Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP 1)

The Atlas of Southern African Birds

Volume 1: Non-passerines


Volume 2: Passerines

Edited by
J.A. Harrison, D.G. Allan, L.G. Underhill,
M. Herremans, A.J. Tree, V. Parker and C.J. Brown

Published in 1997 by BirdLife South Africa
(now out of print)
PDFs of individual species accounts are available at SABAP2 website

The atlas contains introductory chapters describing the methodology employed and providing an in-depth description of the `avi'-geography of southern Africa. This chapter is visually reinforced by a selection of habitat photographs, carefully chosen to be representative of the wide diversity of habitat types in southern Africa. All contributors of five or more atlas cards are acknowledged.

Actual size A4, printed on 90-gsm matt art paper.

Volume 1 (c. 900 pages) contains the introductory chapters and the non-passerines. The dust-jacket is illustrated by a specially commissioned watercolour of a Blue Crane striding across its distribution map. Volume 2 (c. 700 pages) has a Crimsonbreasted Shrike, also by Penny Meakin, on the dust- jacket and contains the passerines.

500 species receive two (or occasionally three) pages as shown here; 200 species are covered with map and text on a single page; for the 200 species that have been recorded as vagrants in southern Africa there is no map, but a fully researched paragraph of text giving details of occurrence in the region.

For each species, statistics provide a convenient summary of the data and a measure of the relative abundance within the range.

Species texts

The species texts were written by leading ornithologists, and were carefully refereed and checked by a team of editors representing all areas of southern Africa. The texts go far beyond a verbal representation of the information in the maps and graphics, and present fresh interpretations in the light of existing knowledge. For many species, this is the longest essay ever published. In short, the texts represent building blocks towards a handbook of southern African birds.


For most species, the text concludes with a considered statement on conservation issues, reflecting the conservation ethos that lies at the heart of the objectives of both the bird atlas project and its publishers, BirdLife South Africa. An analysis of vegetation types based on vegetation zones produces a graphic which shows the vegetation preferences of the species. This approach is unique to The Atlas of Southern African Birds.

Distribution maps

In the distribution maps, the spatial scale is a quarter- degree grid, except for Botswana, where a half-degree grid was used. The geographic information in the maps is in black, and the distributions themselves are in three shades of red plus crosses. The darkest shade shows the `core' of the range; this is defined as the one-third of the total range where the species was most frequently recorded. The lighter shades show where the species was less commonly sighted, indicating the peripheral parts of the range. The crosses indicate where the species occurred rarely.

Southern Africa was divided into eight `Zones' labelled 1 (in the northwestern corner of southern Africa) to 8 (in the southeastern corner). The solid line summarizes the pattern of variation of reporting rates through the year in each Zone. This shows clearly the timing of arrival and departure of migrants; it also produces striking information on the conspicuousness of resident species that assume breeding plumage or are very vocal for part of the year. For species which breed in the atlas region, there is also a dotted line for each Zone showing breeding seasonality (see example for Fiscal Shrike). These analyses of seasonality are unique to this atlas. The atlas contains comprehensive instructions on the interpretation of all the graphics; because of the novelty of the presentations, these need to be read carefully.

Reporting rate

Informally, you can think of the `reporting rate' as the probability of seeing the species!

Line Drawings

Completely new line drawings for 500 species, by leading southern African artists.

Sample pages:
Click on the page(s) below to see a higher resolution image.

Conservation leaders welcome the atlas

Dr Aldo Berruti, Director, BirdLife South Africa (formerly the Southern African Ornithological Society):
`The Atlas of Southern African Birds is the climax to the largest biodiversity project ever run in Africa. BirdLife South Africa is proud to have been associated with the project since its inception and to be its publishers. I commend the atlas to you as the greatest advance in ornithology in southern Africa since the first edition of Roberts' was published in 1940.'

Dr Ian Macdonald, Director of Conservation, WWF South Africa: `Southern Africa's rich biodiversity is a priceless treasure. This atlas provides us with the first comprehensive spatial inventory of an important component of this biodiversity: the region's rich birdlife. The record it provides is both intriguing in the many complexities it has revealed and valuable in the baseline it has provided us with. All those who contributed to this massive endeavour are to be heartily congratulated on an important job well done.'

Dr John Ledger, Director, Endangered Wildlife Trust: `Having been present at the very start of the Bird Atlas project, it gives me enormous pleasure to endorse the publication of this magnificent effort to document where and how birds live in southern Africa. This is a benchmark publication of extremely high quality, and one which will assist the states of the subregion to meet one of the key elements of the Convention on Biological Diversity - an inventory of the avifauna.'

Dr Colin Bibby, BirdLife International: `Well-founded reports on the status of birds make a leading contribution to their conservation. The Atlas of Southern African Birds sets new standards in its scope and in its methods. Its qualities will be globally recognized. This great opus will be a source of pride to its numerous contributors. More importantly, it will come to be valued ever more as years go by, for setting a measured baseline against which to judge environmental trends across the great range of southern Africa.'