Channel-billed Cuckoo

Scythrops novaehollandiae

The Channel-billed Cuckoo is the largest parasitic cuckoo in the world at 58 – 65 cm. The adult female cuckoo lays one egg, but sometimes she may even lay two, in the nest of either a  Collared Sparrowhawk, White-winged Chough, Magpie-lark, Magpie, Pied Currawong, Australian Raven, Little Crow or Torresian Crow.

Unlike many other cuckoos, when the chicks hatch they do not evict the host’s young or eggs from the nest, they simply grow faster than the hosts chicks, demanding all the food. When the host’s chicks decline and eventually die, they are removed from the nest by their parents, who then tend to and raise the larger Channel-billed Cuckoo chick.  They do not recognise it as not being their own and more often than not, the cuckoo chick will grow larger than their foster parents making it quite a challenge for them to keep up with its needs.

They are a migratory bird making the journey south annually to breed in Northern to Eastern Australia between August and October. The birds then leave Australia in February – March flying the thousands of kilometres back to Papua New Guinea.

While in Australia they live in mainly tall open forest areas, especially along watercourses and rainforest streams, particularly where fig trees abound, and where host species occur.

Sexes look similar with the male slightly larger than the female.

They feed on native figs and fruits but will also feed on other fruits and berries, occasionally eggs and the young of other birds, as well as large insects; wings and tail are spread as the cuckoo reaches out with its formidable bill to pluck an insect, from foliage. Although they are not nocturnal birds (night birds) in the strict sense, Channel-billed Cuckoos are notorious for calling all night long during the breeding season. The call of the Channel-billed Cuckoo, a loud ‘kawk’ followed by a more rapid, and weaker ‘awk-awk-awk…’, is as distinctive as the bird’s appearance.