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A photo of a Channel-billed Cuckoo (Scythrops novaehollandiae)
Channel-billed Cuckoo

Channel-billed Cuckoo

Scythrops novaehollandiae

The Channel-billed Cuckoo (Scythrops novaehollandiae) stands as the world's largest brood parasite and the largest cuckoo, a monotypic species within its genus. This bird is distinguished by its significant size, measuring between 56 to 70 cm in length, with a wingspan of 88 to 107 cm, and weighing between 560 to 935 grams. Its plumage is predominantly pale grey, with darker wings and a dark grey tail featuring a black band and white tip. The bill is notably large and slightly curved, grey at the base and straw-coloured at the tip, sometimes leading to mistaken identification as a hornbill.

Identification Tips

Adult Channel-billed Cuckoos have red skin around their eyes and black feet and legs. The juveniles can be recognized by their less massive, dirty pink bills and pale-tipped wing feathers. The adult's plumage is paler and more barred on the underside, while the juvenile's plumage is buff instead of pale grey.

Habitat

This species is arboreal, favoring the canopies of large trees. It is capable of adept movement both in trees and on the ground.

Distribution

The Channel-billed Cuckoo is found across northern and eastern Australia, New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, and eastern Indonesia, including Sulawesi. It is migratory over part of its range, with some populations residing permanently in the Bismarck Archipelago, Flores, and Sulawesi.

Behaviour

Often shy and elusive, the Channel-billed Cuckoo is most active during the early morning and evening. Despite its secretive nature, its loud and raucous call often betrays its presence. It is a strong flier, recognizable in flight by its distinctive, almost hawk-like cruciform silhouette.

Song & Calls

The Channel-billed Cuckoo is known for its loud and distinctive calls, which contribute to its various colloquial names related to storms and rain.

Breeding

As a brood parasite, the Channel-billed Cuckoo lays its eggs in the nests of other birds, such as ravens, currawongs, butcherbirds, and Australian magpies. The eggs often resemble those of the host species. Remarkably, the cuckoo chicks do not eject host eggs or kill host chicks, but they do monopolize food, leading to the demise of the host's offspring.

Similar Species

While there are no other species within its genus, the Channel-billed Cuckoo can be mistaken for hornbills due to its bill shape. However, its behavior and habitat are distinct.

Diet and Feeding

The Channel-billed Cuckoo primarily feeds on fruits, particularly those of various Ficus species and the Loranthaceae family. It also consumes insects, bird eggs, and nestlings.

Conservation status

The IUCN lists the Channel-billed Cuckoo as Least Concern. It appears to have benefited from urbanization, with increases in host species due to the planting of gardens in Australian cities.

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