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13

Channel-billed Cuckoo

(Scythrops novaehollandiae)
Alternate name(s): "Fig-hawk", "Hornbill", "Giant Cuckoo", "Storm-bird*", "Rain-bird*", "Flood-bird*"; misnomer: "Toucan"
Aboriginal name(s): "boggabri" [gamilaraay]

Size: 58-65 cm
Weight: 550-930 g
Description     Classification     Distribution     Sightings     Photos     Breeding     Nest     Eggs     Behaviour     Food     Call/s

Physical description

Click here for a physical description

Taxonomy, classification

See Channel-billed Cuckoo at Wikipedia .

Range, habitat, finding this species

Click here for information on habitat and range

Sightings

Click here for sighting information

Photos

ADULT

Channel-billed Cuckoo in a eucalypt tree; note the "beard" and the conspicuous red eyes
[Eulah Creek, NSW, September 2008]

Frontal view of a Channel-billed Cuckoo trying to ward off an attack by an irate couple of Australian Magpies, who are potential hosts
[Eulah Creek, NSW, September 2008]

Another Channel-billed Cuckoo trying to avoid detection...
[Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2011]

... but another potential host, a Magpie-lark, is already on to it
[Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2011]

Lateral view of a Channel-billed Cuckoo in a Moreton Bay fig tree (photo courtesy of C. Hayne)
[Moree, NSW, December 2013]

Lateral view of a Channel-billed Cuckoo
[Eulah Creek, NSW, November 2016]

Lateral view of a Channel-billed Cuckoo (photo courtesy of C. Nugent)
[Near Gunnedah, NSW, December 2012]

Here a view of the shingled back of the same Channel-billed Cuckoo as above; note also the characteristic black subterminal band and white tips on the tail
[Eulah Creek, NSW, September 2008]

Dorsal view of a Channel-billed Cuckoo
[Eulah Creek, NSW, November 2016]

Channel-billed Cuckoo in flight; note the long slender body and the prominent bill; the wing shape makes it easy to mistake them for raptors, but the wing beat is unlike any raptor's
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2011]

IMMATURE/JUVENILE

Lateral view of an immature Channel-billed Cuckoo in a Moreton Bay fig tree (photo courtesy of C. Hayne)
[Moree, NSW, December 2013]

Lateral view of a juvenile Channel-billed Cuckoo begging to be fed by its parents, a pair of Pied Currawongs (photo courtesy of V. Bowe)
[Cremorne, NSW, January 2014]

Breeding information

Breeding season: Aug - Jan Eggs: 1 - 2 / nest Incubation period: ? Fledging age: ?

All parasitic cuckoos must obviously adapt their breeding seasons to those of their potential hosts. The host eggs are removed or destroyed and replaced by the cuckoo's. Channel-billed Cuckoos host on birds such as Pied Currawong, Australian Magpie, Magpie-lark, White-winged Chough, Collared Sparrowhawk. They are also known to host on various species of corvids (ravens and crows).

Nest

"bungobittah", "malunna" = nest [Aboriginal]

Type: Host Material: Depends on host Height above ground: Depends on host

Like all parasitic cuckoos, Channel-billed Cuckoos do not have their own nests, but lay their eggs into the nests of host birds.

Two Channel-billed Cuckoo chicks in the stick nest of a pair of Pied Currawongs (photo courtesy of L. Scott)
[Roseberry Creek Valley, near Toonumbar NP, northern NSW, November 2016]

Closer view of two Channel-billed Cuckoo chicks in the stick nest of a pair of Pied Currawongs (photo courtesy of L. Scott)
[Roseberry Creek Valley, near Toonumbar NP, northern NSW, November 2016]

Channel-billed Cuckoo inspecting a Magpie-lark nest
[Eulah Creek, NSW, November 2012]

Eggs

"boyanga", "booyanga", "derinya", "dirandil", "koomura", "ngampu", "nooluk", "pateena" = Egg; "dirundirri" = eggs [Aboriginal]; "gawu" = eggs [gamilaraay]

Size: 43 x 30 mm Colour: Light-brown, with brown speckles Shape: Long tapered oval

The colours and shape of the eggs roughly match those of potential hosts. However, the cuckoos' eggs are usually larger than the hosts' and their chicks stronger than the hosts'. The hosts' chicks are pushed out of the nest by the young cuckoo, if the hosts' eggs had not been destroyed by the female cuckoo in the first place.

Behaviour

Social behaviour: Territorial Mobility: Migratory Elementary unit: Solitary/pair

One of the few diurnal bird species that we have found to also be active at night, especially near full moon.

Channel-billed Cuckoos are known to be fruit eaters and as such they are very adaptable. They liked the mulberries in our garden (see photo below) and also the fruit of Californian pepper trees, both of which are species introduced to Australia by white settlers. They are also fond of the fruit of the native fig tree.

In 2008 we had to defend our mulberries against Channel-billed Cuckoos ourselves; in 2010 a pair of Australian Magpies took up residency in one of our trees and did the job for us. Only when the Magpie chicks were big enough to follow their parents around, they did not chase the cuckoos any longer.

V. Bowe has kindly provided us with a video showing in detail how a pair of Channel-billed Cuckoos raided the nest of a pair of Pied Currawings. The photo displayed below is a capture from the video. The cuckoos attacked the 2-week old chicks despite their parents' attempts to defend them, first breaking their necks by grabbing the chicks' heads and breaking their necks, before throwing them out of the nest for good measure.

Channel-billed Cuckoo killing a Pied Currawong chick and throwing it out of the nest (photo courtesy of V. Bowe)
[Cremorne, NSW, October 2012]

Food, Diet

Unlike most other cuckoos, Channel-billed Cuckoos are primarily fruit eaters, but they are known to also take large insects (e.g. stick insects) and there are reports of them feeding on chicks and eggs of other bird species.

Lateral view of a Channel-billed Cuckoo in a Moreton Bay fig tree (photo courtesy of C. Hayne)
[Moree, NSW, December 2013]

Channel-billed Cuckoo in a Moreton Bay fig tree; this is one of the birds whose calls were recorded on 9 November 2014
[Moree, NSW, November 2014]

Channel-billed Cuckoo in our mulberry tree, obviously having a good time there...
[Eulah Creek, NSW, November 2010]

Two Channel-billed Cuckoos after a feast in our mulberry tree; one is still holding a trophy in its bill
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2008]

Only seconds later the Channel-billed Cuckoo in the upper right was hustled by a male Magpie-lark, a potential host for the cuckoo's eggs, near its nest
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2008]

Call(s)/Song

For this species we have recorded the following call(s)/song. The interpretation of their meaning is our own; comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

chbcuck_20141017.mp3 (NW NSW) Contact calls (in-flight) © MD
chbcuck_20141109.mp3 (NW NSW) Q&A © MD
chbcuck_20141210.mp3 (NW NSW) Q&A © MD
chbcuck_20141109_1.mp3 (NW NSW) ? © MD

These pages are largely based on our own observations and those of our contributors. The structure of these bird pages is explained HERE. For more salient facts on any bird species please refer to a field guide.

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