- Colour: dark slate-grey on its head, back and wings, and pale orange-brown below; its undertail is boldly barred black and white. Its legs and feet are dull yellow and its bill is black.
- Young birds are duller and browner, with mottled markings, especially on their breast and underparts.
- Distinctive feature: a yellow eye-ring which is tinged green in young birds.
- Size: 24 – 28 cm long.
- Call: a mournful, descending trill.
- Diet: mainly hairy caterpillars, though it eats a variety of insects and their larvae. It locates its food while sitting on an exposed perch, and catches its prey either in flight or from the ground, before returning to its perch to eat.
- Movement: birds from Tasmania migrate to the Australian mainland for the non-breeding season.
- Breeding: a single egg is laid in the nest of another bird, especially flycatchers, fairy-wrens, scrubwrens and thornbills (particularly the Brown Thornbill). The female cuckoo removes one of the host’s eggs, or the young cuckoo (having hatches earlier than the host's eggs) will force the other eggs and nestlings out of the nest. The host parents incubate the cuckoo egg for 13 days, and then feed the young bird in the nest and after it fledges.
What to Observe
- Hosts feeding young
ClimateWatch Science Advisor
Cuckoos are very inconspicuous birds, except when they are calling, and are typically only recorded through their call. Climate change may change their breeding season by changing the breeding season of their hosts. This will most obviously manifest itself in changes in the time of year when they are calling. We would expect calling to begin and finish earlier in the year in southern Australia. The effects of climate change may also influence a change in the timing of movements by Fan-tailed Cuckoos, or even make them redundant. Help scientists answer the question: "How are our animals, plants and ecosystems responding to climate change?" by recording the observations above.
When To Look
- From August to December in eastern Australia and from June to October in south-western Australia for breeding activity.
- From August to December for migratory birds that travel to Tasmania to breed.
Note: ClimateWatch is looking for any changes in the timing of these events, so remember to keep a lookout from July in eastern Australia and from May in south-western Australia for breeding activity!
Where To Look
- It inhabits open forests, woodlands and, occasionally, gardens.
- It can often be seen perched on an exposed branch when calling.
- Throughout eastern, southern and south-western Australia as well as Tasmania.
Note: ClimateWatch is looking for any changes in their known ranges, so remember to keep a lookout beyond these regions!
Higgins PJ (ed.) 1999. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, Vol. 4. Parrots to Dollarbird. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Pizzey G and Knight F 1997. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.
Schodde R and Tideman SC (eds) 1990. Reader's Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds (2nd Edition). Reader's Digest (Australia) Pty Ltd, Sydney.
Strahan R (ed) 1994. Cuckoos, Nightbirds and Kingfishers of Australia. Angus and Robertson/Australian Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife, Sydney.
- Brush Cuckoo (Cacomantis variolosus): lacks a yellow eye ring, it is smaller (20 – 24 cm), and its plumage is paler.
- Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo (Cacomantis castaneiventris): has dark-chestnut underparts, has less obvious barring on its undertail and it is smaller (20 – 24 cm).
Did You Know?
The call recording is by David Stewart Naturesound
Its average weight is 58 grams.
Cuckoos are very noisy during the breeding season but are mainly silent the rest of the time.
It also occurs in New Caledonia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu.
Listen to the Call