Coracina novaehollandiae (Gmelin, 1789)
Other names: shufflewing, blue jay, grey jay, cherry hawk, Australian greybird, black-faced greybird, blue peter, rainbird, stormbird, summerbird, white-vented cuckoo-shrike, large cuckoo-shrike, greater cuckoo-shrike, small-billed cuckoo-shrike, bifcus, blackfaced cuckoo-shrike, black faced cuckoo-shrike
Geographical variation: Three subspecies breed in different parts of Australia. Two of these are identical in plumage but vary in measurements. A third subspecies from central and north-western Western Australia, has generally paler colouring in the grey areas of its plumage, and an almost whitish belly. The subspecific identity of the birds seen in New Zealand is unknown.
One of the characteristic behaviours of the larger species of cuckoo-shrike, is that when landing on a perch, they re-arrange their wings a number of times. Due to this habit, the black-faced cuckoo-shrike is often called the shufflewing. Neither cuckoos nor shrikes, the undulating flight of these birds can resemble that of some cuckoos, and the predominantly grey plumage of many cuckoo-shrikes resembles such species as the common cuckoo of Europe, Asia and Africa. The shrike part of the name comes from the bill shape, which is similar to that of the Old-World shrike family.
As one of the more regularly seen native birds in such Australian cities as Perth and Sydney, the black-faced cuckoo-shrike should be a familiar bird to many Australians. With a compound name comprising four parts, it is, unsurprisingly, one that not many people know how to label.
The black-faced cuckoo-shrike is a medium-large slender blue-grey songbird with a prominent black face and throat in adult plumage. Immature birds have a significantly reduced area of black, largely confined to the region between the beak and the ear-coverts, appearing as a smudgy bandit mask. Cuckoo-shrikes have a distinctive flight behaviour; after a few flaps of their wings, they hold their wings close to their body for a second or two, resulting in a loss of altitude before flapping again. This creates the cuckoo-like undulating flight pattern. Black-faced cuckoo-shrikes also hover, including whilst gleaning invertebrates from the leaves of trees.
Voice: a liquid, pleasant, churring chereer, either singly or in a rolling sequence; also a flute-like call; a purring; and a harsh shrilunk.
Similar species: the white-bellied cuckoo-shrike (C. papuensis) of Australia can be distinguished by being smaller (22-29 cm); having a much smaller black mask between the bill and eye; and in most plumages having white or pale-grey belly and throat. There is a dark morph of one race of the white-bellied cuckoo-shrike which shows an extensive black hood, and in this morph the black extends onto the top of the head and crown, which is pale grey in the black-faced cuckoo-shrike. The voice of the white-bellied cuckoo-shrike is different also, and its kisseek call is diagnostic. North Island (or South Island) kokako has some similarities in plumage pattern to black-faced cuckoo-shrike but is twice the size, darker, has facial wattles, and is confined to dense native forest. The masked woodswallow is a much smaller bird (19 cm, 35 g) with a curved, grey bill with dark tip, and different flight behaviour.
Distribution and habitat
Within Australia, the black-faced cuckoo-shrike is widely distributed as a breeding bird, but avoids sandy deserts and rainforests. Its strongholds are in the wooded south-east and coastal parts of Western Australia. It is a common suburban bird, and frequently perches on television aerials and telegraph wires. Movement of the birds in the non-breeding season is complex and incompletely understood, with some populations migrating as far north as the Solomon Islands, New Guinea and Indonesia, whilst other populations are apparently resident or sedentary. Before migrating, flocks of well over one hundred birds can assemble.
New Zealand records
More than 20 records from widely scattered parts of New Zealand, including Stewart and Kapiti Islands, from most months of the year. A bird seen at North Kaipara Head in 1953 was apparently a long-stayer, being recorded over a six-month-long period.
Behaviour and ecology
Black-faced cuckoo-shrikes may be faithful to one mate over a period of several years, and will use the same territory for a number of years. Both male and female birds construct the nest, incubate the eggs, and care for the young. The nest is a shallow cup of sticks, grass and bark, bound together by cobwebs, and often constructed on the fork of a branch. Apart from the re-arranging of wings that generally happens when birds land, there is also a display where birds extend their necks, and emit a harsh “caw” whilst alternately lifting their left and right wings a number of times.
Black-faced cuckoo-shrikes eat insects, including caterpillars, and other invertebrates, also some fruit and seeds. They take food on the wing or on the ground, but primarily feed by foraging through foliage. No New Zealand data.
del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Christie, D.A. (eds) 2006. Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 10, Old World flycatchers to Old World warblers. Lynx Edicions: Barcelona.
Gill, B.J. 2010. Passeriformes. Pp. 275-322 in Checklist Committee (OSNZ) 2010. Checklist of the birds of New Zealand, Norfolk and Macquarie Islands, and the Ross Dependency, Antarctica (4th edn). Ornithological Society of New Zealand & Te Papa Press, Wellington.
Higgins,P.J.; Peter, J.M.; Cowling, S.J. (eds) 2006. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Vol. 7, boatbill to starlings. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Pizzey, G. 2007. The field guide to the birds of Australia. (8th edition). HarperCollins.
Slater, P. 1989. The Slater field guide to Australian birds (revised edition). Lansdowne.
Griffin, P. 2013 [updated 2017]. Black-faced cuckoo-shrike. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz
- Breeding season
- Egg laying dates