Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Black-eared Cuckoo

A Black-eared Cuckoo has black ear coverts

Following a discussion on the Canberra Ornithologists' Group chatline on the identification of a young Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis versus a Black-eared Cuckoo Chrysococcyx osculans, I would like to add a few pointers to the plumage differences as described in HANZAB (Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds). Unfortunately, I do not have an image of a young Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo but I refer the reader to the photograph taken by Kym Bradley which opened the discussion on what species and age the bird was that she had photographed. To see the photograph click here to open the page in a new tab for comparison with the photographs taken by me of Black-eared Cuckoos below.

The following text is an abbreviated interpretation of the description on pages 705/6 of HANZAB vol. 4, and I have attached photographs to illustrate the features mentioned, adding further points of note where these are illustrated. The list of pointers described to differentiate between Black-eared Cuckoo (BEC) in all plumages and juvenile Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo (HBC) are as numbered in HANZAB.

A Black-eared Cuckoo in 1st year plumage
 - superficially similar to the young Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo photographed by Kym Bradley

(1) The BEC is much paler with more uniform upperparts and no conspicuous iridescence or pale scaling to the wing-coverts, as shown above.

Adult Black-eared Cuckoo - showing contrasting pale grey rump against the dark wings and tail. This bird has fresh plumage and as such, because the feathers are not faded by UV light, this bird is a s dark as any BEC is likely to be. 

(2) The BEC has a contrasting pale rump and upper-tail coverts (this is only in adult BEC) as above. The HBC does not have a contrasting rump, nor does a first year BEC. A first year BEC has only a slightly paler rump, see second last image below.

Adult Black-eared Cuckoo - showing buff-cream underparts
and dark chevrons on the under-tail coverts

(3) The BEC has a uniform buff to cream underbody with dark chevrons on the under-tail coverts in an adult, as above, or with no markings in a 1st year birds, as below. The HBC has a mostly white underbody and unmarked under-tail coverts.

First-year Black-eared Cuckoo - showing no barring on under-tail coverts

(4) The patterns on the head are more bold in the BEC; the supercilium is broad and square-ended and the black eye-stripe ends in a broad patch on the ear-coverts, as in an adult shown below. The HBC has a narrower and duller supercilium and eye-stripe.

Adult Black-eared Cuckoo - showing facial markings

A first year BEC has no eye-stripe, but does have a dark patch around the ear-coverts. It also has a pale buff-cream supercilium, lores and throat, as below. The pale colouring of the lores is contiguous with the supercilium, whereas a HBC has dark lores in all plumages.

First-year Black-eared Cuckoo - showing facial markings

(5) The adult BEC has a uniformly dark brown upper tail, with no obvious iridescence (there is s slight glow in the illustration) and a contrasting white tip, as below. The HBC has no white tip, is iridescent and has rufous edges to the base.

Adult Black-eared cuckoo - top side of tail showing white tips

A first-year BEC has pale tips to a dull uniform coloured tail, as below.

1st year Black-eared Cuckoo - showing pale (not white) tips to tail
Also note pale grey rump, but not of high contrast with wing and tail colouring

(6) The underside of an adult BEC's tail also shows a white tip, as below, and lacks the obvious rufous markings on the HBC.

Adult Black-eared Cuckoo - showing underside of tail with white tips,
and dark chevrons on the under-tail coverts

In summary, the bird photographed by Kym has: (1) an obvious iridescence on the wing coverts, which also show distinct scaling on their edges (so it is not a BEC), (3) the underparts are off-white/grey, not buff/cream (so not a BEC) and the under-tail coverts are unmarked (so not an adult BEC), (4) the supercilium and eye-stripe are dull and narrow with tapering ends rather than square-ended near the ear (so not a BEC), and the lores are dark (so not a first year BEC). As rump and tail tips are out of view in Kym's photograph points (2) and (6) cannot be assessed. One further feature of note is the dark grey band across the bird 's throat in Kyms' photograph, this is not mentioned in the HANZAB description (I can't find such anyway) and it does not show in any of the BECs I have photographed, so this could be an additional distinguishing point.

Therefore, in conclusion, the bird photographed by Kym was a juvenile Horsefield's Bronze-Cuckoo.

For further points on Black-eared Cuckoo plumage and age refer to my previous blog posts of November and December 2013.

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