Fan-tailed cuckoo

The yellow eye-ring cuckoo of Australia

JJ Harrison

Despite being more often heard than seen, this enigmatic bird possesses a unique combination of features that distinguish it from its cuckoo relatives and make it a noteworthy inhabitant of Australia and the Tasmanian islands.

Sporting a slaty-grey head, warm buff to rufous underparts, and a black tail adorned with distinctive white bars, the Fan-tailed Cuckoo cuts a striking figure against the backdrop of its preferred habitats, which include open woodlands, tall temperate forests, mangroves, and even orchards and parks. One of the most striking features that sets it apart from similar cuckoo species is its yellow eye ring, which adds a splash of color to its otherwise subtle plumage and aids in identification.

Despite its unassuming appearance, the Fan-tailed Cuckoo plays a vital ecological role as an insectivore, feeding primarily on insects and larvae found within its habitat. Interestingly, it sometimes engages in cooperative hunting behavior with other insectivorous birds, forming loose foraging associations that enable them to exploit food resources more effectively—a testament to the complex ecological interactions that shape avian communities.

Like many cuckoo species, the Fan-tailed Cuckoo employs a reproductive strategy known as brood parasitism, whereby it lays its eggs in the nests of other bird species and relies on them to incubate the eggs and raise the chicks. This remarkable adaptation allows the Fan-tailed Cuckoo to maximize its reproductive success while minimizing the costs associated with parental care—a cunning strategy that has evolved over millennia of evolutionary pressure.

However, the Fan-tailed Cuckoo, like many other bird species, is not immune to the impacts of climate change. As temperatures shift and weather patterns become more unpredictable, the timing of breeding seasons and vocalizations may also change, affecting the reproductive success and behavior of these birds.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Australia
2016
Breeding
Fiji
2016
Indonesia
2016
Breeding
New Caledonia
2016
Breeding
New Zealand
2016
Vagrant
Papua New Guinea
2016
Breeding
Solomon Islands
2016
Vanuatu
2016
Breeding

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No