Recommended Bird Field Guides for the 7 Continents
Field guides to Africa and Madagascar: what to take into the field
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Collins (or the Princeton version, Birds of Europe) is the best guide for North Africa. It covers Morocco east to Egypt. This is one of the world’s best field guides. The e-guide (app) version is excellent and also has all the bird calls.
Birds of Europe with North Africa and the Middle East. Lars Jonsson’s artwork is very nice, but maybe not the best suited to a field guide. The arrangement is a bit spotty as well. The range maps are fairly good, and this book does cover those species in North Africa.
Birds of the Middle East and North Africa covers the countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. The plates are slightly dated, but decent, as are the range maps, and there is fairly good species information. There are also a fair amount of line drawings in the text as well, which helps.
Birds of the Atlantic Islands covers the Canary Islands, Madeira, the Azores and Cape Verde. It has good plates covering 450 species with local subspecies and plumages. The text is concise. Unfortunately there are no range maps. The information is separate from the plates.
Birds of Western Africa (Nik Borrow and Ron Demey) – the second edition arrived on the shelves in late 2014 – hooray! In our opinion, this is the best guide for birding Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Congo. There is also a section at the back of the guide covering São Tomé, Principe, and Cape Verde. Please note that the DRC is not covered by any guide except for “Birds of Africa South of the Sahara” shown below.
Birds of Ghana and Birds of Senegal and The Gambia (Nik Borrow and Ron Demey). For Ghana and Senegambia, these two books are much less awkward to use than the above, which covers too wide an area.
Birds of East Africa (Stevenson and Fanshawe). The above is by far the best book for birding Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi.
We can also endorse the long-awaited app (e-guide) version, which has all the bird calls.
Birds of the Horn of Africa (Redman, Stevenson, and Fanshawe).This is by far the best book for birding Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia and the mysterious and very interesting Socotra Island (which is politically part of Yemen but with an interesting Arabian Peninsula/African faunal character).
Birds of Southern Africa ( Sinclair, Hockey, Tarboton, and Ryan). This is the best guide on the market in our opinion, covering the countries of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, the southern half of Mozambique (south of the Zambezi River), South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland.
As far as the app (e-guide) goes, we rather recommend Roberts (see below) than Sasol, as Roberts has much more comprehensive bird sounds as well as a massive amount of information on breeding, food, etc. that is not found in just a field guide.
Roberts Bird Guide (Hugh Chittenden), like the above book, covers Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, the southern half of Mozambique (south of the Zambezi River), South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. The plates are fairly good, but the beauty of this book is that it contains additional information about the birds (like the app; see above) not directly related to ID, plus it also has superior distribution maps.
Newman’s Birds of Southern Africa, tenth edition. Revised and updated with decent plates, range maps, and information. This is one of the classic original southern African field guides and, again (like the previous three books), covers Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, the southern half of Mozambique (south of the Zambezi River), South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.
Birds of Botswana (Peter Hancock and Ingrid Weiersbye). This hot-off-the-press (2016) book is the best one to buy if you’re only visiting Botswana (but if you set foot in Namibia, South Africa or other neighbouring countries, then it’s better, of course, to get one of the regional field guides mentioned above). What’s truly great about this Botswana-specific guide is that it gives detailed seasonality information (for example, instead of just saying the species is a “summer migrant”, it shows relative abundance each month of the year). Satisfyingly, it also provides some extra information not directly related to identification, while remaining compact enough for a field guide – this means that one can learn a bit about the birds one is seeing (e.g. conservation status).
Birds of Malawi is a good supplement to one of the three southern African field guides listed above if you are planning to bird Malawi, but please note that the book does not illustrate any of the species covered by those three books – only ones found in Malawi but not the countries covered by the above books. It’s only a supplement.
Birds of Africa south of the Sahara ( Sinclair and Ryan). This is the book to help you plan the next African country you need to visit! Having very many bird species, it is less useful as a field guide, except in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Zambia, neither of which are covered by any other guide available! This is a must-have book if you’re interesting in birding the world, or if you just enjoy armchair birding!
Madagascar and the other Indian Ocean Islands off Africa:
Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands (Sinclair and Langrand). This is the third edition of this guide and has been completely updated. It covers the islands of Madagascar, the Comoros, the Mascarene Islands and the Seychelles.
Long-tailed Ground-roller photographed on one of our 2014 Madagascar birding safaris