Working for birds in Africa

Roberts - Nests & Eggs of Southern African Birds

Wed, 06/05/2013 - 09:33 -- abc_admin
Warwick Tarboton, 2011. Cape Town: The John Voelcker Bird Book Fund / Jacana Media. 415 pp, 1,300 colour photographs and 48 plates showing life-size photographic images of 1,200 eggs of almost 700 species. Flexibound. ISBN 978-0-620-50629-8.

This book concerns the nesting habits of the c.730 species that breed in Africa south of the line formed by the Zambezi and Kunene rivers. It is partly a new production and partly a revision of A Guide to the Nests and Eggs of Southern African Birds by the same author, published in 2001, and reviewed in Bull. ABC 9: 161. The book’s layout is that of a modern field guide, with text pages facing the colour photographs, and 4–5 species per double-page spread. Photographs of adults / nests and eggs (and a few nestlings) are included for 680 species, with many nests illustrated for the first time. The photographs, by 87 different photographers, are generally excellent and many are stunning. In some cases, colour has been added to older black and white photos, cleverly so, because these transformed images are almost impossible to separate from the rest.

The plates showing eggs in collections appear at the back of the book, but are well referenced to the text pages. All eggs are depicted at life size, the huge egg of a Common Ostrich Struthio camelus filling most of one plate, but with eggs of >50 species displayed on the plate dealing with waxbills, whydahs, indigobirds, canaries and buntings. Where there is variation, two or more images are included, with 14 different examples of the highly variable eggs of Southern Masked Weaver Ploceus velatus. Those interested in breeding biology will have been disappointed that the seven volumes of The Birds of Africa did not include plates of eggs, but this book (and the original work) superbly fills this gap for southern Africa.

The concise species texts cover habitat, nest site, nest, laying season, clutch size, egg size, incubation and nestling periods, and the role of the sexes in nest building, incubation and parental care. Nests are particularly well described, with detailed measurements for almost all. An introductory chapter includes sections on family order and species names, nests, eggs, a detailed explanation of the sub-paragraphs within the species accounts, useful equipment for studying nests, and a two-page glossary of terms. There is a map of the region, coloured according to the distribution of different habitats - desert, karoo, fynbos, grassland, montane forest and savanna.

This is an excellent book, and is thoroughly recommended to anyone with even the slightest interest in nesting birds. My only criticism is that its scope might have been extended to include brief descriptions of nestlings. There are many nestlings in Africa yet to be described, and small text additions would have helped to identify the gaps in our knowledge.

Peter Castell

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