September 2017

Gone in a Flash

Can you please identify the bird in this photo? The photo was taken from the dash cam of my car as I flushed the bird from the side of the road travelling in central Queensland.


Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo dash cam image with outstretched extremities. Image by Ian Ham. Second dash cam image. Image by Ian Ham. Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo adopting a typical stance for the species. Note how the colour and markings in the wings and tail are much less visible. Image by Chris Burwell. You are very lucky! The beautiful bird in your photographs is a Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo (Chalcites basalis). The Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo is a cryptic, insectivorous species found in dry bushland and arid habitats of inland Australia.

While being common and widespread, they are a bird that is often heard rather than seen. They are a brood parasite that lay their eggs in the nests of smaller species such as fairy-wrens and thornbills. To flush one from the side of the road while in your car is very special indeed.


The first image that has been taken by the dash cam showcases both the chestnut rectrices (tail feathers) and flight feathers of the bird as it is flying past the windscreen of your vehicle. To be able to see these features is very unusual for this species and provides a unique and visually stunning perspective.

However it also brings to light a common issue that scientists are beginning to encounter as technology such as dash cams, drones and infrared camera traps become more readily available.

More and more often these cameras are being used by members of the general public to capture images of wildlife on their properties or in your case while on the road. This is a fantastic opportunity for science but while this kind of technology allows us amazing insight there can also be limitations and identification challenges that arise as a result.

In the case of your images most of the distinguishing features that are used to identify the Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo are not present. Bronze-Cuckoo’s are most commonly observed when perched. In this stance they appear short and squat and the chestnut rectrices and flight feathers are tucked away, barely visible. We have provided a reference image of a Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo perched in this typical manner.

This made a generally common species fairly difficult to identify. Camera traps that use infrared sensors and take black and white images present their own challenges.

Most of these issues can be overcome by consulting with experts in the field of study, especially when you think you may have found a rare or cryptic species.

In the case of your photographs, knowing that they were taken from a moving vehicle at high speed only makes them even more spectacular.

Queensland Museum's Find out about... is proudly supported by the Thyne Reid Foundation and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation.