SOUTH AFRICA’S CONFUSING BIRD SPECIES: BLACK KORHAANS

So often birders new to the game go straight to the illustrations as the sole means of identification  when they get home and, as is so often the case, end up confused by what they have seen in the field due to too little in the way of fine definitive detail being noted at the time.

This often repeated scenario illustrates the need to always carry a reputable identification reference with you as you never know precisely what will turn up where when it comes to a new and unexpected sighting in the field. Having a reputable field guide readily to hand gives you the chance of carefully assessing the distribution of the sighting as the next step after you have checked out the comparative illustrations between potentially confusing species.


White-quilled Korhaan

Southern Black Korhaan

With the illustration and range map checked out you can then proceed to the text to confirm your unfolding view as the final step in the identification process.

Two birds that cause problems for birders along the line of overlap are the two black korhaans illustrated below. Although they look alike the distribution maps are fairly explicit, on top of which the primary feathers of either a black or white nature in flight provide a definitive answer. As this latter aspect is not always apparent it is best to use the distribution map and text covering habitat preference to arrive at the correct solution.

As can be seen the Southern Black Korhaan is depicted in lush green surroundings of the winter rainfall region of the Western Cape, while the Northern Black Korhaan, now known as the White-quilled Korhaan, is shown in semi-arid to arid habitat associated with a summer rainfall pattern extending northwards to Namibia.

Viewed closely the upper parts of both birds can be compared as the only discernable difference beyond the primary feather variation as a definitive feature. In the Southern Black Korhaan the black bars are broader than the brown and, in the White-quilled Korhaan, the buff-brown and black bars are of equal width.

For the rest there is little difference in the illustrative comparison with the comparatively recent split being based on a combination of genetic, vocal and plumage criteria.

Hopefully, this snippet will clear up some of the confusion between these two look-alikes…

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