Choose a bird guidebook

Bird books come in a variety of shapes and sizes. To choose a “field guide” think about where you want to use the guide. It is very limiting to have a book that only covers a small section of a region because birds move. In Namibia choose a book that covers southern Africa. For beginners a book that has obvious color codes for group-types is most useful. A concise description of biomes, vegetation types and habitats of the region helps when reading through the habitat preferences of a species.

Check the first few pages of the book to make sure that there are clear descriptive illustrations on how to look at a bird. This basic anatomy lesson will assist you in creating useful field notes or drawings. Birds are often on the move and identification using the field guide may only be possible after the bird has flown.

Bird species are grouped in families and a short general description of the family traits is quite useful at the beginning of a family group of species.

A field guide must be easy to carry, light and small. However pocket size guides may not have certain essential information. For each species a distribution map and a basic description of the usual habitat and the species’ habits is essential. The height of the standing bird is useful as is the wingspan for some families.

Make sure that book was published after 2007, because many English common names for birds changed and a number of new species were created through giving subspecies full species status.

A photographic guide is not as good as guide with clear paintings or color drawings. An artist can focus the illustration on the identifying marks of a species as well as the various plumages, gender or age based, of a species.

Besides identifying birds by their looks, all species can be identified by their calls.

Birdcall CDs are available and very useful especially in heavily wooded and forested areas.

Check out some websites too. Roberts Birds of Southern Africa has an excellent web site with a load of current information on all southern African species.

Liz Komen