Hands up, those who've seen a juvenile Common Koel, say 1-2 weeks off
fledgeling age, and managed to reconcile what they saw with what the usual
field guides and photo references depict or describe, or as I found out,
If you've got the Slater's Field Guide to Australian Birds, you're in with a
chance. Otherwise, I reckon you had to rely on pure deduction, or have some
wonderful field guide that the majority don't have.
I saw such a juvenile for the first time on Tuesday. It was brought into
local vet, Bob Doneley, who invited me down to identify it. I knew from
previous experience that if Bob didn't know what it was, it MUST be
something odd. When he produced the bird, I was quite surprised I couldn't
offer a positive ID immediately.
I had no joy using Reader's Digest, nor the Pizzey and Knight guide I'd
taken along, but reckoned it had to be a young Koel by its size, head and
bill shape, delicate barring on the underparts, and the fact that it had
fallen out of a "mud and stick nest" during the recent heavy rains. My
hunch was confirmed when I returned home and discussed it with a friend, and
then I found Slater's picture of a juvenile (pg185, 1986 edition).
What the other references made no mention of was the striking black and
cinnamon barring on the back, wings and tail, giving it a beautiful,
distinctive plumage, like nothing I had seen before. Also, unlike Slater's
depiction of an older juvenile, this bird, although apparently close to
fledging, lacked the dark facial markings, was short-tailed and had a much
paler buff head and nape, almost cream. Is this what others have found?
Are there any published photographs of this first phase plumage of the Koel?
And if so, where? According to Slater, young Koels moult into the familiar
female-like plumage, as described in other guides, after 2-3 months.
I'm perplexed as to why such a distinctive plumage phase for a relatively
large and well-known bird fails to get a mention, let alone a picture in
most field guides, particularly the latest ones. Perhaps, it has already
been noted for the next edition ...
Are there other examples where the juvenile plumage(s) warrants a picture,
or at least a far better description, in future Australian field guides?
A couple of points raised here which I hope generate some comment.
Michael Atzeni, Toowoomba
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