Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Courting Cuckoos

In April I had the great pleasure of attending the Birds SA Easter camping trip. Our destination was Caroona Creek Conservation Park, a little known park just north of the more popular Red Banks Conservation Park, and north-east of Burra, SA. The park is a mixture of saltbush and chenopod mallee, along with the jutting rock faces of Tourille Gorge.

Caroona Creek Conservation Park

I won't bore you with all the details, but suffice to say it's a stunning place, especially since they'd had good rain in the prior two months to our visit. Bird life was quite abundant, although somewhat patchy as it has a habit of being out in the mallee. After a couple of days of hearing what I believed to be a Black-eared Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx osculans), I finally came across one. Much to my delight, this bird also lead me to a second Black-eared Cuckoo and I felt very privileged to be able to witness and photograph (albeit poorly) what could only be courtship between the two birds.

Given that there is no sexual dimorphism in this species, for the sake of simplicity of this account, I'm going to call the first bird male, and the second bird a female. I have no idea how accurate this assumption on my part is.

The male bird was looking for things to eat, in this case, it turned out to be hairy black caterpillars that he pulled (or attempted to) from the leaves of the mallee trees.

Looking for caterpillars

Attempting to remove a caterpillar

A bit of extra effort required...

After having caught the caterpillar, I had thought that he would have eaten it. This is when he began courting the female bird (which I hadn't yet noticed). He held the caterpillar in his beak, bobbed his head and tail, and made repeated soft calls, which can only be described as a shorter, softer version of the normal advertisement call.

After a bit of effort on the male's part, the female finally approached and he held the caterpillar out to her.

Handing over the meal

There seemed to be a bit of reluctance in giving up his hard won caterpillar

Once he had, I suppose the female thought she got a pretty good deal, and just took off. Seems the male has his work cut out for him in attracting this lady.

It was a pretty exciting experience, especially since it was the first time I'd even seen Black-eared Cuckoos. So to see two engaged in this behaviour was certainly a treat (and explains why I stuffed up so many camera settings).

As a side note, from what I could determine from online resources, the caterpillar appears to be a species of day-flying moth, possibly the Mistletoe Moth (Comocrus behri). Source:


  1. Don't apologise for the photography - all the pics are wonderful! A great record of behaviour not often seen!

    Cuckoos fascinate me - such mysterious birds of the bush that are always noticed 'suddenly', before they skip off with their dipping flight.

    1. Thank you, it was a real treat to observe the behaviour. They are such hard birds to come across (except in spring when they do tend to call non-stop). :)

  2. A great post Bec and obviously a thrill to get a lifer and witness this fascinating behaviour.