Working for birds in Africa

Nesting Birds. The breeding habits of southern African birds.

Sat, 12/29/2012 - 13:18 -- abc_admin
Peter Steyn. 1996. Fernwood Press, Vlaeberg. 240 pages, many colour photographs. 1-874950-15-6 (Standard Edition).
page 47

First impressions suggest this is a coffee table picture book. It is large (page size 30 cm high x 23 cm wide) and has an abundance of colour photographs. However, a closer look shows that it is very much more than that. The text describes in some detail the breeding habits of every group, although not every species, of bird occurring in the southern African subregion. The photographs are mostly superb. The majority are by Peter Steyn himself but he has used images by over 30 other photographers to fill in where necessary. About half of every double page spread is devoted to photographs, some inevitably fairly small, but every ten or so spreads there is a full page photograph. The majority are portraits of representative species of the group at the nest, together with some of the nests and eggs. The book should also be read or at least dipped into on a regular basis. The 20-page introduction is a general but informative essay on breeding systems, the breeding cycle and the different nest types shown by the birds of the region. There is then a 1-5 page section on the habits of each of 90 or so groups. Mostly these are families, but some of the larger ones are split into two or more, while a few smaller ones are amalgamated. These essays summarise what is known in an easy style, but they emphasise the important and interesting aspects of the biology of the group and their nesting and breeding habits. References are not quoted explicitly in the text but there is a large bibliography demarcated into sections following the text sections, and many references are to the original sources and not to general summaries and reviews. Fora non-South African a very minor quibble is that to discover scientific names the reader must refer to the index. However the English names used are almost all those in the latest (1993) edition of Roberts' Birds of Southern Africa, so there should be no problem in finding out which species is being referred to. I am pleased to note too that the author has put hyphens into names like Racket-tailed Roller, unlike most South Africans! In summary, if scientists need to find out about breeding in any bird group in southern Africa this is an excellent place to start. If someone wants to see splendid pictures of southern African birds with a text of more than the 'This is species x' variety then this is also an excellent buy.

Peter Lack

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