- Colour: grey all over, with dark scalloping on its back and wing-coverts, a whitish belly and abdomen, and fine dark barring on the lower underbody. Its long tail is pale-grey on top with two central feathers tipped with white, with a black band near the tip; the undertail has black-and-white barring. Its eyes are bright red and there is a bare patch of red skin around the eye and near the base of the bill. Its legs and feet are dark grey.
- Young birds are mottled buff, brown and grey, have an olive to brown eye and lack the red-colouring around its eye.
- In flight, its long tail and wings give it a cross-shaped silhouette.
- Distinctive feature: its large, downward-curved beak which is greyish with a paler tip.
- Size: 58 – 65 cm long.
- Call: a distinct, loud “kawk” followed by a more rapid and weaker “awk-awk-awk”. It most often calls in flight and is known to call throughout the night during the breeding season.
- Diet: it mostly eats native figs, but also eats other fruit and berries. They sometimes also eat insects and the eggs and young of other birds. It spreads its wings and tail as it picks food from foliage.
- Movement: its flight is slow with strong, regular wing-beats. When breeding, Channel-billed Cuckoos usually occur singly or in territorial pairs, but they may small foraging flocks at other times of the year. The species is migratory, travelling south from New Guinea and Indonesia each year to breed in northern and eastern Australia, where they arrive between August and October. They leave Australia in February and March, after breeding has finished.
- Breeding: a courtship display precedes mating: the female calls from a high branch, and then the male approaches, offering her an insect, which she accepts. Usually 1–2 eggs (but up to 5) are laid in the nests of other birds, including the Australian Magpie, Magpie-lark, Pied Currawong and various corvids (crows and ravens). Unlike many other cuckoos, the young Channel-billed Cuckoos do not remove the host's eggs or young from the nest, but simply grow more quickly than the host’s nestlings and demanding all of the food, so that the other chicks starve.
What to Observe
- Hosts feeding young
ClimateWatch Science Advisor
The effects of climate change may influence a change in the timing of movements by Channel-billed Cuckoos, or even make them redundant. It may also affect the timing of when they start to breed and the duration of their breeding activities.
When To Look
- From August to March, when they are present in northern and eastern Australia.
- From August to October for breeding behaviour.
- Young birds are in the nest for 17–24 days.
Note: ClimateWatch is looking for any changes in the timing of these events, so remember to keep a lookout from July for breeding activity!
Where To Look
- In tall, open forests, especially along watercourses and rainforest streams.
- In coastal and sub-coastal regions in northern and eastern Australia, from the Kimberley region to Bega in southern NSW. It is also very occasionally seen elsewhere, such as Alice Springs or the Lake Eyre drainage basin.
Note: ClimateWatch is looking for any changes in their known ranges, so remember to keep a lookout beyond these regions!
Higgins PJ (ed.) 1999. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, Vol. 4. Parrots to Dollarbird. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Schodde R and Tideman SC (eds) 1990. Reader's Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds. Reader's Digest (Australia), Sydney.
Strahan R (ed.) 1994. Cuckoos, Nightbirds and Kingfishers of Australia. Angus and Robertson/Australian Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife, Sydney.
Its large size, down-curved beak, grey colouring and long, barred tail make it difficult to confuse it with any other bird.
Did You Know?
The call recording is by David Stewart Naturesound
It is the largest parasitic cuckoo in the world.
Its average weight is 611 grams.
It is also sometimes known as the Stormbird.
Listen to the Call