Monday, 23 September 2013

Breeding season feathers

Adult Laughing Kookaburra
I was out helping Mark Clayton with several others at a cooperative bird-banding site over the weekend, out by West Wyalong in New South Wales. The season is warming up now and there was a heavy fall of rain several days prior to our visit. Many of the birds were breeding, and I noted how we were catching more male than female birds, probably because the females were doing more incubating.

It was also a good chance to see adult birds in full breeding plumage. Although, as most of them had moulted into that plumage months ago, some of their flight feathers were beginning to look a bit tatty. This Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae, was an adult, although it could not be sexed because it did not have a large blue patch on its back like a primary male would have. As it only had a small blue patch, too small to even see in these photographs, it could have been either an adult female, a young female or a secondary male. Kookaburras are cooperative breeders, and the males also incubate the eggs, so even the presence of a brood patch was no help in sexing this bird.

The bird had a well developed brood patch: a large patch of bare loose skin, with a rich vascular supply

It was still early in the breeding season, so the birds had not yet begun to moult. They all had full sets of old flight feathers on their wings and tails.

A full set of flight feathers
Some of these feathers were beginning to fray at the tips, through wear and tear as the birds go about their business, flying through branches and catching their tails on the ground. The central tail feathers are particularly prone to wear as they project farthest and take most of the abrasion, so they are usually the first to show signs of age. Most of these birds will begin to moult out these battered feathers and grow replacements as the breeding season progresses.

The pair of central tail feathers on this kookaburra's tail are well frayed.

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