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Byron Shire
May 14, 2021

Sky terror

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Kol Dimond, The Pocket

Unless you have been walking around for the last couple of months with ear plugs in, you would have noticed the sound of terror in the sky. It’s a noise I hadn’t had in my bushland retreat for some years, and I needed to record and search the sound on the internet to discover that it was in fact a channel-billed cuckoo Scythrops novaehollandiae.

It is the largest brood parasite bird in the world, and the largest cuckoo. It also sounds like a baby being throttled whilst being thrown naked into a vat of burning oil (maybe just a mild tad of embellishment here but you get the point).

The bird treks in from New Guinea or Indonesia around September where it couples up and proceeds to harass local currawongs or magpies. This process involves the male bird diverting the hosts away from their nests whilst the female sneaks in and lays their own clutch in the smaller bird’s nest. Occasionally the female cuckoo will swallow the host’s eggs before laying her own, but not always. Either way the host’s own brood will seldom survive due to the oversized parasite fledgling nicking all the food. It does all seem rather harsh but nature has a way to balance out many of these anthropocentric concerns.

The bird itself sits high in the fruit tree canopies amongst the fig birds and cuckoo shrikes, it is rarely seen but always heard. It is also known as the storm bird in the northern states of Australia owing to its migration period coinciding with the wet season.

The channel-billed cuckoo is an amazing bird that has evolved and survived well, it is not in danger and currently seems to be thriving in the current climate. Peace.

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