101 Curious Tales of East African Birds

By Colin Beale

Pelagic Publishing, 2023

Pbk, 222pp; many colour photographs

ISBN 978-1-78427-291-3; £24.99

On the one hand, the title of this book tells you pretty much all you need to know regarding what you’re going to get inside; on the other, the title is sufficiently general that I was curious to see what exactly this collection of tales consisted of.

There are, as expected, 101 short stories in this book, one for each of the included bird species. Each entry sits as a standalone chapter across a double-page spread. The right-hand page of the spread depicts a large image of the species in question, while the left-hand page is split between a couple of paragraphs of text and a smaller image of the bird. The bird acts as a prompt or a hook off which to hang the short story. Some stories relate to the bird species itself, others relate more broadly to a group of birds, and many cover concepts, such as plumage, migration, feeding, or other aspects of avian life-history. The book even addresses the hot topic of eponymous names, in the form of Speke’s Weaver Ploceus spekei.

The author describes what’s written in the book as ‘like a random stream of consciousness you get if you sit me down’. That, I think, downplays the hard work and thought that has clearly gone into this book. The author undoubtedly possesses a deep array of knowledge, and I can imagine that sitting down with him would be an enlightening experience! Although it’s claimed there isn’t really a start or an end to what’s written, or an order, the subjects covered flow through broad themes – and, while each tale works perfectly in isolation, the book works just as well when read through, page by page.

There are many fascinating titbits in this book – from the toxicity of Common Quails Coturnix coturnix to the excessive nesting habits of the Hamerkop Scopus umbretta – and I learnt a lot. The text is written in such a way that sometimes-complicated science is presented in a clear, concise and consumable way, while the inclusion of the beautiful photographs and sheer variety of topics covered means this title will appeal to many – from those with a passing curiosity in birds, to those who want a simple but solid introduction to the interesting subjects covered here. A sort of ornithology 101, if you will.

Stephen Menzie

Issue 12
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