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Birders need binoculars, but they love books – whether it’s a large, heavy handbook extolling the elaborate and detailed breeding biology of a particular species, a lengthy tome on birding adventures or a guide to field identification, all bird books find their way onto crowded bookshelves. Birders are visual, intelligent people and while books are filled with information, they have a vibrant splendour because of detailed illustrations and images. Bird books complete the good birder.

Over the years, field guides have emerged in South Africa as powerful tools for the birding community. Many, many years ago the pioneers of birding had only Leonard Gill’s A First Guide to South African Birds and Austin Robert’s Birds of South Africa (first published in 1940). Then, in 1983, Ken Newman’s guide hit the bookstores and brightly changed the landscape of this genre forever with the quality of the illustrated plates and then with the introduction of colour-coded keys to the different bird groups.

In 1990, Sasol Birds of Southern Africa was hatched like a rare bird – excitedly and uniquely it emerged loudly onto our literary landscape. It was something completely new, borrowing from successful international formulas and adding a special South African flavour.  Probably the greatest innovation was the introduction of identification notes and associated arrows pointing to key features on the illustrations, making confirmation of a particular species very easy and lightning fast.

It was the brainchild of Ian Sinclair, birder extraordinaire, world-renowned explorer of Africa’s avian secrets and Gill Memorial medallist (the highest honour BirdLife South Africa can bestow on an ornithologist). Ian’s intimate understanding of our sub-region’s birds set the scene for a special collaboration. With his co-authors, professor Phil Hockey (now director of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute, world-class birder and scientist) and Warwick Tarboton (also a Gill Memorial medallist and supreme naturalist), they worked with the team at Random House Struik and former Sasol CEO Dave Day. The result was a book that made bird identification easy and quick and thousands of birders were waiting to welcome it.

Apart from sound science and clever graphic design techniques, a successful field guide is greatly dependent on the quality of its illustrations. Fortunately the team called upon the world-respected skills of Norman Arlott and Peter Hayman, resulting in an artful, elegant product never seen before in our country.

It’s in this context that we embrace the launch of Sasol 4 (as the birders now call it) and in doing so we welcome Professor Peter Ryan, president of BirdLife South Africa, to the team of authors. Sales of the previous three editions exceeded 200 000 copies, making it a best-seller.

The new edition has updated text, reconfigured many of the distribution maps and added and changed many of the illustrations. Indeed, it’s a very relevant and important addition to the world of birding. Go out and buy a copy and help give conservation wings. There’s a feathered world waiting out there for you.

Sasol Birds of Southern Africa can be purchased from leading bookstores across South Africa for R240.

Join BirdLife South Africa

BirdLife South Africa congratulates the authors and Random House Struik for an excellent book. We’re proud to announce that in every copy there is a membership form inviting all who love and care for our avian environment to join our organisation at a discounted rate.

To join BirdLife South Africa, call 011-789-1122 or go to

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