Newman’s Birds by Colour

Identify birds according to the dominant colour of their plumage and other distinctive and clearly visible features
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Newman’s Birds by Colour

Author: Kenneth Newman
Struik Publishers
Cape Town, 2008
ISBN: 9781770071797
Soft cover, 17x21 cm, 304 pages, throughout colour illustrations


This new edition of Newman's Birds by Colour has been updated to reflect latest name changes and now includes distribution maps for each species.

It offers a quick and easy way to identify birds: they are grouped according to the dominant colour of their plumage (or even beak or legs) and other distinctive and clearly visible features such as collar and breast bands, head crests and speckled plumage.

The colour-coded arrangement makes the book an ideal guide for the beginner birder, but will also appeal to more experienced birdwatchers as a quick reference to common species.

A comprehensive introduction to the world of birds and birding includes such topics as bird classification, identification features, migration, feeding and habitats.

There are helpful sections offering information on what you need to go birding, and where and when to look for birds.

About the Author:

Kenneth Newman was a renowned bird painter and ornithologist who contributed significantly to the burgeoning interest in birds in southern Africa. His numerous books have sold close to a million copies world-wide.

He served as president of the South African Ornithological Society and was a recipient of the SAOS Gill Memorial Award and the Zoological Society's Stevenson-Hamilton Award.


How to use this book
What is a bird?
The classification of birds
The anatomy of a bird
What is a passerine?
Birds' legs and feet
Beaks and bills
Feather structure and arrangement
Colour in feathers
The flying bird
Bird migration
Methods of feeding
Display in courtship, aggression and fear
The nests they build
What do I need to go birding?
Where to look for birds
When to look for birds
How to look at birds
Finding your way around
'Newman's field guide'

Colour key

Introduction by Kenneth Newman:

This book has been designed primarily as a guide for beginner birdwatchers and all those, a little higher up the birding ladder, who continue to struggle with getting to know some common birds. Time and again I am told, 'It flew away before I could get a better look at it, but it was red' (or blue, or green or yellow).

Invariably others who saw the bird will argue about its colour or exactly where on the bird the colour was. Much time will be spent paging through the field guide, from albatrosses to canaries, but to no avail. Rather than accepting the motto 'A bird flown is seldom known', the disgruntled birder will suffer a restless night. What can be done?

There is little doubt that the features memorised by most novice birders in the above circumstances are the bird's approximate size and its colour, or the colour that made an impression. There is no doubt whatsoever that colour, no matter how briefly glimpsed, remains in the memory.

If one is to assume that the bird seen was indeed red, then the list of possible species will be very short indeed. However, when you delve a little deeper into the problem, it usually transpires that, on second thoughts, it was only its beak, head or tail that was red (or was it green?). In retrospect the observer is never quite certain. At this point the 'expert' is expected to produce the correct answer and put everyone out of their misery.

My co-authors experienced these identification problems on many occasions and so the germ of an idea was born. After many months and much homework, Irene had cut to pieces numerous copies of Newman's Birds of Southern Africa to assemble a weighty paste-up collection of birds by colour. This eventually arrived on my publisher's desk. And so the idea began to take shape.

Birds by Colour focuses on birds that have a dominant colour in their plumage, beaks or legs. It is not a field guide and was never intended to be, but should be regarded as a companion to my field guide Newman's Birds of Southern Africa.

How to use this book:

This book has been planned with a dual purpose. The first section gives aspirant birders a broad overview of what makes a bird a 'bird' as opposed to other animals, and a glimpse of the way birds live. The section touches on flight, migration, feeding, display, nests and bird habitats. It is written without scientific jargon, to introduce the novice to birds as fascinating living beings. This is followed by notes on identifying birds: how to start, what you need, and where to look for them.

The second section is designed to help the beginner identify 'the one that got away'; a briefly seen, tantalising feathered creature that flew before you could focus but left a lasting colour impression. Let's say you've seen an un-identified bird and retained an impression of its predominant colour, say red. You can now page to the section dealing with red birds and see if you can find the bird there.

Once the bird has been 'found' in this book by its colour, refer to Newman's Birds of Southern Africa to confirm your identification. Once you have located the bird in the index of Newman's field guide, ascertain from the distribution map on the relevant page that the bird you think you saw occurs in the region and that it is present at the appropriate time of the year, plus all the other information about the species that will help confirm the accuracy of your identification.

Key to identifications:

Black plumage
Black-and-white plumage
Grey plumage
White plumage
Blue plumage
Red plumage
Red bills, facial skins and legs
Orange plumage
Yellow colouring
Green plumage
Purple, violet or lilac plumage
Rufous plumage
Dark brown plumage
Light brown plumage
Speckled plumage
Collars and breast-bands
Crests and head-plumes
Flight patterns

Birds with black plumage:

Black plumage in birds probably serves various functions, according to species. It is certainly true that black birds have distasteful flesh and are therefore not sought after by predators. This may be why black drongos can afford to be so brazen when pestering eagles and other large raptors, even pecking them in flight.

In some species black colouring is a camouflage in their chosen environment. The Black Oystercatcher is difficult to see when feeding on mussel-covered rocks and, when it is incubating its eggs, is almost invisible among dried kelp at the high tide mark, provided it doesn't move.

Black water birds, either at the coast or on inland waters, may not be much sought after as tasty meals and are difficult to detect from the air on the dark background of water. Dark plumage also serves many smaller birds since they are difficult to detect in the dark interiors of dense bushes, trees and rocks.

Large black birds have little need for camouflage and can take advantage of their dark plumage in other ways. The Black Eagle, for example, nests during the cold months on the shadow side of mountain cliffs. In such exposed, cold situations the colour black is a good heat retainer. Swifts, being high-speed, airborne feeders, and hole-nesters, also have little need for camouflage.

The birds you will find in this chapter:

(African) Black Eagle 51
African Black Oystercatcher 50
(African) Pied Starling 57
Bank Cormorant 48
Bat Hawk 52
Bateleur 51
Black Crake 50
Black Crow 55
Black Cuckoo 52
Black Cuckooshrike 54
Black Egret 49
Black Harrier 52
Black Saw-wing 54
Black Sparrowhawk 52
Black Sunbird 58
Black Widow Finch 59
Boulder Chat 56
Cape Cormorant 48
Carp's Tit 55
(Common) Scimitarbill 53
Crested Guineafowl 51
Crowned Cormorant 48
(Eastern) Paradise Whydah 59
European Starling 57
Fork-tailed Drongo 53
Gabar Goshawk 52
Helmeted Guineafowl 51
House Crow 55
Jacobin Cuckoo 52
Lesser Moorhen 50
Little Swift 54
Long-crested Eagle 51
Long-tailed Shrike 56
Long-tailed Widow 59
Mocking Chat 56
Moorhen 50
Mountain Chat 56
Open-billed Stork 49
Pale-winged Starling 57
Red-billed Buffalo
Weaver 58
Red-billed Helmet Shrike 57
Red-billed Woodhoopoe 53
Red-collared Widow 58
Red-knobbed Coot 50
Red-shouldered Widow 58
Red-winged Starling 57
Reed Cormorant 48
Rufous-bellied Heron 49
Scarlet-chested Sunbird 58
Slaty Egret 49
(Southern) Ant-eating Chat 56
(Southern) Black Flycatcher 54
Southern Black Tit 55
Southern Ground Hornbill 53
Southern Violet Woodhoopoe 53
Spur-winged Goose 49
Square-tailed Drongo 53
Thick-billed Weaver 58
White-necked Raven 55
White-rumped Swift 54
White-winged Widow 59
Yellow-backed Widow 59
Yellow-rumped Widow 59