Parasitic storm birds in a suburb near you

Posted on Posted in Central QLD, feathered, NSW coast, South East QLD

If you are in the north or east of Australia you may have noticed ‘grey toucan-like birds’ (as described by a Sydney friend) in your suburb making ridiculous sounds at all time of the day and night. These birds are actually the migratory Channel-billed Cuckoo (Scythrops novaehollandiae). They are commonly referred to as storm birds as they turn up in summer to breed then head back to New Guinea and Indonesia around March.

They make their presence known with raucous, maniacal crowing and squawking and don’t tend to win many fans, especially if you have one camped outside your bedroom window.

You may have also seen another ‘storm bird’ the Common Koel (Eudynamys scolopacea) again, the incessant calling of the Koel does not endear them to many of their neighbours. Both birds are from the cuckoo family, of which there 13 species in Australia.

The most interesting thing about the cuckoos is that they are parasitic. That’s right – cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, leaving the unsuspecting host bird to raise the cuckoo chicks as their own. A winning combination of trickery and parental negligence.

The Channel-billed Cuckoo is the largest parasitic bird in the world. Due to its size it requires a large host nest such as those of Magpies, Currawongs, Crows and Ravens. The female Channel-billed Cuckoo may lay her eggs in more than one nest and even damage existing host eggs as she goes.

A juvenille Channel-billed Cuckoo demanding food from 'mum', a Pied Currawong. She doesn't look impressed. (Photo

The cuckoo chicks share the nest with the host’s chicks but they grow faster, demand all of the food and eventually starve out the others. To avoid being discovered and kicked out of the nest, some cuckoo chicks have even evolved to look very similar to the young of their host. If all goes according to plan the adult host bird will rear a healthy brood of fledglings…only problem is, they’re not hers.

Birds Australia encourage people to record information about Channel-billed Cuckoo behaviour, as not much is known about their ecology. Do you have these birds in your area? If so, visit the Birds in Backyards website to participate in the ongoing survey. And maybe buy yourself some ear plugs.

14 thoughts on “Parasitic storm birds in a suburb near you

  1. Please Y cant the authorities Do something with them like box them up n send them back to New Guinea and Indonesia or where ever they come from. I find it hard enough to sleep already without these things infesting southern parts of Oz, Huff!!! I pity those that have to go to work the next day after a night of Oo Wee, OOOoo Wweee, OOOOOO Weeeee ing Uno what I think of them. If u like them u must have rocks in ur head :(

      1. I can understand your frustrated, but think about it, aren’t we so lucky to have these birds to warn and let us know that we should prepare and get ready for a disaster, storm and heavy rains coming. for our safety God created everything for a good purpose, don’t you!!!! so what you think my friend?

    1. its the sound of summer i love their call i cant understand why people winge about them wonderfull call they have sound of aussie

  2. Ear plugs do not help, I brang them home from work and they don’t cut it. Of course these mongrel birds call come straight through them. I have to turn tv right up put eAr plugs in and still can hear it. It’s bad! I got people coming over tonight to shoot it! Everyone should do the same and wipe this species out !!!!!

  3. I love the sound of these birds . This morning I saw them playing in the top of gum trees and it was a wonderful way to wake up. But then I am on a country sleep pattern not city!.

  4. I was so excited this morning to finally see the bird that was causing all this noise, demanding food from it’s adopted parents. He/she is gorgeous. I live up in Thornleigh NSW. While the bird is noisy, I think the cicadas are louder and more persistent.

  5. I had not seen or heard this bird, the Channel-billed Cuckoo, before the last ten days. I have lived in Goondiwindi overlooking the MacIntyre River, and NSW, for 21 months. My wife has been here 7 years and has never heard it either. The bird’s calls are varied, loud and demanding. But this pair only seems to be nearby and noisy early in the morning or late afternoon. I’m not sure where they go in during the ‘working day’.

  6. I’m here from UK staying with friends for Christmas and encountered the call of this bird which I mimicked and drew into their garden. We got a pretty good sighting. It may be an annoying, incessant call but we must learn that mankind interferes with nature at its peril. Talk of wiping them out is a bit over the top and certainly untenable and they were here before us. When I was a child I looked into a mirror at a zoo and the caption below said ‘the animals in the zoo are dangerous and you are looking at the most dangerous of all’.

  7. We have a baby Koel ( storm bird ) in the trees across the road and the crows fed it he looks an ugly bird but we love having him here ,cause I have never seen one before and he loves calling for food big appetite and of course a noisy one

  8. My maremma found a bald hatch-ling with eyes closed. I did not think it would survive but it is now a week old and the chicken bringing it up is very confused by the loud raucaus calling. It is just feathered with creamy down on the stomach. Grey feet and brown eyes. I think it is a Channel Billed Cuckoo and it probably got kicked out of the nest. I am taking pictures and adding fig to its diet as I only just worked out what the species is.
    I have not seen any adult birds in the vicinity.
    Sandy Dickson

  9. These birds are coming so close to our house it’s crazy.
    We will be washing horses and they’re eating the mulberries off the tree right beside us in broad daylight! They are massive! And very clever.
    As for the noise..maybe people should live a week of life on the land..
    I’d sooner be waking up to a loud bird, foxs and horses calling out. Than traffic in city! We live West of Brisbane. Cheers Sian?

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