Backyard Buddies
Channel-billed Cuckoo

Photo: Bilby

Channel-billed Cuckoo

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The Channel-billed Cuckoo has a strangled gargling call which seems to carry for kilometres. The loud 'kawk' followed by a more rapid, and softer 'awk-awk-awk is more commonly heard at night.

Although not strictly nocturnal birds, they often call all night during the breeding season. Once their chicks have fledged and breeding has finished for the year, it's time for these migratory birds to leave Australia for the warmer climes of New Guinea and Indonesia.

These magnificent birds are amongst the largest of the non-water birds, reaching lengths of 60cm. Their appearance is defined by the huge, pale coloured, downwardly curved bill and they are not easily confused with other birds.

Channel-billed Cuckoos feed on native figs and native fruits, though some seeds, insects and even baby birds are also on the menu.

In the past decade or so, they have become increasingly common in our cities where they have some very beneficial behaviour. They lay eggs in the nest of the Pied Currawong, which despite being a native, is also a major predator of smaller, rarer native birds such as Fairy Wrens and Silvereyes. During breeding season, the chicks and eggs of small birds become a major part of the Currawong diet. One study showed that a pair of nesting currawongs destroyed about 40 broods of other native birds to raise one brood of its own.

But as currawong numbers increase, so do the Channel-billed Cuckoos. Unlike many other cuckoos, the young birds do not evict the host's young or eggs from the nest, but simply grow faster and demand all the food, thus starving the Currawong chicks. It may be that by having more Cuckoos around, some of the damage that Pied Currawongs are wreaking on our smaller, more timid native birds will be offset.


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