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Birds. The Inside Story. Exploring birds and their behaviour in southern Africa

Birds. The Inside Story. Exploring birds and their behaviour in southern Africa

Insight into the lives of southern African birds, exploring a range of interesting topics

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Birds. The Inside Story. Exploring birds and their behaviour in southern Africa

Authors: Rael and Hélène Loon
Struik Publishers
Cape Town, 2005
ISBN 1770071512
Softcover, 17x23 cm, 200 pages, throughout colour photos and illustrations


At last - a book that goes beyond bird identification and delves into the fascinating and little-known world of bird behaviour and biology.

Birds - The Inside Story offers an absorbing insight into the lives of southern African birds, exploring a range of interesting topics.

Birds - The Inside Story will tell you more about these and many other fascinating aspects of the avion world.

Richly illustrated with colour photographs and finely detailed illustrations that bring the subject to life, this book is bound to captivate bird enthusiasts of all ages.

About the authors:

Husband and wife team, Rael and Hélène Loon, share a life-long passion for birds, which led them both into careers in conservation.

Hélène graduated with Honours in Ornithology at UCT and Rael holds a Masters degree in environmental management.

Both have extensive experience in ornithological research, raptor conservation and bird ringing projects. Hélène is an accomplished illustrator and provided the illustrations in the book.

Rael works as a consultant in conservation and community-based projects in Mpumulanga.

Media Reviews:

Pretoria News (Leon Marshall)
„... it will make an especially welcome contribution to the reference-book collection of birders who like to watch birds and get to know more about their different features and habits.“

South African Gardening
„It is brightly illustrated with a multitude of clear colour photographs and informative graphics and brings the avian world to life for both young and old readers - it is an excellent addition to your birding library.“


Sponsor‘s foreword


Bird watching is much like stamp collecting - you don’t really appreciate it until you already have some stamps in your collection to admire and compare. The more you acquire, especially if they are colourful or really unusual or rare, the more motivated you are to continue collecting.

Birds, though, unlike stamps, are three-dimensional and alive. They exploit the sky, and almost every other habitat on earth, they fly vast distances, sing, feed, court and breed, all in front of the fascinated eyes of the bird watcher.

Bird watching is one of the fastest growing hobbies in southern Africa. This ever-increasing interest in southern African birds, both by local and foreign enthusiasts, is reflected in the diversity of new material continually being devoted to the subject, from books, magazines and posters, to websites, tapes and high-tech CD-roms. Books are undoubtedly one of the most popular and necessary of these items, and cater for a diverse readership, from young children and laymen to enthusiastic and knowledge-able amateurs and professionals in the field of ornithology.

It may seem that there are almost as many bird books on the shelves as there are bird species in southern Africa, so one could justifiably question whether there is a real need, or indeed market, for yet another work! The answer is a resounding yes - within the vast plethora of bird books available, a distinctly vacant niche exists for an engaging, stimulating, more generalized bird book that goes beyond mere species identification and highlights the many intriguing adaptations and fascinating aspects of bird biology and behaviour.

The vast majority of bird books currently available are either field guides focused primarily on species identification, or impressive photo-graphic coffee table books covering specialized interests. This book attempts to focus on the interesting and sometimes bizarre facts relating to birds in southern Africa.

For example, many avid birders may be able to identify a Rosy-faced Lovebird on sight or by its piercing call, but do they know that when building their nests, these remarkable birds carry their nesting material in the feathers on their backs, or that Palm-Swifts glue their nests together with sticky saliva? We look at nesting behaviour more closely, focusing among other things on the unique nest designs of the Cape Penduline Tit, the Hamerkop and Sociable Weavers ‘mansions’.

Many birders may have come across these or some other species eggs while out in the field, but do they know why some birds lay speckled eggs, while the eggs of other species are pure white or even bright blue in colour? Or why some eggs are round, while others are distinctly pointed at one end? How did the peculiar habit of brood parasitism evolve in some birds and not in others?

Did you know that it is the African Jacana male rather than the female that plays the major role in parental care; or that the chicks take shelter under the adult ‘s wings at any sign of danger? Did you know that the chicks of its relative, the Lesser Jacana, hide underwater using their protruding bills as snorkels to breathe until the coast is clear?

Did you know that different species of birds have very different wing and tail designs depending on their lifestyles? Do you know why albatrosses fly in distinct, zigzag flight patterns, how thermals are formed, or why some birds migrate and others choose to stay behind? Do you know why the legs of Marabou Storks appear to be whitewashed?

Do you know why nightjars have rictal bristles at the base of their mouths and special combs on their middle claws? Why birds sing at dawn? Or why they sing at all? Do you know why the tails of various widows are so long or how weavers woo their mates to their nests? Did you know that in some species, the male bird presents his partner with various‘nuptial gifts’ in order to strengthen the pair bond?

This book attempts to answer these questions and many more. The birding fraternity can generally be divided into two main groups - the ‘twitchers’, whose mission it is to tick as many bird species as possible off their check-list, and the so-called ‘Zen birders’, who are quite content to let the birds come to them. We hope this book will appeal to both camps and inspire readers to probe deeper into the fascinating life of the birds we so admire.