Chris Watson

Birding Central Australia #82 - Pallid Cuckoo

Chris Watson

Pallid Cuckoo Cacomantis pallidus

At the start of the cold weather in Central Australia, we often see long processions of hairy caterpillars moving around. These caterpillars, the larvae of the bag-shelter moth, are difficult for most animals to eat due to the stiff, itchy hairs. The bird in the picture this week makes a meal of them though. This is the Pallid Cuckoo, one of a small group of birds that consider these hairy caterpillars a good meal.

The usual procedure is to catch one of the grubs in the beak and then chew it long enough to get the bristles all matted down with juice and saliva, enabling it to be swallowed.  The Pallid Cuckoo belongs to a group known as the obligate brood parasites – meaning that it doesn’t build its own nest and hatch eggs and raise young like most other birds. This bird has evolved a strategy that involves an elaborate subterfuge. The cuckoo will lure a nesting bird from its nest while its mate sneaks in and lays a cuckoo egg in the nest that closely resembles the eggs of the host bird.

When the cuckoo egg hatches, typically earlier than the host’s own eggs, the chick is adept at pushing other eggs and chicks from the nest and thereby reaping the benefits of two doting parents with an irresistible urge to feed any gaping mouth they find in their nest.

Two pelicans were reported out at Hermannsburg this week by the students at Ntaria School who participated in a bird identification workshop on Friday. A Little Eagle was seen on Larapinta Drive near the Owen Springs access road. Princess Parrots are still being reported out at Newhaven Sanctuary and Shane Green reported a Grey Falcon at Emily Gap.

Happy birding!