Fan-tailed Cuckoo

Along with the springtime flurry of baby birds, like the Grey Fantail nestlings in last week’s post, comes the springtime arrival of cuckoos. Shining Bronze, Horsfield’s Bronze and Fan-tailed Cuckoos have visited this year. Sometimes a Pallid Cuckoo drops by but I haven’t seen or heard one yet.

The first cuckoo to arrive was the Fan-tailed Cuckoo with its mournful, descending trill.


Fan-tailed Cuckoo (Cacomantis flabelliformis)
Canon 7D, 100-400mm L IS USM, 1/500, f5.6, ISO 125, focal length 400mm


Fan-tailed Cuckoos parasite the nests of smaller birds, they often choose the domed nests of thornbills, fairy-wrens or scrubwrens which makes sense if they are trying to camouflage their egg. The female cuckoo ejects an egg from the nest and lays her own. The cuckoo will often hatch before the other chicks and ejects hatchlings and any remaining eggs from the nest, leaving the surrogate parents free to devote their time to raising the cuckoo. A few years BC (Before Camera) I watched Brown Thornbills frantically feeding a cuckoo chick several times their size.


Fan-tailed Cuckoo
Canon 7D, 100-400mm L IS USM, 1/640, f/5.6, ISO 250, focal length 390mm

I like the way the cuckoo’s feathers appear in this image, ruffled by the breeze and softly irridescent in the late afternoon light.



Fan-tailed Cuckoo
Canon 7D, 100-400mm L IS USM, 1/500, f/5.6, ISO 400, focal length 375mm


The cuckoo in the image above has softly barred underparts. Although it has predominately adult plumage I think it is probably a young bird. I have a soft spot for cuckoos despite their anti-social behaviour. I find it fascinating that they know which nests to choose when first breeding and interesting that they often choose the nest of birds that are raising their second brood for the season: cuckoos seem to understand the importance of ensuring the survival of the host birds.

I also find it interesting that the same species of bird can look so different depending on the light, the weather and the pose. Fan-tailed Cuckoos are often described as slender birds with barred under-tails and cinnamon breasts. In the image above the cuckoo does not look slender and its feathers do not have the irridescent plumage apparent in the other images, even the bill size looks different. Thank goodness for the yellow eye-ring!

Happy birding, Kim




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