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The four and a half hour con

February 25, 2019

There are some situations which I would love to photograph – a Powerful Owl grasping a possum (tick) or a White-bellied Sea-Eagle snatching a fish from the surface of a lake (not yet). I call these National Geographic shots. Another which fits this category is a cuckoo chick being fed by its adoptive hosts. So when I saw a juvenile Pallid Cuckoo (pictured below) sitting in a tree chirping as if calling for food and found it in the same vicinity the next day I thought, here’s my chance.

Pallid Cuckoos (Cacomantis pallidus), like most Australian cuckoos, are brood parasites in that their eggs are laid in the nests of other species and when they hatch the chicks are raised by the new host. Very often there is a size mismatch between the cuckoo chick and the chicks of the host, that is if the cuckoo chick doesn’t kick the other chicks out of the nest. Typical host species are honeyeaters and orioles.

Over a period of three days I watched the juvenile cuckoo as it flew from tree to tree and I waited, camera at the ready, for the moment when the hosts would turn up to feed it. After about four and a half hours of accumulated viewing time the con was revealed – the juvenile cuckoo flew down to the ground and ate a beetle (see picture right). It wasn’t waiting to be fed at all.

The National Geographic moment was gone, firstly because the photograph was not of host/cuckoo feeding behaviour, and secondly because the shot wasn’t in focus anyway.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Susan permalink
    February 25, 2019 11:03 am

    I have watched fairy wrens feed a chick much larger than them … and there were a multitude feeding it. I wasn’t very knowledgeable at the time but supposed it was a cuckoo of some sort.
    Sorry about your missed opportunity but what a great meditating time in being still !

  2. Rosemary Simon permalink
    February 25, 2019 12:06 pm

    A couple of years ago a baby pallid cookoo did a crash flight into my window. My usual method of reviving such accidents is to give a few drops of rescue remedy to the victim, carry is close to my body as part treatment for shock, then when the bird stirs, let it loose. This time however there was a choir of chirps from the shrubbery as I let the bird go. Its parents were a large number of my favourite blue wrens. They fussed and fed their large, adopted infant, which would no doubt grow into another parasite.

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