basis, but only for common birds. Due to the goal of the book there is no index by binomial species names.
Because of the relative simplicity of information provided in Birds of Africa this book is recommended for students and novice ornithologists seeking to brush up on characteristics, ranges and general behaviors of these bird families. Note that this book, published in 1999, may have some out-of-date information relating to genetic relationships, binomial names for some bird species, and ranges which may have diminished in the intervening years. Birdwatchers and wildlife watchers may also be interested in more comprehensive volumes with species-specific entries as found in field guides like Birds of Southern Africa: Fourth Edition by Ian Sinclair and The Birds of East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi by Terry Stevenson.