Channel-billed Cuckoos

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Subject: Channel-billed Cuckoos
From: "Alan Morris" <>
Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2001 11:44:16 +1000
Hi Birders,
In recent time, three people have commented on the breeding habits of the Channel-billed Cuckoo (Messers Adderley, Cox & Scouler) but no one has indicated what the whole picture is in respect to the Channel-bills treatment of the hosts eggs & or young.
In their review of the habits of the Channel-billed Cuckoo (Goddard & Marchant (1983 Aust. Birds  17, 65-72) they noted that the female tampered with the eggs of the host but gave no details. Brooker & Brooker (1989 Cuckoo Hosts in Australia) also commented on the lack of information about the breeding biology. Even when HANZAB Vol 2 was published in 1999 there was still no reference to the Cuckoos tampering with hosts' nests before laying although it is known that unlike other cuckoos, the young channel-bills in the nest don't eject their hosts chicks, rather the hosts chicks just die of  starvation, because the bigger cuckoo chicks out-compete them for the food.
So it was left to a very competent observer, Dariel Larkins of North Turramurra  who provided three detailed eye-witnessed accounts  of Channel-bills, which on their arrival at the breeding grounds either removed mostly by flicking out, Pied Currawong chicks from the nest, and or removing (and eating ?) the eggs (1994 Aust Birds 28, 7-10). Presumably this was done to make the Currawongs re lay and so enable the Channel-bills to better synchonise their egg laying so that their chicks can hatch first or at least at the same time as the currawongs (and other hosts). Unfortunately her article was not included in the HANZAB references.
The rarity of the observation of the actual action of Channel-bills removing the hosts chicks is such, that this was the reason why I was skeptical of Peter Adderly's finding of 5 currawong chicks on the grounds and attributing their death to Channel-biled Cuckoos. It had been pretty windy at the time, the chicks could have been blown from the nests, or Brush-tailed Possums (as I have seen in the past) could have been guilty of interfering with the currawong nests, or the currawongs could have been having territorial fights as do House Sparrows and other birds. Bird watchers have to be wary of ascribing guilt by association without actual seeing the action which they assumed has happened. However it was worthwhile that Peter, Bruce & Colin should have brought these matters to our attention. I would urge everyone to go and look to see what all the fuss is about when the Channel-bills and Currawongs are squabbling in your garden.
Incidentally, Allan Benson and I have listened to the tapes of Peter Adderly and conclude that the bird calling on the tapes is a Noisy Friarbird and not a Channel-bill.
Alan Morris
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