Backyard Buddies
Pheasant Coucal

Photo: Marj Kibby

Pheasant Coucal

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The north and east of Australia has a bird that looks just like a pheasant. The Pheasant Coucal is black with reddish brown wings and a long black and orange tail, but it's really a cuckoo in disguise.

Unlike cuckoos, it doesn't spirit its eggs into other birds' nests. It builds its own nest, the male sits on the eggs, and he and his mate for life will raise their own young. Not typical cuckoo behaviour at all.

The Pheasant Coucal is an ungainly bird - awkward-looking whilst flying and clumsy when it lands in a bush. Wings, tail and legs go everywhere for a minute as it tries to regain its balance. Its long tail makes flying any more than short distances a challenge.

Pheasant Coucals will run rather than fly and are often seen darting around near roadsides trying to get into the cover of long grass. They also flap around sugarcane plantations, jump in clumps of lantana or blueberry, or potter about amongst dense undergrowth. You might also spot one running madly along the top of your fence.

They are ground feeders and mostly eat large insects, frogs, lizards, eggs and chicks and, sometimes, small mammals.

Pheasant Coucals mate for life and, unlike other Australian cuckoos, build their own nests and raise their chicks themselves. They nest in thick grass or sugar cane or in weedy thickets, building a platform of sticks, grass or rushes, lined with leaves and grasses. The male usually incubates the eggs and feeds the hatched chicks, although the female does help with feeding.

You might recognise the Pheasant Coucal by its distinctive 'oop-oop-oop-opp' call. Sometimes mates will duet, providing a concert that sounds like water bubbling from a big bottle. In winter, its voice is a sharp hissing.


Look out for Pheasant Coucals while you're driving as they run rather than fly when startled, and may try to run across the road.

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