An initiative of Earthwatch Institute

  1. 146 Photo by David Cook Wildlife Photography
  2. 146_0 Photo by David Cook Wildlife Photography

Black-eared Cuckoo

Chalcites osculans


  • Colour: Brown-grey on the top of its head, neck and back, with a faint olive-bronze metallic sheen on the middle of its back; its tail is grey-brown with a white tip. It has a broad white eyebrow and a black stripe through its eye, broadening out to form a black patch over its ear. Its underparts are creamy-buff underneath, and the underside of its tail is cream with brownish bars. Its beak, legs and feet are black.
  • Young birds are paler, especially with respect to their facial markings.
  • Distinctive feature: a black eye-stripe.
  • Size: 19 – 21 cm. 


  • Call: The male gives a piercing, drawn-out, slightly descending whistle repeated at regular intervals during the breeding season.
  • Diet: Insects and their larvae, especially hairy caterpillars.  It forages mainly on the ground, but sometimes also among the foliage of trees and shrubs.
  • Movement: Its movement patterns are poorly understood but it is thought to be a breeding migrant in south-eastern and south-western Australia, arriving there in winter and spring, breeding, and then leaving in summer or early to mid-autumn.
  • Breeding: It lays a single egg in other birds’ nests. It chooses the nests of small birds, such as thornbills, scrubwrens or heathwrens to lay its eggs in. Common host species include the Speckled Warbler and Redthroat, both of which have domed or enclosed nests. The eggs are incubated by the host bird. The female cuckoo either removes one of the host’s eggs from the nest and replaces it with her own, or the nestling cuckoo pushes the other eggs out of the nest. The host birds feed the young cuckoo until it is ready to fly, usually after at least 18 days.

What to Observe

  • Courting/mating
  • Calling
  • Feeding
  • Hosts feeding young

ClimateWatch Science Advisor

The effects of climate change may influence a change in the timing of movements by Black-eared Cuckoos.  It may also affect the timing of when they start to breed and the duration of their breeding activities. Help scientists answer the question: "How are our animals, plants and ecosystems responding to climate change?" by making simple observations.

When To Look

  • Look for breeding behaviour from March to July in inland Australia, from June to October in Western Australia, and from August to December in eastern Australia.
  • During winter and spring for migratory birds that breed in south-eastern and south-western Australia. They then leave in summer or early to mid-autumn. It can be found in northern Australia all year.

Note: ClimateWatch is looking for any changes in the timing of these events, so remember to keep a lookout earlier than these months for breeding activity!

Where To Look

  • In a wide variety of open woodlands and shrublands, often those dominated by eucalypts, mulga and mallee, and often with a shrubby understorey. It also occurs in River Red Gums or Coolibahs growing along creeks.
  • Males often call from elevated or exposed perches and at other times can be seen perched on a low branch or twig on low trees or shrubs.
  • Throughout Australia, it is widespread on the mainland, but seldom on the offshore islands or Tasmania. It avoids wet, heavily forested areas in eastern and south-western Australia.

Note: ClimateWatch is looking for any changes in their known ranges, so remember to keep a lookout beyond these regions!


Black-eared Cuckoo Occurrence Map ALA



Higgins PJ (ed.) 1999. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, Volume 4: Parrots to Dollarbird. Oxford University Press, Melbourne. 

Morcombe M 2000. Field Guide to Australian Birds. Steve Parish Publishing.

Pizzey G and Knight F 1997. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Angus and Robertson, Sydney. 

Simpson K and Day N 1999. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Penguin Books, Melbourne. 


  1. Search Species

  1. What Else?

    • Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo (Chalcites basalis): is smaller (17 – 18 cm), with bold barring across its chest, metallic-green upperparts, a narrower eye-stripe, and orange-brown on its tail.  Juvenile Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoos lack the barring on the breast and the eye-stripe, but can be distinguished by the metallic-green upperparts and the orange-brown on the tail.
    • Another cuckoo: will have barring on its underbody. 
  1. Did You Know?

    The call recording is by David Stewart Naturesound

    Its average weight is 30 grams.

    It very occasionally occurs in southern Papua New Guinea, on Aru Island and in the Moluccas.

    Its egg closely resembles that of the host’s. 

    Cuckoos are noisy during the breeding season but are mainly silent the rest of the time.

  1. Listen to the Call