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Species Guide

Black-eared Cuckoo

Chrysococcyx osculans

The Black-eared Cuckoo, Chrysococcyx osculans, is a modestly sized bird, averaging 30 grams in weight and spanning 19 to 20 centimeters in length. Its plumage is a subdued greyish-brown on the back, with a striking black eye-stripe extending from the bill to the neck. The rump is a contrasting pale white, while the breast area is tinged with a delicate pale salmon hue. Its feet and legs are black, eyes are a deep brown, and the bill is a stark black. The tail is greyish-brown with white tips on top, and cream with brownish bars underneath. Unlike other small cuckoos in Australia, it lacks metallic-colored feathers on its back. Juvenile birds are generally duller with a more brownish eye-stripe.

Identification Tips

To identify the Black-eared Cuckoo, look for the distinctive black eye-stripe and the lack of metallic sheen on its back, which sets it apart from other small cuckoos in the region. The pale white rump and salmon-colored breast are also key features. The tail's pattern, with white tips above and cream with brown bars below, is another identifying characteristic.


This species favors dry open forests, scrublands, and various bushlands including mallee, mulga, lignum, saltbush, and riverside thickets. It tends to navigate directly between low trees and shrubs, avoiding large trees, and is seldom found in subhumid areas.


The Black-eared Cuckoo is commonly found throughout most of Australia, barring the wet coastal forested regions. It is typically seen inland of the Great Dividing Range in Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland, with occasional vagrants in Tasmania. During the breeding season, it is found below the 23rd parallel south in Australia. Some individuals remain in the south during winter, while many migrate northward to Northern Australia, eastern Indonesia, and southern New Guinea.


These cuckoos are often solitary or seen in pairs, as they do not raise their own young. Instead, they practice brood parasitism, laying their eggs in the nests of other bird species.

Song & Calls

The Black-eared Cuckoo's vocalizations include a descending 'feeeuw' or 'pee-o-weer' call, which is more mournful in tone than that of the Horsfield's bronze cuckoo. Calls may be singular or repeated. During courtship, a 'pee-o-wit' call may also be heard. Chicks emit a simple chirp. Males are known to call from high branches, though they can also be found on lower ones.


Breeding season varies with rainfall and location, starting earlier in the year in the west around June and later in the east around August, concluding in October in the west and December in the east. Courtship involves vocal communication between the sexes, with the female starting loudly and quieting down as the male approaches. Males will feed females during this time.


As a brood parasite, the Black-eared Cuckoo lays a single dark brown egg in the domed nests of passerine birds, such as the speckled warbler and redthroat. The eggs are expertly mimicked to resemble the host's eggs in color and size, sometimes requiring physical rubbing to differentiate them. The cuckoo chick is then raised by the host species.

Diet and Feeding

The diet consists of beetles, diptera, hemiptera, insects, sandflies, and hairy caterpillars. While much of their food is obtained on the ground, they are also observed foraging in trees and shrubs.

Conservation status

The Black-eared Cuckoo is currently listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, indicating that it is not at immediate risk of widespread decline.

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Black-eared Cuckoos on Birda

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Kevin Huang
22 Oct 2023 - 8:30am

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