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A photo of a Pallid Cuckoo (Cacomantis pallidus), male
Pallid Cuckoo, Male

Pallid Cuckoo

Cacomantis pallidus

The Pallid Cuckoo, Cacomantis pallidus, is a medium-sized bird, measuring between 28 and 33 centimeters. It is characterized by a dark bill, a dark eye encircled by a gold eye-ring, and olive grey feet. A shadowy dark mark extends from the eye down the neck, and a white or buff mark adorns the nape. The tail is edged with prominent white or buff toothing, and in flight, white and dark bars are conspicuous across the long tail. The bird's silhouette is reminiscent of a falcon, often causing alarm among passerines.

Identification Tips

Adult males display grey-brown upperparts, including the head and neck, with large spots on the wing-coverts. Adult females come in two morphs: the light rufous morph resembles the male, while the dark rufous morph has an extended hind neck patch onto the mantle and barring on the chest. The zygodactyl feet, a hallmark of the Cuculidae family, are another identifying feature, with two toes pointing forward and two backward.


The Pallid Cuckoo shows a preference for lightly timbered country with trees and shrubs and a sparse understory, which provides an ideal hunting ground for its prey. It can also be found in woodlands, shrublands, mangrove forests, pastoral lands, farmlands, golf courses, and gardens.


This species is widely distributed across mainland Australia and Tasmania. During winter, it resides in central inland Australia and the Northern Territory, migrating to South East Australia's coastal regions and Tasmania around September or October. Some individuals venture to Timor and Papua New Guinea in the winter months, and it is a rare vagrant to New Zealand.

Diet and Feeding

The Pallid Cuckoo has a diet consisting primarily of insects, with a particular fondness for hairy caterpillars. It employs a strategy of hopping down from vantage points to seize its prey, which may be located on trees or in the grass.


Breeding season spans from July to December. The Pallid Cuckoo is a generalist brood parasite, laying its eggs in the nests of over 100 different passerine species. Not all of these species have been observed to raise cuckoo chicks to fledging, but major hosts include various members of the family Meliphagidae.

Conservation Status

The IUCN Red List classifies the Pallid Cuckoo as Least Concern, indicating that it is not currently at significant risk of decline.

Similar Species

The Pallid Cuckoo is often mistaken for the Oriental Cuckoo (Cuculus optatus), especially when observing barred immature Pallid Cuckoos. However, the distinctive markings and the gold eye-ring of the Pallid Cuckoo can help differentiate between the two species.

Song & Calls

The Pallid Cuckoo is known for its monotonous and repetitive call, which has earned it various names such as the semitone-bird, scale-bird, and brain-fever bird. The call is a distinctive aspect of its behavior and can be heard during the breeding season.

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Pallid Cuckoos on Birda

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Alfie Lemin
31 Mar 2024 - 5:18am

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