Bird and Mammal Field Guides for Africa

As long as we are on the subject (this week) of field guides, I thought I'd go ahead and suggest what guides you might take if you happen to be planning a trip to Central, East or southern Africa1

But since we are doing Africa, we need to do mammals as well as birds. But let's start with the birds.


The standard bird guide for southern Africa is Newman's Birds of Southern Africa and there was a time years ago that this was actually the best book for East and Central Africa as well, owing to a lack of other available field guides. Today, East Africa is well covered by the sometimes hard to findThe Birds of East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi (Princeton Field Guides).

I don't know of a good Central African field guide for birds (I've always used Newman's, and it mostly worked. Plus you can just ask the Pygmy: "What the heck is that?" and they'll tell you.) Another choice that covers a lot of ground but may be trying to cover too much ground, and that i have not used much is Birds of Africa South of the Sahara: A Comprehensive Illustrated Field Guide.

For southern Africa in particular, there is a fairly new book of which I was skeptical at first, but that Amanda and Julia and I found ourselves relying on and using quite a bit last time we were there. This is Sasol Birds of Southern Africa.

All of these books are drawing based, not photograph based. Which is the preferred field guide method anyway.

For mammals, the one guide to rule them all is clearly, indubibly, and unequivocally, The Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals (Princeton Pocket Guides). Audubon has a photograph based guide that is pretty good, but, really, just get Kingdon.

For old time's sake, I'll mention the book that Kingon replaced: Larger Mammals of Africa (Collins Field Guide Series), also known as "Dorst and Dandelot" ... this for years (in earlier editions) the classic that everyone used, and that was often hard to get. And no, you can't borrow mine. The last three I loaned out are gone. Arms may have been broken.

There are two books that you should look at if you are going to take a trip to East and Southern Africa, because they are excellent guides to the animals' behavior, both written by my colleague Richard Estes: The Behavior Guide to African Mammals: Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates and The Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Mammals Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, and Primates. Have a look at both and pick one. Or both.

And if you are in Ngorongoro Crater, and you see a Landrover off the track (where you are not supposed to be without a permit) and there is a guy in it making wildebeest noises, that's Richard. Try to find him later in the day, buy him a beer, tell him I said hi, and get him to autograph his book!


1Notice the way that is written, with capitalization on Central and East but not southern. This is all South Africa's fault, because it is a country called South Africa so that term cannot be used to refer to the southern part of Africa. And, by convention, 'southern' is not capitalized, yet it is a standard geographical region with specific countries in it.

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