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When a black bird isn’t

April 19, 2014

When I was a city slicker, the black birds I saw in the backyard I could quite confidently call Blackbirds. And I’d have been right. The Blackbird was introduced to Melbourne in 1862 and, given its pest status, it deserves the scientific name of Turdus merula.

white winged chough IMG_0674Now I’m living in the bush, the identification of black birds is not so easy. There are so many possibilities. On any given day our birdbath is frequented by any number of predominantly black birds – Currawongs, Choughs, Ravens (pictured, click to enlarge). My bird field guides helpfully point out the distinguishing features by which the birds can be identified. For example, the Little Raven (Corvus mellori) is described as having a small gular pouch under the base of the bill, the Pied Currawong (Strepera graculina) has raven IMG_0194white undertail-coverts and the White-winged Chough (Corcorax melanorhamphos) has a full, mobile tail. This is useful if you know what these things mean.

For me it is much simpler – eye colour. The Little Raven has (officially) a white eye (although I think it looks light blue); the Pied Currawong, a yellow eye; and the White-winged Chough, a satanic red-orange eye. Unless you are colour-blind you can’t go wrong.

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pied currawong IMG_1404Of course it is not that simple. Nature never is. The juveniles of these birds all have brown eyes. For them the simple descriptor, black bird, will have to do.

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