An unmistakable birdcall alerted me to the presence of a cuckoo in our garden this morning. The call was a series of ascending notes, sometimes described as semi-tones, indeed this bird has been called the Semitone-bird or Scale-bird. The bird calling in our garden was of course a Pallid Cuckoo.
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|The adult male Pallid Cuckoo calling in the garden today. I have interrupted his calling.|
|Satisfied I am no threat he resumes his scales.|
|The moth consumed he resumes calling.|
The call, repeated over and over again, was coming from a male Pallid Cuckoo, a male because only the male makes the ascending call. The female, if and when she replies, only issues a single harsh note. Another name for this cuckoo is the Brainfever-bird, as it sometimes continues calling for long periods, including occasionally at night, which can drive some people mad, or at least it can become seriously annoying, especially if it is keeping you awake at night.
Another apt name for this species is Harbinger-of-Spring as it is a strong seasonal migrant to southeastern Australia where its return each Spring is announced loud and clear by the call.
The name cuckoo, applied to some 12 cuckoo species in Australia, derived from the cuckoo found in Europe, which makes a call sounding like “cuckoo”. It is one of those onomatopoeic words where the sound of the word imitates the sound of the thing or action being described, as for example in the words hiss, buzz and bang. In the case of the European Cuckoo the bird’s call is the sound “cuckoo”. However in spite of bearing the name cuckoo not one Australian species makes a call that sounds anything like “cuckoo”.
Most Australian cuckoos, but not all, are nest parasites meaning they lay their eggs in the nest of another species leaving the unwitting hosts to raise their young. The Pallid Cuckoo is a “nest parasite” and some 50 species are potential hosts for Pallid Cuckoos with Yellow-faced Honeyeater being one of the most common victims, which is possibly not surprising given the Yellow-faced Honeyeater is also a strong seasonal migrant returning to southeastern Australia every Spring in large numbers to breed.
|Yellow-faced Honeyeaters are a common victim of the Pallid Cuckoo's nest parasitism. This bird has been having a bath.|
The male Pallid Cuckoo is a grey bird with some brown hints. The female is a mottled rufous brown, a colour not needed for sitting camouflaged on a nest but very handy for sneaking in undetected to lay one egg in the nest of an unsuspecting pair of host birds while they are distracted by her mate. She removes one egg so the owners of the nest will not notice any change. When hatched the young cuckoo will eject the other eggs or hatchlings from the nest leaving only the cuckoo for the hosts to raise.
|The male Pallid Cuckoo.|
|This is a juvenile or young male - note spots on wing covert margins. This photo was taken in Sturt National Park NW NSW.|
|The female Pallid Cuckoo - note the mottled brown and rufous colour. Photo taken on Wangarabell Road north of Genoa far East Gippsland.|
The challenges of reproduction have seen many different methods evolved across various species to bring forth the next generation, however nest parasitism is one of the more fascinating solutions.
The male Pallid Cuckoo called on and off in and around the garden throughout the day. I listened to see if a female answered his call. Just on dusk he was still calling when I heard a female respond with her one coarse note. Perhaps he did not call all day in vain?