Birds, Birders & Birding
South African Specific Resources
You can find birds everywhere, even inside shops! This makes birding a rewarding hobby. Birds are a great focus for nature journaling. And nature journaling is a powerful and fun tool for birders to improve their birding skills.
Birding is a popular hobby, for which many books and online resources are available. The resources listed on this page are grouped into topics.
Click on the topic in this list, to go to the resources listed on this page.
Introductions to Birds
There are many, pocket-sized books with basic information on the most common birds in South Africa. There are also books on birds in say Kruger Park, or similar. These are not included in this list. However, there are a few books that stand out.
"The My First book of ..." is a beginners' nature book series with information in field note style. Each book has text in four Southern African languages:
There are three books in the series just on birds:
“My First Book of Southern African Birds: Volumes 1 and 2” by Erroll Cuthbert, illustrator
Jennifer Schaum. Volume 1 had information on 56 species. Volume 2 has information on 58 species.
"My First Book of East African Birds" by Dave Richards, Illustrator Jennifer Schaum
The series also includes birds in other titles such as “My First Book of Southern African … Wildlife, Tracks. Most titles in the series are available through the library.
Comprehensive Reference Books
"Ornithology for Africa" by Gordon Mclean, 1990 uses examples from the southern
hemisphere of the continent in the nine chapters: the origin of birds, flight, feeding adaptations, zoogeography, ecology, migration, behaviour, and breeding biology.
"Roberts VII: Roberts Birds of Southern Africa" 2005. Also available in Afrikaans as
"Roberts Voëlgids". Considered the most authoritative reference on birds in Southern Africa. Robert’s Multi-media Birds of Southern Africa CD companion to the book is available from SA Birding - Guy Gibbons Roberts Multimedia DVD and Pda Software You have to buy it and have a smartphone or computer to use it. Sound identification uses filters to provide a shortlist of possible birds. The filters are very helpful especially for length and pitch which give timing and kHz measurements. You can use the sound characteristic filters as a framework for listening to and describing sounds.
"The Ultimate Companion: For Birding in Southern Africa" by Peter Ginn and Geoff
McIlleron, highly praised by Southern African birding authorities, this two-volume set has over 1,400 photos of all 960 bird species recorded in the region. Free app available with the purchase of the books.
How to ID Birds
"Basic Bird ID for Southern Africa" by Peter Ginn and Geoff McIlleron, 2011.
Birding by Ear
"Bird Calls for Beginners" by Doug Newman 2008 Book with CD contain calls and other
information on 60 common Southern African birds.
"More Bird Calls for Beginners" by Doug Newman, 2009. Book with CD contain calls and
other information on an additional 99 mostly common with a few rare Southern African birds.
"500 Common Bird Calls in Southern Africa" Doug Newman 2013 Book and CD with
best-known sound or call of each species with helpful notes on similar-sounding species.
A Different take on Identification
"Newman’s Birds by Colour” by Kenneth Newman in association with Irene Bredenkamp
and Phoebus Perdikis, updated by Vanessa Newman. Many new birders first notice colour. However, many experts discourage using colour as the starting point in bird identification. This book is a welcome addition to getting to grips with identifying birds.
"Birds Of Southern Africa and Their Tracks & Signs" written by Lee Gutteridge. Illustrated by Louis Liebenberg, Warren Cary, and Mark Elbroch, 2020.
"A Field Guide to the Tracks & Signs of Southern, Central & East African Wildlife"
by Chris & Mathilde Stuart, 2019. It contains "detailed coverage of tracks, droppings, bird pellets, nests, shelters and feeding signs, not only for mammals but also for birds, reptiles, insects and other invertebrates."
Standard Field Guide-Style Books
“Faansie’s Bird Book: a fully-fledged field guide …for kids” is written for children
but also loved and used by adults. It contains 722 species found only in South Africa. It is also available in Afrikaans “Faansie se Voëlboek ‘n volledige veldgids … vir kinders”.
In association with this book, he developed Bird Nerd Game, which he’s linked to his website. It is a variation of the standard bird list – with extra points for rare or difficult to locate birds. Print outs available for A4, A3 (with instructions on how to fold into pocket size) and an Excel version.
"Sasol Birds of Southern Africa 4th edition" by Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey, Warwick
Tarboton and Peter Ryan, 2015. The 4th edition adds introductions to bird groups and sonograms for identifying some birds. Available in English and Afrikaans.
“Newman's Birds of Southern Africa: Commemorative Edition" Ken Newman.
Vanessa Newman, Ken's daughter, revised his last book to produce this commemorative edition. It incorporates the latest taxonomic changes.
"Roberts Bird Guide Second Edition" by Hugh Chittenden, 2016.
Based on the first field guide version of Roberts Birds of Southern Africa VIIth Edition, the book covers over 950 species including all the recent splits. Being translated into Afrikaans.
"Geographic Variation of Southern African Birds"
by Hugh Chittenden, David Allan and Ingrid Weiersbye, an illustrated version of aspects dealt with under the subject of Geographic Variation in the large handbook tome Roberts - Birds of Southern Africa 7th ed. Worldwide, this is the first field guide to attempt to comprehensively illustrate the varied plumages that are exhibited by the region's birds."
Errata noted on promotion page:
1: African Goshawk p50. Blue and green colours on map to be transposed.
2: Garden Warbler Plate 75. p185. Names on plate to be transposed."
"Birds of Africa South of the Sahara, Second edition" by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan.
This highly respected publication covers over 2,129 species of African birds in a single volume. Revised to reflect the latest changes in taxonomy.
Specialised Groups of Birds
"African Raptors" by Bill Clark, 2018.
"Terrestrial Gamebirds and Snipes of Africa: Guineafowls, Francolins, Spurfowls, Quails,
Sandgrouse & Snipes" by Robert Little, 2017.
"Chamberlain’s LBJ’s: The Definitive Guide to Southern Africa’s Little Brown Jobs"
by Faansie Peacock, 2012. Has extensive information on five groups: honeyguides & honeybirds; larks & pipits; chats, scrub robins and flycatchers; warblers & cisticolas; and seed-eaters.
"LBJs made Simple" by Doug Newman and Gordon King, 2011 presents and applies the
authors' identification system based on first separating families, then within each family further separating into a visual groups, and finally in the third step of identifying to species level based on colour-coded, weighted characteristic features within the visual group. Includes a CD with calls for each of the birds in the book. ISBN: 9781770077997
"Pipits of Southern Africa: The Complete Guide to Africa's Ultimate LBJ's"
by Faansie Peacock, 2006. Privately published by the author, unfortunately, it is no longer in print, but Faansie writes on his website:
"Because I’m such a nice guy, I’ve placed a whole lot of free downloadable pdfs from the pipits book here…enjoy! I’ve also included some background information on the book, and the story behind it."
Check out his list of downloadable pdfs here.
"Chamberlain's Waders: The Definitive Guide to Southern Africa's Shorebirds”
by Faansie Peacock, 2016
"Field Guide to Shorebirds of South Africa" by Roy Cowgill & Stephen Davis, 2013
"Guide to Seabirds of Southern Africa" by Peter Ryan, 2017
Birds, Birders and Birding
History of Birding
The relationship between people and birds in Southern Africa has a long history. There are a variety of ways of people knowing about and relating to birds. The history of different groups and the interactions between groups is complex. Insights into our understanding of these relationships and ways of knowing are highlighted in these books:
“Birders of Africa: History of a Network” by Nancy J Jacobs, 2016.
The scientific knowledge that is contained in the field guides, books and resources below has a complex history. “By distilling the interactions between European science and African vernacular knowledge, this stunningly illustrated work offers a fascinating examination of the colonial and postcolonial politics of the expertise about nature.” From the front inside cover flap.
"The Forgotten Scientist: The Story of Saul Sithole" by Lorato Trok, 2020.
This is the "story of a pioneering black scientist who made a great contribution to the field of anthropology and ornithology in South Africa. ... Saul never received the official recognition that he deserved - until now." Quote from the book's back cover. Available in English, Afrikaans, isiZulu, isiXhosa, Sepedi & Sesotho.
"The First Safari: Searching for Levaillant" by Ian Glenn, 2018
Although the story is the author's search for Levaillant's travel notebooks, his collections and unanswered questions about his life and times. The author presents François Levaillant as the first colonial birder in South Africa.
BLSA produce annual bird name checklists (English and Afrikaans).
Most Southern African birding books use the scientific names of birds. They also provide the English and/or Afrikaans common names. Common bird names in other Southern African languages are not usually included in more recent standard birding field guides. Here are a few resources that are multi-lingual.
Online, Roberts VII Names Database Version 2005.10.3 has common names of birds in languages commonly spoken in Southern Africa. People are invited to share names or languages which may be missing.
Roberts VII Scientific, English, Afrikaans & Zulu Names Zulu
Roberts VII Scientific, English, Afrikaans & Xhosa Names Xhosa
Roberts VII Scientific, English, Afrikaans & Tswana Names Tswana
Roberts VII Scientific, English, Afrikaans & South Sotho Names SouthSotho
Roberts VII Scientific, English, Afrikaans & North Sotho Names NorthSotho
Roberts VII Scientific, English, Afrikaans & Swazi Names Swazi
Roberts VII Scientific, English, Afrikaans & Tsonga Names Tsonga
Roberts VII Scientific, English, Afrikaans & Shona Names Shona
Roberts VII Scientific, English, Afrikaans & Kwangali Names Kwangali
Roberts VII Scientific, English, Afrikaans & German Names SciEngAfrGer
Roberts VII Scientific, German, Portuguese & French Names SciGerPorFre
"Birds of KwaZulu-Natal and their Zulu Names" Adrian Koopman, Roger Porter and
Noleen Turner, 2020. English text with with 550 species-specific bird names in Zulu. Beautiful, but falls short of the authors' intended and promoted purpose as a field guide for isiZulu first-language birders.
"Amagama Ezinyoni: Zulu Names of Birds"
by Adrian Koopman, Roger Porter and Noleen Turner, 2020.
“Zulu Bird Names and Bird Lore” by Adrian Koopman
The author describes the complex relationship between birds, the Zulu language and Zulu culture including in praise poetry, proverbs, riddles and children’s games. It also presents the Zulu Bird Name Project a series of workshops held with Zulu-speaking bird guides to establish a list of species-specific names for all birds in the Zulu-speaking region.
Where to Find Birds
"The Southern African Birdfinder: Where to find 1400 bird species in southern Africa"
by Cohen & Spottiswoode, assisted by J Rossouw, 2006. Covers over 300 birding sites with what to expect, includes a foldout map.
“Sasol Birding Map of Southern Africa”, Ian Sinclair and Trevor Hardaker, 2002.
Includes over 200 birding sites in southern Africa, as well as many game and nature reserves, towns, and routes.