Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cuckoo in the curry tree

When you think of cuckoos, most of us tend to think of Swiss clocks with a little door that opens to allow a little bird to pop out and say 'cuckoo' once every hour, on the hour. Last Sunday I finally managed to take a photo of our resident cuckoo, a koel.

It'd have to be a very large clock to house this cuckoo. At least our koels maintain the cuckoo tradition of reliable time-keeping. Every morning around 4am they wake up the neighbourhood with their loud, repetitive calls. As a result, unfortunately, koels are not exactly our most beloved birds! This particular individual is a bit of an oddball version of koel. It's a juvenile male that's going through its first moult, to become a glossy, all-black adult male.

What attracted him to our backyard was the sight of all those juicy curry tree berries. Unfortunately, this is not a good thing. All sorts of berry-producing non-native plants are turning into bushland weeds. The berries might be eaten in my backyard, but the seeds are then carried by birds to bushland sometimes miles away, where they then sprout and compete with native plants.

While the koel family has been part of our neighbourhood for years, these birds are a relatively rare sight, even if they're a familiar sound. The sight of the young moulting male was a big enough surprise midway through Sunday afternoon, but right on dusk another koel appeared perched on our clothesline, this one a juvenile female.

The interesting thing about cuckoos, of course, is the clever way they fool other bird species into raising their young. The adult cuckoos lay their eggs in other bird species' nests, and when the baby cuckoo hatches it pushes the 'host' baby birds out of the nest and the 'host' parents raise the cuckoo baby.

For our koels, their most regular 'host' birds are currawongs - big, black-and-white birds similar in many ways to magpies, but with black beaks. The system seems to work, as the two koels visiting last Sunday were both born last spring are only now getting out and about. The nice thing about juvenile birds is that they tend to spook a lot less easily than adults, and so bumbling amateur photographers such as me can blunder about and manage to get a couple of snaps without startling the birds into flight.


Chandramouli S said...

Those are cool shots. It's difficult to spot them here too. I hear only their calls but luckily that's after 5 or 6 in the morning. Guess Koels here are lazy, LOL! Only thrice have I photographed these birds and that too from a several feet away. I had to zoom in to get a closer shot and it was blurry.

Chookie said...

I've had trouble photographing them too. But if you want to see a portrait of harried parenthood, wait until you see a pair of wattle birds trying to feed their "baby" -- who is bigger than they are!