Review by Adam Cruickshank
Avian Architects: Quick ID Guide to Nests and Eggs of Southern African by Chris & Mathilde Stuart
Struik Nature 2021
40 pages, paperback
The front cover of Chris and Mathilde Stuart’s book ‘Avian Architects’ describes the book as a ‘quick ID guide to nests and eggs of Southern African birds’. The description given might lead some to feel that this is a field guide that can be used to identify nests and eggs while out on the field, but as I paged through the book it doesn’t quite fall into this category. The book falls into Struik Nature's Quick ID Guides category of books, so the goal is not to provide a full field guide, instead it provides one with a handy overview of the nests and eggs of the region.
The book is affordable (Recommended retail price of R90) and compact . At only 18x11cm it would easily fit into one’s pocket and if one chose to read through the book, a quick reader could probably finish the book in under an hour (the book is only 40 pages). The book groups different kinds of nests together, with a concise write up and photos showing some of the species that would build nests that fall into each category.
The inner cover of the book gives a key to the basic nest shapes with a page number to help one find them quickly in the book. There is a short description such as giant nests or mud-pellet nests, along with a simple illustration. The 13 categories of nests included should help the user in most cases to be able to find a nest in the book quite easily.
The book, like most, has a short introduction to the book which includes basic information on nest evolution along with a short write up of how the book works. I am glad that there is a short guide at the bottom of the page which encourages users of the book to observe bird nests and eggs in an ethical way.
The book then starts to look at each of the nest categories in more detail that were shown in the inner cover of the book. What I do like is how the authors have chosen to use simple terms to describe the nests – two examples are, the giant tree nests are also called ‘domed giants’ and the large cliff nests are called ‘high-rise penthouses’ – the terms used add a fun element to the book and increase the appeal of the book to a wider audience. The book covers the different categories of nests that are found, but with the book being only 40 pages long, it does not cover the nests of every species found in the region. There is a short text describing a few examples of some species that make nests in each of the categories, with photos correlating with the text on the page. It is easy to navigate between the text and the photos, so it allows one to easily read the text and glance at the photos without having to page somewhere else in the book. The book describes the nest structures of the species covered, giving the size of the nest and eggs – as well as information around the construction of the nests and how there are used during the nesting time. There are also a few first-hand accounts included of the authors experiences with some of the nests – I enjoyed the interesting observation about how a Hamerkop nest caused a hospitals waste disposal policy to be revamped. The text is easy to read, providing basic information around the nests covered. The style of writing is simple and would be readable to even someone with no knowledge of birds.
I was however not impressed with the photos that were used in the book, we have access to some amazing bird photography now days at the click of a button on most social media sites, and I just found that in a digital age of photography, the photography was below par when compared to other books on the market.
What I did find confusing was the use of the names Eastern Golden Weaver and Yellow Weaver in the book (pg 12). There have been many changes to bird names over the last few years, and if I were to consider the latest names that are used in South Africa these would be the same species. For a book that is aimed at the Southern African market, I would suggest that it is important for a book that is published in 2021, that correct names are used to ensure the accuracy of the book.
When I am looking for a book to add to my bird book library, I look for a book that is informative, accurate, and is visually appealing – I think that this book probably falls a little short in each of these areas. The book is okay, but it really does not land the ‘knock-out’ punch to being a book that is great.
Is this a book that is worth adding to your bookshelf? The book is short, easy to read, affordable, and uses terms that even the most inexperienced bird or nature lover would understand – for someone that is looking for a book on nests and eggs that is easy to read, this may be a book that should consider getting. For the more experienced birder I would suggest that a book such as 'Roberts Nests and Eggs of Southern African Birds’ by Warwick Tarboton might be a better option.
Order Avian Architects from the Wild Books Online store, use the code 'Birding' for a 5% discount on your order