Roberts Birds of Southern Africa has been recognised as the authoritative book on southern Africa's birds since its publication in 1940. Five revisions have been published, the most recent in 1993. The Percy FitzPatrick Institute was contracted by the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund to rewrite Roberts and work towards the seventh edition was initiated early in 1998. The new Roberts is essentially an enlarged format handbook, summarising what is known about the biology of southern African birds and containing entirely new artwork. Roberts is edited by Phil Hockey, Richard Dean, Peter Ryan and Sharon Maree and is funded jointly by the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund and the Percy FitzPatrick Institute, with additional funding received from the Tony and Lisette Lewis Foundation.
The Project involved two aspects: the generation of an electronic database of all Afrotropical bird literature and the production of new species texts for the book. The primary aim of designing the bibliographic database was for it to act as a literature source for the authors of Roberts, and to aid them in the rewriting of species texts. This involved identifying all literature on Afrotropical birds, key-wording it by species and subject matter, and storing it in an easily-searched database. The database has since been taken over by NISC (National Information Services Corporation).
Perhaps the most pressing reason for a new edition of Roberts was to accommodate the enormous amount of knowledge that amateur and professional ornithologists continue to gather about southern African birds. Roberts VII has captured the main findings from the recently published 'Atlas of Southern African Birds' with the idea of making them available to a much broader audience. It has also resurrected information on geographic variation and has new sections dealing with subjects such as movements, social behaviour, moult, parasites and disease, survival and relations with man. The text is also fully referenced so that Roberts' value as a research tool is substantially enhanced.
The success of the project is largely due the contributions made by members of the local birding community who took the time and effort to read the draft texts posted on the web and send us their comments. To all of you who sent us your comments, a hearty thank you! Although the book has been published this does not mean that the time for commenting is over. There is always more to be known and undoubtedly, in time, a further edition of Roberts will become necessary... Accordingly, we have published an updated list of information that is still required on Southern African birds. We therefore encourage you to continue publishing your observations or emailing us should you have any queries.
Since the publication of the book we have had to add two more sections to the website: a page where lists of alternative names in the various languages spoken in the subregion can be downloaded; and a page where any errata detected in the book can be published. As with the missing information, we would encourage readers of the book and visitors to the site to please take this opportunity to send us any additional names they might come across so that we can add to our knowledge database and share this knowledge with others. Likewise, if you come across any errors, please submit the details so that we can inform others by publishing them on the web.