Working for birds in Africa

Robins of Africa

Fri, 28/12/2012 - 11:22 -- abc_admin
Terry Oatley and Graeme Arnott. 288 pp, 36 colour plates, 50 line-drawings and 33 maps. Acorn Books & Russell Friedman Books, Cape Town. UK£54.
page 149

This monograph deals with the species of robins endemic to Africa. It is attractively produced and Graeme Arnott has illustrated each species in colour. There are also many fine line drawings scattered throughout the text.

Before reviewing any book, it is necessary to determine the target audience. Unlike many monographs, Terry Oatley's text is not written in a scientific manner and will be enjoyed by a wide range of people including scientists, birders and even those who have only a passing interest in birds. References in the text are kept to a minimum to easure readability.

The first part of this work describes the distribution, habitat requirements, vocalisalions and breeding biology of each of the 33 species. My immediate reaction to this was, as with most other groups of birds in Africa, how little is known of the species occurring outside South Africa and some species have barely a page of text. The plates are pleasing and the line drawings illustrating the bird's habitat or aspects of the birds behaviour are excellently done, and really capture the nature of these species.

The second part of the book covers various aspects of robin ecology and behaviour and includes chapters on song, feeding ecology, migration, population biology, evolution and conservation. This is an enjoyable account of the author's research into this attractive group and includes some memorable quotes from past authors such as David Lack, James Chapin and Henry Stanley. These chapters are not only a discussion of robins but also an introduction to various ecological and evolutionary theories written in such a way that non-scientists can understand and form opinions.

The text is well written and informative although, when presented with an interesting fact, I was frustrated that it was not referenced. The information for the species that occur in southern Africa is well researched but for some species occurring elsewhere, information is lacking. Overall, the book is a fascinating read and should be obtained by those with an interest in this group.

Phil Atkinson

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