Close this search box.
Close this search box.
Fan-tailed Cuckoo – their distinctive calls are often the first sign of their presence. Photo credit: Chris Tzaros (Birds Bush and Beyond).

Fan-tailed cuckoo

By Ian Davidson and Chris Tzaros – Wangaratta Landcare & Sustainability

When winter moves to spring one of the birds that becomes increasingly visible locally is the Fan-tailed Cuckoo. This large slender cuckoo with its repeated, sad-sounding descending trill is one of the most distinctive sounds of the Australian bush.

Adult Fan-tailed Cuckoo is easily identified by a yellow eye ring (slightly greenish in young birds), its generally dark slate-grey back and wings, becoming pale rufous below, with a boldly barred black and white under tail. Younger birds are duller and browner in colour.

Fan-tailed Cuckoos are found throughout eastern Australia, south-western Western Australia and Tasmania. Birds in Tasmania migrate to the mainland in the non-breeding season. Fan-tailed Cuckoos also occur in New Caledonia, New Guinea, Fiji, New Zealand and several islands in between. Locally these cuckoos are scattered throughout larger areas of bushland like the Warby Ranges and Killawarra forest, but also along the river and creekline woodlands.

The Fan-tailed Cuckoos feed upon a variety of insects and their larvae. They mainly feed on caterpillars, especially large hairy species, which they detect using their keen eyesight and then quickly pounce upon them from above. Upon catching a caterpillar, they fly back to a perch and ‘bash’ their prey against the branch before swallowing it. Food is located from an exposed perch which they use as a vantage point from which to sing and to search for food and is seized in flight or from the ground. The bird returns to its perch to eat the prey.

Like other species of Australian cuckoos, the Fan-tailed Cuckoo is a brood parasite; laying its eggs in the nests of other species of birds. Host species include flycatchers, fairy-wrens, scrubwrens and thornbills, particularly the Brown Thornbill. A single egg is laid in the nest and one of the host’s eggs removed. The young cuckoo generally hatches earlier than the host’s eggs and proceeds to eject the other eggs or hatchlings. The seemingly unaware foster parents then rear the cuckoo chick.

For those interested in hearing or seeing Fan-tailed Cuckoos locally, a walk on a still and sunny day along the Bullawah Cultural Trail in Wangaratta or through the Warby Ranges or other bushland areas such as Albury’s Nail Can Hill, is likely to be rewarded.

Fan-tailed Cuckoo – their distinctive calls are often the first sign of their presence.
Photo credit: Chris Tzaros (Birds Bush and Beyond).