Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Young Honeyeaters

The gorgeous bib of a Striped Honeyeater,
the feathers from which it gained its species name lanceolata - spear-shaped
Continuing on from the previous post on aging birds caught and banded at Charcoal Tank Nature Reserve last weekend, here are some points on identifying young Striped and Fuscous Honeyeaters, Plectorhyncha lanceolata and Lichenostomus fuscus.

It is the head and shoulders that are striped,
and its bill is very finely pointed, from which it gained its genus name
Plectorhyncha - a spear point bill
Only one Striped Honeyeater was caught, which is understandable as they forage mostly high in the tree canopy. That was a first-year bird, moulting out from its immature plumage to that of an adult, ready to breed in a few months time. The bird had a fully striped head and shoulders like an adult, so the best feature to identify it as a young bird was the amount of buff tips to its wing coverts. The tips of its primary and secondary feathers were chipped and worn with notches and other pieces of the tips missing. This is a sign of age of the feathers, not of the bird, for it will moult these out and grow a fresh set once a year.

Worn and faded coverts, primary and secondary feathers of a young bird's wing
Buff tips on the greater coverts are often a good indicator of  a young bird's age as I have mentioned before. Here, the  two outer greater secondary, all the greater primary, and at least two median primary coverts have buff tips. The greater primary coverts are particularly worn at the edges. The fresh adult grey colour of the new inner secondary coverts and the alula contrast with and emphasise the faded and ragged old coverts.

The two outer greater secondary coverts are buff-tipped, all the greater primary coverts are faded brown and worn
 - while the fresh grey alula sits among them  
Only one young Fuscous Honeyeater was also caught, and although it was in immature plumage, with a pale base to its bill, adults also have this feature when not breeding. Other markings are more rigorously diagnostic of a young bird.

The plumage of a first-year Fuscous Honeyeater does not differ much from that of an adult
The species diagnostic feature of a yellow plume with a dark upper edge, on the side of the neck, was only beginning to grow in, and there was still a juvenile gape - the loose yellow skin at the base of the bird's bill.

There was only a hint of a yellow plume on the side of its neck
The back of the bird's head, from crown to nape, had flecks of buff feathers, very unlike the uniform grey-brown-olive colouring of an adult bird.

Buff-tipped feathers on the nape identify this bird as a bird in its first year

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