Safari Guide Rating "Excellent"
Readability: 8/10
Usefullness: 9/10
Interesting: 9/10

Not your Ordinary African Bird Book

This African birding book by Trevor Carnaby is the latest in the excellent Beat About The Bush series in which the most common and interesting questions about the bush are answered, the kind of questions that a safari guide is often asked.

Beat About The Bush Birds BookIt follows the same formula as the general wildlife Beat About The Bush and Mammal Books in that it is not a bird identification book, but rather a book that answers the questions that you may ask once you have identified the bird, in a easy to read question and answer format. So although details are given on bird identification and all the bird groups of southern Africa are covered in a very informative ‘Did you know’ section, I would suggest that Beat About The Bush Birds is more of a African bird behavioral guide than a bird id book.


To give you an idea, below are a few examples of the the Question and Answer format of the book, to give you an idea:

Where does the Lilac-Breasted Roller get its name from?

The common, but very beautiful bird in Southern Africa (which also happens to be one of my favorites), the Lilac-Breasted Roller. It is part of the Roller family of birds, but where do they get the ‘Roller’ name from?

“These birds are perhaps best known for the brilliant blue colour of the wings in flight. This is particularly apparent during the year-round territorial and courtship displays of the males. They fly up steeply and then almost stall before diving down steeply with closed wings. After gaining momentum, they open the wings again and level off while rocking from side-to-side along the body axis. They generally do not roll 360 degrees but this ‘rolling’ behavior is what gave the birds their name.”

Do harrier-hawks (gymnogenes) have double-jointed legs?

Lets say you have just been lucky enough to spot a gymnogene displaying the common behavior of hanging upside-down from a tree. You may wonder why and how they do this impressive feat for such a large raptor, Trevor Carnaby says: “No (They do not have double jointed legs). They do, however, have unusually designed joints that facilitate the unique way in which they procure food. The tibio-tarsal joint (essentially the ankle) of the african harrier-hawk bends forwards and backwards, allowing them to get their feet into cavities in search of prey that would be inaccessible to other raptors.”

The book then goes on to say that they have lost the feathers on their face to allow then to stick their faces into cavities and cracks as well as mentioning that sometimes their face gets a pink colouration instead of the usual yellow (like in the photo above), either when breeding or being harassed. When I took this photo, the Gymnogene was being mobbed by a pair of Cape Glossy Starlings and so explains the pink face.

So as you can see the book fills the gap in existing African bird books by answering the questions you may have either by watching bird behavior out in the bush or on safari. I would not suggest it as a field book that you carry with you when out birding, with over 750 pages and complemented by more than 900 full-colour photographs, it is a pretty substantial guide. It is the perfect bird book for reading back at the lodge or at home after you have identified the birds, to just go through it, looking up the birds you have just seen to learn a bit more about them than just their names.

It takes you into the fascinating lives of birds, discussing in detail the huge variety and shapes of birds, their survival strategies, movements and migrations. As well as looking into breeding, feeding behaviors and vocalizations in a friendly very readable way so as not to become too ‘heavy’ to read.

So what you end up with is a very comprehensive reference work in a style that I would highly recommend to almost everyone interested in African birds: from novices, birders, twitchers, tourists on safari and even professional field and safari guides.

Trevor Carnaby

The author of the book who is also the author of the original Beat About the Bush book and the Beat About the Bush: Mammals books is a professional field guide (safari guide) and has been working in the southern African bush or more than 15 years and has worked as a head guide, environmental manager, and guide trainer in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve in South Africa. He has been an avid bird-watrcher since a child and, besides writing, is currently kept busy with guide training and specialist safaris throughout southern Africa.

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