Birds in Africa: An Introduction and Survey to the Birdlife of Africa
Language: English, with English, French, German, and scientific nomenclature
This is an English translation of the German book Vögel in Afrika, which covers 1,300 species breeding or migrating in Africa. There is a colour photo and a distribution map included for most species, together with a short description of the bird's appearance, habitat, and song.
Birds in Africa
by Keith Betton in the United Kingdom (24/01/2012)
This book originally appeared with a German text in 2009, but has since been updated with better images being included in some cases. The format is of eight photos on the right page opposite text and distribution maps showing the whole of Africa even if the bird is found in just one small area. Some species not illustrated are still listed on the left but in a different tone. Basic information is given for all species – but this is just five lines to explain key identification features. French and German names are also included.
There are around 2300 species found on or around mainland Africa and this book illustrates 1360 of them, with a further 145 being mentioned but not illustrated. So taking woodpeckers as an example, there are around 35 species in Africa. Only 14 of these are illustrated in the book with a further three mentioned and 18 ignored. Clearly, to include all 2300 African species is impossible, but 2037 are illustrated on the African Bird Club website – so photographs could have been included for at least another 650+ species.
This book would not work as a field guide, but it does bring together a lot of photographs in one place and that is quite useful – particularly if you are travelling away from southern Africa. However with the latest field guides offering so much more detail and comprehensive coverage, the high cost of this book will deter most people from buying it. Those who want a good value collection of photographs covering southern Africa will find Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan's recent offering (Complete Photographic Field Guide: Birds of Southern Africa) to be better value with around 2500 photographs at £24.99.
"[...]A small but completely sufficient map shows the breeding range [...] And whoever travels to Africa to see mammals should take this book with them to avoid missing too many conspicuous birds [...]"
"[...]What otherwise is highlighted in idealized paintings appears in this photographic book along with the reality--just as you would see the birds in the countryside. This broad compilation with photos of African birds [...] is impressive."
"When Vögel in Afrika by the same author became available in 2009 (reviewed in Bull. ABC 17: 254 - 255) it was a landmark on the German market as there was no book available covering the entire birdlife of Africa. Now it has been translated into English and is therefore more readily accessible to a much wider audience, but must also face stiff competition from several other excellent photographic (field) guides. Ertel's book covers more than 1,300 species using a single photograph for each. Most photographs are of good quality and compared to the German version some images have been improved immensely, for example frican pygmy kingfisher Ispidina picta, abyssinian roller Coracias abyssinicus, woodchat shrike Lanius senator, orphean warbler Sylvia hortensis and firecrest Regulus ignicapilla. Some species are shown on the nest (African marsh harrier Circus ranivorus, spotted creeper Salpornis spilonotus). It is obvious that some rare species (slender-billed curlew Numenius tenuirostris) or those with cryptic behaviour (flufftails Sarothrura and the two Picathartes) are difficult to photograph, but unfortunately some common species also lack high-quality depictions, e.g. squacco heron Ardeola ralloides, Eurasian woodcock Scolopax rusticola and Sudan golden sparrow Passer luteus. Furthermore, images of several species depict birds in unusual postures (e.g., little bittern Ixobrychus minutus, bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus, mascarene martin Phedina borbonica, black scrub robin Cercotrichas podobe) or were taken in unfavourable light (e.g., rock martin Ptyonoprogne fuligula, sombre greenbul Andropadus importunus, icterine warbler Hippolais icterina, yellow-bellied hyliota Hyliota flavigaster), thereby making identification without previous knowledge difficult.
A great advantage is the distribution maps for each species. Some errors in the maps of the German version have been corrected (e.g., for crested galerida cristata and thekla larks G. theklae) but for migrants the text must also be checked and care taken when a species breeds in parts of Africa and migrates to others (e.g., red-backed shrike Lanius collurio, melodious warbler Hippolais polyglotta). However, the book's preface reveals that it was not the author's intention to make every female weaver identifiable, but to provide an overview of all of the important representatives of African bird families, and in this respect the book definitely succeeds. A keen birder visiting a certain region or country in Africa will undoubtedly prefer one of the now very good regional guides that is available. But, for the regular traveller to Africa with a broad interest in wildlife, the book has the advantage of covering a large number of species from throughout the continent within a single, pocket-sized volume."
- Volker Salewski, from ABC Bulletin 19.1 March 2012 page 113
Foreword - By Einhard Bezzel
Foreword - By the Author
How To Use This Guide
Topography of Birds - Glossary
The Author - Contact
Orders and Families of African Birds
Photographers - Picture Credits
Rainer Christian Ertel, born 1944, began to observe birdlife around his home in Esslingen, South Germany at the age of 13. He studied biology and chemistry at the Universities of Stuttgart and Hohenheim, Germany, graduating in 1972. Together with Claus Konig he published "Vogel Afrikas" in 1979 as his first book about birdlife of Africa.
He has been scientific assistant (1972-1975) at Staatliche Vogelschutzwarte in Ludwigsburg, Germany (State Institute for Applied Ornithology), and was a member of the board of the German Section of the International Council for Bird Preservation (ICBP, 1972-1986), which is now Birdlife International. From 1979 to 1985 he was director of the German Bird Protection Society (DBV), now NABU, Germany. He has also been a biology school teacher from 1975 to 1979, and again in Remseck am Neckar from 1985 until his retirement in 2001. Lastly, he has been active as ornithological tour guide, primarily in Africa and Europe, as well as in South America and Asia. Additionally he has organised private trips to other habitats and continents.