Summer sounds are cuckoo calls

Any time from early October locals hear the calls of two very intriguing feathered visitors. Variously called the Christmas bird or storm bird, these names might refer to the Eastern Koel, or to the Channel-billed Cuckoo. Although different in many ways they are both cuckoos. This means they use the nests of other (host) birds to lay their eggs. After that they have nothing to do with raising their own young! This task falls to the host bird, often giving that parent a very busy time feeding a baby that is much bigger and more demanding than its own would be.

The Koel and the Channel-bill arrive from New Guinea and eastern Indonesia in Spring to breed. They head back north about February or March.

The call of the male Eastern Koel is a loud ascending whistle or ‘koo-el’, monotonously repeated; the call of the female is a repetitive ‘keek-keek-keek-keek.

Despite its distinctive call, the Koel is surprisingly difficult to see. The adults are shy and feed in the canopy of trees. The male is glossy black with a striking red eye. The female upperparts are glossy brown and the underparts are cream with fine black bars. The young Koel looks like mum and can be conspicuous as it begs loudly for food from its much smaller foster parents. These might be Red Wattlebirds, friarbirds, Magpie-larks, or figbirds.

The Channel-billed Cuckoo might call all night in the breeding season. You will hear a loud, raucous ‘kawk’ followed by a more rapid, and weaker ‘awk-awk-awk…’ It is a large bird with a huge, pale, down-curved bill – perfect for its favourite food of native figs and fruits. It has grey plumage and a long, barred tail. Its appearance and its call make it quite a distinctive bird. It lays its eggs in the nests of Magpies, Pied Currawongs, and members of the crow family.

Have you heard either of these seasonal visitors? Why not join in the Birds in Backyards Summer Survey? Visit