Channel-billed Cuckoo

How funny that I had been seeing blog posts by other people about the arrival of this bird in Spring here in Australia, thinking at the time that I had never seen one … and then they turn up at my place!!

A few weeks ago, I was at my computer when I heard a lot of different birds making a raucous out the back. Magpies and currawongs were circling a gum tree, a few rosellas were urgently calling and flying amongst the trees, and a swarm of noisy miners were harassing something on a tree branch. I could only make out the silhouettes of 2 large birds, so thinking they might be eagles or hawks and that our chooks were out free ranging, I raced outside to see what they were and grabbed my camera on the way.

I couldn’t quite see what the birds were while taking pictures, but they obviously frightened everyone, including our chooks who were standing still as statues while all the kerfuffle was going. After the big birds flew off, all the birds seemed to go back to normal, and our chickens recommenced their scratching.

After downloading the photos and getting a good look at what these birds were, I knew they weren’t any hawk or eagle, and that I had seen my first Channel-billed Cuckoos!

two channel-billed cuckoos in a tree

The Channel-billed Cuckoo is also known as the Stormbird. It’s a rather large and scary looking bird, and admittedly, it’s not a very pretty one either. It’s very distinctive and unmistakable with its red eyes, grey brown plumage, large size and a huge thick beak, and it certainly sets off the other birds in the area. Then I read that this bird can be quite a threat to the local birds, which is probably why they were all panicking.

channel-billed cuckoo in a tree

Being a cuckoo, this bird lays its eggs in other birds’ nests, and because it is a large bird, it chooses nests made by pied currawongs, magpies and crows. These two cuckoos have been around for a few weeks now, and I know that the local currawongs and magpies are nesting, so it will be interesting to see if any of them have ended up with baby cuckoos.

channel-billed cuckoo

Today, I saw the pair of cuckoos in the same gum tree again and went out with my camera. I could hear them quietly start up their calls, but by the time I turned my camera on, focussed it, then tried to find the birds in the high tree top, I lost sight of them. So although you can’t see the birds in the video below, you can clearly hear the two of them calling as they fly away being chased by noisy miners. Hope the video doesn’t make you dizzy!

Have you seen this bird in your backyard?


10 thoughts on “Channel-billed Cuckoo

  1. I’m reading ‘Bird Minds:Cognition and Behaviour of Australian Native Birds’ by Gisela Kaplan. There is a B&W photo of a currawong feeding a juvenile chennel-billed cockatoo which was already ‘over half a metre in length’. The whole head of the currawong was inside its mouth and they have to work all day just to feed the interloper. Its the largest cuckoo in the world and prefers magpies, ravens and currawongs as hosts for its eggs. I’d never heard of it before either. It is one ugly looking prehistoric bird. Kaplan says they don’t know why it evolved so big. The birds look a little prettier in colour in your photos but, gosh, they would be scary. Red-eyed birds are creepy! Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Well done Sue, you did well to get those shots. They certainly stir up a fuss among the other birds, as they did when I was walking recently in my favorite reserve. Between the Channel-bills and the Eastern Koels, these herolds of the summer months make themselves known by their loud constant calls, especially in the early hours of the morning.

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