The fan-tailed cuckoo has a distinctive high pitched trilling call. Photo: Contributed
The fan-tailed cuckoo has a distinctive high pitched trilling call. Photo: Contributed

BIRD OF THE WEEK: The bird that outsources its parenting

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

It is what is called a brood parasite which means that 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 by a yellow eye ring, it generally has a 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 independent.

Cuckoos are found around the world and the practice of getting other birds to raise their young is quite a clever strategy to avoid the demands of parenthood.

It is regularly seen and heard at the Botanic Gardens, Baldwin Swamp Enviro Park, Barolin Reserve and Moore Park.

Allan Briggs is the secretary of BirdLife Capricornia, contact him with your birding questions at