The Annual Cuckoo Migration: channel-billed cuckoos and koels

Each spring the Channel-billed Cuckoo and the Common Koel fly from their homes in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia to mate in the sub-tropical region of Australia. The arrival of their distinctive calls marks the passing of another year.

The Channel-billed Cuckoo
The Channel-billed Cuckoo is the world’s largest parasitic bird, its wingspan measuring up to 1 metre. The cuckoo is devious in the way it uses other bird species to rear its chicks – by working in pairs the male cuckoo provokes host-birds into chasing it while the female cuckoo slips into the host-nest to lay its eggs. For several months the east coast region is filled with pterodactyl-like calls as the cuckoos apply this breeding strategy. Once the chick hatches it is unwittingly fed by the host-bird until it is strong enough to fly north to Papua New Guinea.

The Common Koel
In contrast to the raucous call of the Channel-billed Cuckoo the Common Koel adds a mournful tone to the soundscape. Folklore states that the arrival of the Koel signals the beginning of the rainy season. In the recording below small drops of rain fall in the background:

The Koel can be heard calling for hours throughout the day and night. Its breeding strategy is similar to the Channel-billed Cuckoo. Once the chick hatches it kicks out other hatchlings and eggs from the nest and is raised by the host-bird before it flies to its Indonesian homeland.

The annual migration of these extremely vocal birds marks the calendar in a way that other events throughout the year do not. This is yet another example of the way in which sound reflects the passage of time.

11 thoughts on “The Annual Cuckoo Migration: channel-billed cuckoos and koels

  1. Pingback: The Annual Cuckoo Migration: channel-billed cuckoos and koels - Sounds Like Noise | A World of Sound |

    1. soundslikenoise Post author

      Yes, the channel-billed cuckoo is as menacing as it can be annoying, sometimes calling like this in the trees by my bedroom at night. Nothing subtle about it! Maybe because the koel is a lot smaller it needs to be a bit more stealthy.

  2. Paul Hemsworth

    I grew up on a cane farm in the Mackay district in North Queensland. In our area the channel-billed cuckoo was “The Storm Bird.” My father looked for years before he actually saw what was making the call. The single call around 1m35s of the recording is what I remember.
    Thank you for the recording.

    1. soundslikenoise Post author

      Hi Paul, I’m happy that the sounds in the recording have brought back some memories from your childhood (I grew up on a cane farm too!). It’s funny the way that these long forgotten sounds trigger other memories from those distant periods.

  3. Laurel

    Your site provided us with the answer that was bugging us for over two weeks now. What could this bird be, seeing its such a large bird. This noisy bird starts around 4.00 in the arvo and finishes calling around 7.00 in the morning. Its has been very entertaining in the trees around the neighbourhood. I can see now from what you have said about the mating habits of this bird. Thanks for your site of bird calls we now have our answer as to what it is. We live in Maryborough Qld and I have never heard this call before.

  4. Robyn

    Having been long fascinated with the channel-billed cuckoo, I haven’t been able to find out this… the parents “wait” for the host parents to feed their baby until strong enough to fly….and then all go back north together? Or not? We are also witness to families of Coucal pheasants here, who do raise their own young.

    1. soundslikenoise Post author

      Hi Robyn. You have posed a question that I have wondered about too. The parents seem to hang around for months which makes me think that this would be long enough for their chicks to hatch and be strong enough to fly north. We have the pheasants here too, sounds of summer.

  5. Cate

    The second Koel sound was the one I wanted to identify. I’ve been hearing it each morning – the 4 ascending notes – and its clear voice sounded exactly the same as the afternoon 2 note call that seems to drive some people crackers!
    Thanks for this site – I’m finding out so much. Wonderful dawn chorus here this morning.


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