Working for birds in Africa

The Birds of Nigeria

Sat, 12/29/2012 - 14:29 -- abc_admin
J.H. Elgood, J.B. Heigham, A.M. Moore, A.N. Nason, R.E. Sharland & N.J. Skinner. BOU Check-list No. 4 (Second Edition). British Ornithologists' Union, Tring. 1994. ISBN 0-907446-16-7. Price £21.00 in UK, £23.00 overseas, from British Ornithologists' Union, c/o Natural History Museum, Akeman Street, Tring, Herts HP23 6AP, UK.
page 57-58

This book is part of a remarkable success story for the BOU and part of a remarkably valuable series for African birdwatchers. Since 1976, the BOU have published authoritative ornithological check-lists for parts of the world not adequately covered by other literature. For the authors, these check-lists are a labour of love and for the readers, they provide the definitive statement about the distribution and status of birds in a region as well as a challenge to fill in the gaps. The Birds of Nigeria is the second African list to be revised within the series (it was first published in 1981), after Gore's Birds of The Gambia. Other African lists are already published in the series for Libya, Zanzibar & Pemba, Serengeti and Ghana, and are in preparation for Togo, Morocco, Cape Verde Islands, Gulf of Guinea Islands and Canary Islands. The format is hardback, which is useful for roughing it in the bush. It has a substantial and informative introductory section on the geography, climate and habitats of Nigeria and the general characteristics of its avifauna. The habitat section is illustrated by some excellent colour plates that really give a feel for each of the wide range of habitats to be found in Nigeria. A section on migration is very clear but could have been made considerably more interesting by reference to the many new discoveries about Palaearctic-African migrants made by Berthold, Biebach, Bairlein and co-workers since the first edition. In particular, I was surprised that no mention was made of the Morel's excellent review article on West African migration and of Brian Wood's synthesis of his extensive research on Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava migration in Nigeria that appeared in the Ibis supplement to volume 134 in 1992. The section on breeding has been brought bang up to date by two excellent essays, both by leaders in their fields: one on cooperative breeding by Roger Wilkinson and one on brood parasitism by Bob Payne. Both subject areas have been studied extensively in Nigeria and it was very imaginative of the main authors to solicit these reviews. Finally, there is a useful section on conservation by a leading light in Nigeria, Tasso Leventis. However, I was quite surprised that this did not give any information about the extensive conservation work, being funded largely by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, in the sahelian wetlands of Hadejia and Nguru. Throughout the introductory section all the diagrams have been considerably improved by redrawing since the first edition. However, I think that a map showing most of the sites in the gazetteer would be a particularly useful addition when a third edition is produced. If the introductory section is a tasty hors d'oeuvre, then the main course is the richly seasoned and all-important checklist Some 883 species have been recorded in Nigeria and each one is described by scientific and English names, given a code according to its status (resident, migrant etc), and given a short paragraph on its distribution, habitat, occurrence and notable records. A shorter paragraph describes its breeding distribution, system (cooperative, colonial etc) and season. The taxonomy follows that of Birds of Africa, which will satisfy many of the reviewers of the first edition who had disliked the adoption of a rather archaic system. The majority of species accounts have been updated since the first edition and it is particularly useful that the authors have had the benefit of unpublished records from a number of ornithologists who are currently or have been recently working in the country. Inevitably, when reviewing a book of this sort, reviewers check for aspects that they are personally familiar with. The section on bee-eaters was fine. I was disappointed, however, that several observations made in a paper on the birds of Yankari National Park (Crick & Marshall, 1981, Malimbus 3:103-114) had been omitted, particularly some records of Ostrich, a breeding record of Lappet-faced Vulture (only one is listed in the book), extensions to the breeding season for a number of species (including Hadada, White-backed Vulture, Red-necked Falcon, Fox Kestrel, Denham's Bustard, Black-headed Plover, Rufous-crowned Roller, Black Woodhoopoe and Ground Hornbill) and that dubious extralimital records of Sabine's Spinetail and Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher had been retained from the first edition. Wondering whether this was a one-off omission, I checked back through my issues of Malimbus to find that the check-list had not up-dated maximal flock sizes of White-winged Black Tern from 1000 to 5000, Great White Pelicans from 160+ to 1400 and Ferruginous Duck from 1000 to 1500, observed in Kano State by Sharland & Wilkinson (1981, Malimbus 3: 7-30). The reappraisal of the migratory strategy of Pygmy Kingfisher by Wilkinson (1982, Malimbus 4:53-54) had also been missed and, despite mentioning the first record of Black-necked Grebe in Nigeria as an addendum in the first edition, the record had been omitted in the second edition (Fry 1981, Malimbus 3:54). However, these seemed to be the only omissions and it was pleasing to see that 95 of the 325 references in the bibliography had been published since the first edition, indicating a great deal of effort put into keeping up with the literature. To pursue the gastronomic analogy, the sweet course is provided by some superb colour photographs of a selection of Nigerian birds by Ian Nason, Tasso Leventis and Mary Gartshore. Finally, the coffee is represented by some useful tabulations in the appendices. Overall, the original author, John Elgood, and his new co-authors should be congratulated for doing an excellent job in making this revision an important addition to the African ornithological literature. It is quite simply indispensable for any birdwatcher in West Africa.

Humphrey Q.P. Crick

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