Be Your Own Birder

Africa Field Guides

This page contains affiliate links. Please see my full disclosure policy for details.

The second-largest continent in the world covering more than 11.5 million square miles, Africa is a rich and diverse land and a birder’s dream destination. From blistering deserts to tropical jungles to rocky coasts to broad plains to towering mountains, Africa offers a global scope of habitats, with gorgeous and astonishing birds found in every one. I have personally read, browsed, handled, and thumbed through each of the guides listed below – Check back regularly for new and updated guides, or contact me for more information or to suggest adding your favorite Africa bird field guide to the list!

African Landscape

Defining Africa

As a continent, Africa is easily defined by its distinct coasts, with no guesswork or subtlety about where Africa begins or ends. Yet within this vast continent, more than 2,600 species of birds have been recorded, representing more than 110 bird families – nearly half of all the bird families in the world. This makes a single African bird field guide an unreasonable expectation, as even crowding pages with 15 species per page and a typical format of two pages (one with images, one with text, maps, and other details) per set of images, such a guide would be at least 350 pages, not counting extra pages for indexes, introductions, and other supplemental material. For a less crowded guide with 8 species per page, this comprehensive guide would be a massive 650+ pages – hardly friendly for field use.

Because of that, field guides for Africa are generally restricted to geographic regions or individual countries, and there can be great overlap between adjacent areas. These smaller guides, however, are far more portable and much more manageable for publication and cost. They also tend to be more comprehensive, as it is easier to include vagrant or rare species for a smaller region while still maintaining a reasonable size. And while even these regional guides can approach mammoth proportions, they are fine options for any birder in the area, whether on a once-in-a-lifetime safari excursion, an exclusive birding trip, or developing an interest in birds as a local birder resident.

Africa Field Guides

Click on field guide titles or images for purchase information through

Birds of Southern Africa: Fourth Edition
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication Date: 2011
  • Bird Artwork: Illustrations
  • Pages: 392
  • Portability: Excellent

Be Your Own Birder’s Thoughts: Covering more than 950 species, Birds of Southern Africa: Fourth Edition is one of the most comprehensive field guides covering Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, southern Mozambique, South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Organized to be as compact as possible, not an inch of space is wasted, yet text and illustrations are clear and concise. Image plates are divided with gray lines so even crowded plates are not confusing. Extra resources, such as the list of the area’s endemic species (p. 14-15) and a list of 30+ local bird clubs (p. 448)  make this guide even more useful. While birders could quickly become overwhelmed at the scope of avifauna in southern Africa, this guide is an easy-to-use and convenient option, ideal for birders in this amazing region.

  • Best Surprise: Seasonality bars denote when birds are most likely to be seen.
  • What’s Missing: Lacks illustrations of juvenile plumages (but includes text discussion).

Birds of Southern Africa
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication Date: 2009
  • Bird Artwork: Illustrations
  • Pages: 320
  • Portability: Excellent

Be Your Own Birder’s Thoughts: Southern Africa has stunning bird diversity, and that diversity is compactly captured and beautifully illustrated in Birds of Southern Africa. Covering more than 1,200 species, this book can occasionally feel too small and crowded for its scope, but uses intuitive abbreviations and numbered illustrations to streamline information without neglecting details. Range maps are grouped together after species accounts, but easily referenced with illustration plate numbers. Two indexes cover both English names and scientific names, and further resources, including additional guides, handbooks, and birding organizations, are listed for more research. Southern Africa can be the birding destination of a lifetime, and with this comprehensive guide, any birder can feel well prepared for every bird they will encounter in the region.

  • Best Surprise: An appendix includes Portuguese and Afrikaans bird names.
  • What’s Missing: Lacks pointers to highlight key identification field marks.

Birds of Western Africa: Second Edition
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Bird Artwork: Illustrations
  • Pages: 592
  • Portability: Moderate

Be Your Own Birder’s Thoughts: Though a bit bulky with nearly 600 pages covering 1,285 species across 23 countries, Birds of Western Africa is a comprehensive and thorough volume for a relatively mysterious region of the Dark Continent. English and French bird names are included with each profile for more international appeal, and the English index also includes scientific names. The image plates are colorful and finely detailed, though a few illustrations have dark tones that can obscure small details. All essential plumages are covered, such as dimorphic, juvenile, and in-flight birds where distinctive, and detailed head profiles are shown for closely related subspecies or different genders when the rest of the illustrations would be identical. Any birder, whether they live in this diverse region, are planning a birding trip, or are just dreaming of the avian possibilities, should be sure to keep this field guide on hand.

  • Best Surprise: Potential birds list (p. 566) alerts birds to possible new vagrant sightings.
  • What’s Missing: Lacks travel tips or additional recommended birding resources.