Re: birding-aus Juvenile Koel Identification Woes

To: "Atzeni, Michael" <>
Subject: Re: birding-aus Juvenile Koel Identification Woes
From: Brian Fleming <>
Date: Fri, 12 Feb 1999 15:53:50 +1100

Atzeni, Michael wrote:
> birding-aus
> 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,
> fail to.
> 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.
> Regards
> Michael Atzeni, Toowoomba
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I agree that juvenile birds are under-illustrated and can be very
confusing.  One of the worst I ever saw was a young Golden Whistler
wearing an untidy mixture of ginger fledgling plumage and grey immature
feathers - effect not unlike a tortoiseshell cat. That was back in c.
1974 and the only illustration I could then find of the nestling plumage
was in the BOCA publication on "Australian Flycatchers" by Brig. Officer
with plates by Peter Slater.
  Maybe the next volume of HANZAB(Parrots to Dollarbird) will clear up
the assorted cuckoo plumages? After all that's one of the things it's
for. It's due out shortly. (I have nothing to do with this publication
  Anthea Fleming
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