Birds of the Horn of Africa: Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, and Socotra.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Payne, Robert B.
Pub Date: 12/01/2009
Publication: Name: The Wilson Journal of Ornithology Publisher: Wilson Ornithological Society Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Biological sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Wilson Ornithological Society ISSN: 1559-4491
Issue: Date: Dec, 2009 Source Volume: 121 Source Issue: 4
Topic: NamedWork: Birds of the Horn of Africa: Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, and Socotra (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Redman, Nigel; Stevenson, Terry; Fanshawe, John; Gale, John; Small, Brian
Accession Number: 216267565
Full Text: BIRDS OF THE HORN OF AFRICA: ETHIOPIA, ERITREA, DJIBOUTI, SOMALIA, AND SOCOTRA. By Nigel Redman, Terry Stevenson, and John Fanshawe. Princeton Field Guides, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, USA. 2009:496 pages, 213 color plates, plus distribution maps. ISBN: 978-0-691-14345-3. $40 (paper).--The book describes and illustrates all species of birds in the region. The illustrations are by John Gale and Brian Small, who also illustrated the authors' companion book on Birds of East Africa (Stevenson and Fanshawe 2009). The present book was written at the same time as Ash and Atkins (2009) with close coordination between the authors; both books include observations and publications as recent as 2009. The bird names generally follow the African Bird Club (ABC) checklist ( Where other names are in widespread use, as in Birds of Africa or refer to Eurasian migrant species, these are often used. The book also recognizes 26 select taxa as distinct species or bracketed incipient species with their own English names, where the ABC checklist does not recognize them as species. Where these differ from the names in Ash and Atkins (2009), these authors map the ranges and name the birds (e.g., Northern Grey-headed Sparrow [Passer griseus], Parrot-billed Sparrow [P. gongonensis], and Swainson's Sparrow [P. swainsoni]; all listed in Ash and Atkins [2009] as a subspecies of Grey-headed Sparrow [P. griseus]). This cross listing lessens the chance of confusion, because both books include and index alternative common names. Nik Borrow contributed to the distribution maps and Brian Finch wrote the descriptions of calls and songs. The book includes a political map, a detailed topographic map, and a map of 55 important bird areas and protected areas, a list of international and national bird organizations and their web sites, a detailed glossary, and an index.

A checklist shows 1,011 species of birds in the Horn of Africa. The region has 61 endemic species, and another 17 species are almost endemic with only small ranges in neighboring countries. For the individual countries, Ethiopia has 15 species not found elsewhere, Eritrea 0, Djibouti 1, Somalia 20, and Socotra 10. Two species are known from sight observations and have not yet been formally described with specimens (Socotra Buzzard [Buteo sp.], Toha Sunbird [Chalcomitra sp.]). Socotra has recorded surprisingly many vagrants from southern Asia. The distribution maps are compact (25 x 25 mm) with the species range over shaded areas showing montane land higher than 1,500 m, the elevation considered to be montane: Ethiopia has more montane area above 2,000 m than the remainder of Africa. In contrast to these maps, the detailed distribution maps of Ash and Atkins (2009) plot all field observations and museum specimens on latitude--longitude grids in quarter-degree squares, and Ash and Miskell (1998) plot these in degree squares. Some species are restricted to lowlands or montane regions while others occur across these elevational regions and habitat zones. Bird distributions are generally well described, although the map of Jameson's Firefinch (Lagonosticta rhodopareia) should include Eritrea, where the type specimen was collected at Keren. Vagrant and accidental records are spotted with a red X. Status as resident, intra-African breeding visitor, non-breeding visitor (Palearctic or intra-African migrant, non-breeding range of seabirds), and uncertain are indicated by map colors.

The book shows species with a brief text and map on one page and color plates on the facing page. The text includes a description of the bird, size, comments on geographic variation, habitat and habits, and voice, abundance, status, alternative common names, and distinctions from similar species. The color plates illustrate all species, male and female where they differ, subspecies where differences are apparent in the field, and a few juveniles. Species are grouped to help identification, as in the sunbirds, in sets of restricted range (2 species) or plumage color (long-tailed, dark, black and red, with red breast-bands, with maroon or violet breast-bands, plain olive or gray, green and yellow), or by size and habitat (barbets). The color plates are uniformly useful for identification. The 22 color plates of diurnal raptors are particularly helpful in illustrating several angles and phases of birds in flight; the color plate shows 10 African Goshawks (Accipiter tachiro). The colorful map of African Swallow-tailed Kite (Chelictinia ricourii) (Scissor-tailed Kite of Gill et al. 2009) shows its small range in the Rift Valley as a resident, a larger seasonal breeding range extending through the north eastern Lowlands to the Red Sea, and an even wider range to Somalia, the Western Lowlands of Ethiopia and Eritrea to Sudan as a non-breeding bird. Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), typically a montane bird above 1,500 m, rarely descends to 300 m in the Danakil--the political map shows the Danakil Desert, the low-lying basin of dry bare soil in northern Ethiopia.

Appendices list the endemic species and the countries where they occur, near-endemics, and hypothetical species (requiring confirmation but included, requiring confirmation but not included, occurring within mapping squares of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia but outside these countries not included, and species [2] no longer considered valid not included). The References cite 50 works, mainly regional and systematic books.

I recommend the book to all people with an interest in African birds. It sets a high standard for field guides. It will be especially useful in field observation and birding tours in the Horn of Africa.--ROBERT B. PAYNE, Professor Emeritus, University of Michigan, 1306 Granger Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48104, USA; email:


ASH, J. S. AND J. ATKINS. 2009. Birds of Ethiopia and Eritrea: an atlas of distibution. Christopher Helm, London, United Kingdom.

ASH, J. S. AND J. E. MISKELL. 1998. Birds of Somalia. Pica Press, Sussex, United Kingdom.

GILL, F., M. WRIGHT, AND D. DONSKER. 2009. IOC World bird names (Version 2.1). Available at (accessed 11 July 2009).

STEVENSON, T. AND J. FANSHAWE. 2002. Birds of east Africa. Princeton Field Guides, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, USA.
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.