The fan-tailed cuckoo.
The fan-tailed cuckoo.

Briggsy’s Birds: This bird outsources its parenting

The distinctive high-pitched trilling call of the fan-tailed cuckoo is often heard as the bird, looking for food, moves through the ­understorey.

It is what is called a brood parasite, which means it lays its eggs in the nests of other species of birds.

Host species include flycatchers, fairy-wrens, scrubwrens and thornbills.

It is easily identified through a yellow eye ring, its generally dark slate-grey back and wings, becoming pale rufous below, with a boldly barred black and white under-tail. It prefers forests and woodlands with a thick understorey but will also visit suburban areas, parks and gardens.

It likes to eat hairy caterpillars but will also take a variety of other insects and their larvae. It will sit on a branch, waiting for food items to appear and then fly out to catch them in the air or land on the ground to take them. It will then return to its perch to eat them.

A single egg is laid in the host parents' nest and one of the host's eggs is removed so that it does not notice anything different.

The young cuckoo generally hatches earlier than the host's eggs and proceeds to eject the other eggs or hatchlings. This means that the cuckoo chick gets all of the food brought by the adult birds, who are now foster parents. The seemingly unaware foster parents then rear the cuckoo chick until it fledges and keep feeding it for several weeks afterwards until it is independant.

Cuckoos are found around the world and their practice of getting other birds to raise their young avoids the demands of parenthood. It is regularly seen and heard at Tondoon Botanic Gardens.

abriggs@irock.com.au



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