Southern African Bird Atlas Project

The Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP) was conducted between 1987 and 1991.[1] Because a new bird atlas was started in southern Africa in 2007, the earlier project is now referred to as SABAP1. The new atlas project is known as the Second Southern African Bird Atlas Project, and is abbreviated to SABAP2. SABAP2 is still ongoing. It is now managed by the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town. Most of the data capture happens through the application BirdLasser. The project is currently funded by BirdLife South Africa and the South African National Biodiversity Institute.

SABAP covered six countries: Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. At the time, Mozambique was engulfed in a civil war, and had to be excluded. The resolution for SABAP1 was the quarter degree grid cell (QDGC), 15 minutes of latitude by 15 minutes of longitude, 27.4 km north-south and about 25 km east-west, an area of about 700 km². However, in Botswana a half degree grid cell was used. The total number of grid cells, taking account of the coarser resolution in Botswana, was 3973. Fieldwork was conducted mainly in the five-year period 1987–1991, but the project coordinators included all suitable data collected from 1980–1987. In some areas, particularly those that were remote and inaccessible, data collection continued until 1993.

Fieldwork was undertaken mainly by birders, and most of it was done on a volunteer basis. Fieldwork consisted of compiling bird lists for the QDGCs. All the checklists were fully captured into a database. The final dataset consisted of 147 605 checklists, containing a total of 7.3 million records of bird distribution. Of the total 3973 QDGCs, only 88 had no checklists (2.2% of the total).[2]

Project coordination was undertaken by the Avian Demography Unit (ADU) at the University of Cape Town. The unit changed its name in 2008 to Animal Demography Unit, to reflect its expanding ambit, but retained the acronym ADU.

The final product of the project was a two-volume set of A4-sized books, covering 932 species, with a total of 1500 pages, published in 1997 by BirdLife South Africa.[1] The books are now out of print, but the individual species texts are available on the SABAP2 website.[3] Volume 1 also contains a chapter on the relevance of southern African geography to birds.[2] The Atlas of Southern African Birds was, at the time of publication, the largest biodiversity project ever conducted in Africa. This project showed that birdlife in southern Africa reflects the wide diversity of habitats in the region: 9% of the world's bird species are regularly found there, even though it constitutes only 1.67% of the world's land area.[1]

The impact of the project on southern African ornithology was considerable. The species texts did not only provide information on distribution, but also presented new information and analyses on the seasonality of breeding and the direction and seasonality of migration. SABAP therefore became an essential reference for all research involving these fundamental aspects of avian biology.[4] It provided much of the information upon which the Important Bird Area selection process in southern Africa was based,[5] and for the IUCN Red List for birds in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.[6]


  1. ^ a b c Harrison, J.A., Allan, D.G., Underhill, L.G., Herrmans, M., Tree, A.J., Parker, V. & Brown, C.J. (1997) The Atlas of Southern African Birds. Vols 1 and 2, BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa
  3. ^ "SABAP2 | Welcome to the Southern African Bird Atlas Project". Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  4. ^ Harrison, J.A., Underhill, L.G. & Barnard, P. 2008. The seminal legacy of the Southern African Bird Atlas Project. South African Journal of Science 102: 82–84
  5. ^ Barnes, K.N. (ed.) 1998. The Important Bird Areas of Southern Africa. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.
  6. ^ Barnes, K.N. (ed.) 2000. The Eskom Red Data Book of Birds in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.
African broadbill

The African broadbill, also known as the Black-capped Broadbill or Delacour's broadbill (Smithornis capensis) is a species of bird in the sub-oscine family Eurylaimidae.

African crake

The African crake (Crex egregia) is away from the arid south and southwest. It is seasonally common in most of its range other than the rainforests and areas that have low annual rainfall. This crake is a partial migrant, moving away from the equator as soon as the rains provide sufficient grass cover to allow it to breed elsewhere. There have been a few records of vagrant birds reaching Atlantic islands. This species nests in a wide variety of grassland types, and agricultural land with tall crops may also be used.

A smallish crake, the African crake has brown-streaked blackish upperparts, bluish-grey underparts and black-and-white barring on the flanks and belly. It has a stubby red bill, red eyes, and a white line from the bill to above the eye. It is smaller than its closest relative, the corn crake; that species is also lighter-plumaged, and has an eye stripe. The African crake has a range of calls, the most characteristic being a series of rapid grating krrr notes. It is active during the day, and is territorial on both the breeding and non-breeding grounds; the male has a threat display, and may fight at territory boundaries. The nest is a shallow cup of grass leaves built in a depression under a grass tussock or small bush. The 3–11 eggs start hatching after about 14 days, and the black, downy precocial chicks fledge after four to five weeks. The African crake feeds on a wide range of invertebrates, along with some small frogs and fish, and plant material, especially grass seeds. It may itself be eaten by large birds of prey; snakes; or mammals, including humans, and can host parasites. Although it may be displaced temporarily by the burning of grassland, or permanently by agriculture, wetland drainage or urbanisation, its large range and population mean that it is not considered to be threatened.

African marsh harrier

The African marsh harrier (Circus ranivorus) is a bird of prey belonging to the harrier genus Circus. It is largely resident in wetland habitats in southern, central and eastern Africa from South Africa north to South Sudan.

Animal Demography Unit

The Animal Demography Unit (ADU) is a formally recognized research unit of the University of Cape Town (UCT) located within the Department of Biological Sciences of UCT. (The Department of Biological Sciences was formed from the merger of the Department of Botany and the Department of Zoology at the start of the 2013 academic year). The Animal Demography Unit, popularly known as the ADU, was responsible for the management of the First and Second Southern African Bird Atlas Projects SABAP1 and SABAP2. The unit has submitted over eight million georeferenced biodiversity records to GBIF.

BirdLife South Africa

BirdLife South Africa, formerly the South African Ornithological Society (SAOS), is the South African national partner organisation of BirdLife International.

It has a membership of 5 000, many of whom belong to more than 32 affiliated bird clubs. BirdLife South Africa's vision is to promote the enjoyment, understanding, study and conservation of wild birds and their habitats. It publishes an ornithological journal, Ostrich, covering the birds of Africa and its islands, as well as the magazine, African BirdLife.

One of the major projects with which it is involved is the Second Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP2). It is one of three partners which lead this project: the other two are the Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).

BirdLife South Africa has three Honorary patrons, Mrs Gaynor Rupert, Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe and Mr Mark Shuttleworth.

Bird atlas

A bird atlas is an ornithological work that attempts to provide information on the distribution, abundance, long-term change as well as seasonal patterns of bird occurrence and make extensive use of maps. They often involve a large numbers of volunteers to cover a wide geographic area and the methods used are standardized so that the studies can be continued in the future and the results remain comparable. In some cases the species covered may be restricted to those that breed or are resident. Migration atlases on the other hand cover migratory birds depict maps showing summaries of ringing and recoveries.

Bird atlases vary in methodology but they always involve spatial (locations) and temporal (time) components. A typical bird atlas project collates data on bird presence or abundance with mapping of this information over a significant geographical region over a well-defined period of time. Data gathered in other efforts, such as breeding bird surveys and eBird, may also contribute to atlas projects.

Black stork

The black stork (Ciconia nigra) is a large bird in the stork family Ciconiidae. It was first described by Carl Linnaeus in the 10th edition of his Systema Naturae. Measuring on average 95 to 100 cm (37 to 39 in) from beak tip to end of tail with a 145-to-155 cm (57-to-61 in) wingspan, the adult black stork has mainly black plumage, with white underparts, long red legs and a long pointed red beak. A widespread but uncommon species, it breeds in scattered locations across Europe (predominantly in Spain, and central and eastern parts), and Asia to the Pacific Ocean. It is a long-distance migrant, with European populations wintering in tropical Sub-Saharan Africa, and Asian populations in the Indian subcontinent. When migrating between Europe and Africa, it avoids crossing the Mediterranean Sea and detours via the Levant in the east or the Strait of Gibraltar in the west. An isolated, non-migratory, population occurs in Southern Africa.

Unlike the closely related white stork, the black stork is a shy and wary species. It is seen singly or in pairs, usually in marshy areas, rivers or inland waters. It feeds on amphibians, small fish and insects, generally wading slowly in shallow water stalking its prey. Breeding pairs usually build nests in large forest trees—most commonly deciduous but also coniferous—which can be seen from long distances, as well as on large boulders, or under overhanging ledges in mountainous areas. The female lays two to five greyish-white eggs, which become soiled over time in the nest. Incubation takes 32 to 38 days, with both sexes sharing duties, and fledging takes 60 to 71 days.

The black stork is considered to be a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, but its actual status is uncertain. Despite its large range, it is nowhere abundant, and it appears to be declining in parts of its range, such as in India, China and parts of Western Europe, though increasing in others such as the Iberian Peninsula. Various conservation measures have been taken for the black stork, like the Conservation Action Plan for African black storks by Wetlands International. It is also protected under the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.


Crex is a small genus of birds in the rail family. It contains two species, the corn crake, C. crex, which breeds across Europe and Asia and winters in southern Africa, and the African crake, C. egregia, which migrates within Africa. Both are short-billed rails with blackish-brown upperparts, mainly blue-grey underparts, and barring on the flanks. The corn crake is significantly larger than its relative, and has a distinctive chestnut patch on its wings. Unusually for their family, these are birds of dry habitats rather than wetlands; the Eurasian species mainly breeds in hay meadows, and the African crake in dry grassland. The African crake is sometimes given its own genus, Crecopsis, but is now more usually placed in Crex.

Both species have distinctive loud grating calls used for advertising and territorial purposes in the breeding season, although the corn crake is silent on its African wintering grounds. They are mainly active during the day; they walk with a high-stepping action, and when disturbed they can run swiftly through grass or fly a short distance to cover. Migration takes place at night, and the ability to undertake these journeys is innate, not learned from adults. The nest is a shallow cup of grass lined with finer vegetation and built in a well hidden depression. The precocial chicks leave the nest soon after hatching, and fledge after four to six weeks. These are ground-feeding omnivores, but mainly eat invertebrates. They may be killed by a variety of mammals and large birds, and infected by parasites.

The two Crex species have huge breeding ranges and large populations and are classed as least concern on the IUCN Red List. The corn crake was formerly classified as near-threatened because of serious declines in western Europe, but improved monitoring shows that numbers have remained stable further east in Russia and Kazakhstan. In much of the western half of the corn crake's breeding range, there have been long-term declines that are expected to continue. The main cause of the decline is the loss of nests and chicks from early mowing. Haymaking dates have moved forward in the past century due to faster crop growth, made possible by land drainage and the use of fertilisers, and the move from manual grass-cutting using scythes to mechanical mowers. Loss of habitat is the other major threat to the corn crake. Drained and fertilised silage fields are less suitable for breeding than traditional hay meadows. In western Europe the conversion of grassland to arable land has been aided by subsidies, and further east the collapse of collective farming has led to the abandonment and lack of management of much land in this important breeding area.

Gray's lark

Gray's lark (Ammomanopsis grayi) is a species of lark in the family Alaudidae. It is found in south-western Africa in its natural habitat of hot deserts.

Rosy-throated longclaw

The rosy-throated longclaw, also known as the rosy-breasted longclaw (Macronyx ameliae) is a species of bird in the family Motacillidae. It is found in Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical seasonally wet or flooded lowland grassland.The Marquis Léonce de Tarragon described the species in 1845, its specific name honouring either his wife or mother, both of whom were named Amélie. Richard Bowdler Sharpe named this species M. wintoni in 1891 after William Edward de Winton. Common names include rosy-throated longclaw, pink-throated longclaw and rosy-breasted longclaw.Three subspecies are recognized: M. ameliae ameliae from Mozambique, Swaziland and eastern South Africa, M. ameliae wintoni from southwestern Kenya and northern Tanzania, and M. ameliae altanus from Botswana, Angola, Malawi, southwestern Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia.


SABAP2 is the acronym for the Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2, which is the follow-up to the Southern African Bird Atlas Project (for which the acronym was SABAP, and which is now referred to as SABAP1). The first atlas project took place from 1987–1991 The current project was a joint venture between the Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town, BirdLife South Africa and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). It is currently managed by the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town. The project aims to map the distribution and relative abundance of birds in southern Africa, and the original atlas area included South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland, although since 2012 the project has expanded to include Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. SABAP2 was launched on 1 July 2007, and it has been planned to run indefinitely. The field work for this project is conducted by more than 1700 volunteers, known as citizen scientists – they collect the data in the field at their own cost and in their own time. As such they make a huge contribution to the conservation of birds and their habitat.

By June 2015, the SABAP2 database contained more than 128 000 checklists, and a total of 7.4 million records of bird distribution in the project database. In June 2015, the number of SABAP2 records exceeded that of SABAP1 for the first time. More than 72% of the original SABAP2 atlas area (i.e. South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland) had at least one checklist by that time. This information is updated continuously on the project website; see External links below.

A number of postgraduate research projects have been based partially or completely on SABAP data, either from SABAP1 only, SABAP2 only, or comparing the changes in bird distributions and reporting rates from SABAP1 to SABAP2; and many scientific research articles have also been published on these and other analyses . See some examples of postgraduate dissertations and published articles that make use of SABAP data below.

Southern Africa

Southern Africa is the southernmost region of the African continent, variably defined by geography or geopolitics, and including several countries.

The term southern Africa or Southern Africa, generally includes Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, though Angola may be included in Central Africa and Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe in East Africa. From a political perspective the region is said to be unipolar with South Africa as a first regional power.

Wahlberg's eagle

Wahlberg's eagle (Hieraaetus wahlbergi) is a bird of prey that is native to sub-Saharan Africa, where it is a seasonal migrant in the woodlands and savannas.

It is named after the Swedish naturalist Johan August Wahlberg. Like all eagles, it belongs to the family Accipitridae.

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