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Prophet of evil ?

September 26, 2015

IMG_2168Early spring sees the return of some of the seasonal migratory birds after their winter sojourn in warmer climes further north. Examples are the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Olive-backed Oriole, Rufous Whistler and, being breeding time, the various cuckoos. So far we have had Shining Bronze-Cuckoo and, prominent in our garden, the Fan-tailed Cuckoo pictured here.

Its distinctive features are the yellow eye-ring, barred tail, cinnamon colouring on its underparts and the male’s call, a mournful trill (click on the audio below).

What is not especially noticeable, despite its species name, is a fan-tail. Fraser and Gray in their fascinating book Australian Bird Names – a complete guide, suggest that this is because John Latham who first described the species in 1802, had never seen a live one!

The genus name Cacomantis meaning “prophet of evil” is however appropriate, that is if you happen to be a thornbill, scrubwren, fairy wren or any of the many other species of small birds parasitised by the Fan-tailed Cuckoo. What we find extraordinary is that although these birds clearly see the cuckoo as a threat – they emit frenzied alarm calls when it is around and even harass it – they readily feed the cuckoo chick which, to our eyes at least, bears no resemblance to their own offspring. The power of a bright gape and loud pleading squawks perhaps!

In the picture at left you can see a (blurred) Eastern Spinebill which was dive bombing and clacking at the cuckoo. You can also see the cinnamon breast of the cuckoo – we think this is a female – in the male the cinnamon extends right down the front.


Fan-tailed cuckoo calls:

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 26, 2015 8:59 am

    I love all your posts. They make me want to rush up to our little place in Strath Creek!

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