Fan-tailed cuckoo

Cacomantis flabelliformis (Latham, 1802)

Order: Cuculiformes

Family: Cuculidae

New Zealand status: Native

Conservation status: Vagrant

Other names: fantailed cuckoo, fan tailed cuckoo

Geographical variation: There are five subspecies. The nominate subspecies C.f. flabelliformis breeds in Australia, and is the form that reaches New Zealand occasionally

Fan-tailed cuckoo. Adult calling. Gippsland, Victoria, Australia, September 2009. Image © Sonja Ross by Sonja Ross

Fan-tailed cuckoo. Adult calling. Gippsland, Victoria, Australia, September 2009. Image © Sonja Ross by Sonja Ross

The fan-tailed cuckoo has a large range in the south-west Pacific, breeding from Australia north to Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu and east to Fiji. It is an infrequent vagrant to New Zealand, with six records, most recently a road-killed bird found in Northland in 2010.

Identification

The fan-tailed cuckoo is a medium-sized, slim cuckoo, about twice the size of a shining cuckoo. Adults are smooth blue-grey above and buff below, with a pale orange throat. The long tail is boldly barred black-and-white underneath, the down-curved bill is dark, and the eye-ring and feet bright yellow. Juveniles are predominantly brown, mottled with rufous above, and barred below, becoming paler on the belly and undertail.

Voice: the main call is a rapid, repeated, high pitched trill with a downward inflection. Also a mournful whistle “wh-phweee”, and a grasshopper-like “chir-rip”.

Similar species: pallid cuckoo is larger, has a dark stripe through the eye, white spots on the sides of the upper-tail, and lacks the buff colouration on the underparts.

Distribution and habitat

Fan-tailed cuckoos occur in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji, breeding throughout. Some Australian birds migrate north after breeding. In Australia it occurs mainly in moist temperate and tropical forests, also dry woodlands, orchards and gardens.

New Zealand records

First recorded at Governor’s Bay, Lyttelton in June 1960, and subsequently at Wanaka airport (September 1991), Haast (October 1991), Karikari Bay (October 1991), Culverden (December 1999) and Maungatoroto, Northland (September 2010).

Breeding

In Australia, fan-tailed cuckoos mainly parasitise species that build dome-shaped nest such as fairywrens, thornbills, scrubwrens and warblers. They sometimes lay in the cup nests of honeyeaters and flycatchers. The eggs are mauve-white with red or brown spots. A single egg is deposited in each host nest.

Behaviour and ecology

During the breeding season, fan-tailed cuckoos can be conspicuous, perching prominently and calling incessantly. Foraging birds may perch on low branches or posts, gliding to the ground where they hop about in pursuit of insects. On returning to their perch they often cock and fan their tail. Unusually for a cuckoo, fan-tailed cuckoos are sometimes reported feeding fledglings, presumably after fledging from the nests of other species.

Food

The fan-tailed cuckoo has a varied diet, including insects and their larvae, fruit, and the eggs and nestlings of small birds.

Weblinks

www.publish.csiro.au/paper/MU9870069.htm

http://www.mdahlem.net/birds/13/fantcuck.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fan-tailed_Cuckoo

References

Ambrose, S.J. 1987. Adult fan-tailed cuckoo Cuculus pyrrhophanus feeds fledgling. Emu 87: 69.

Anderson, M.G.; Hauber, M.E. 2007. The cuckoos. Quarterly Review of Biology 82: 283-286.

Davies N.B. 2000. Cuckoos, cowbirds and other cheats. Princeton University Press.

Payne, R.B. 2005. The cuckoos. Oxford University Press, Oxford, England.

Smithers, C.N. 1977. An instance of one fan-tailed cuckoo feeding another. Australian Birds 12: 8.

Recommended citation

Seabrook-Davison, M.N.H. 2013. Fan-tailed cuckoo. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

Fan-tailed cuckoo

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Fan-tailed cuckoo

Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Egg laying dates
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