Koel Cuckoo their hosts and their egg laying habits

To: Alan Morris <>
Subject: Koel Cuckoo their hosts and their egg laying habits
From: Tom Tarrant <>
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2002 14:26:40 +1000
Hi Alan and b-ausers,
Although this isn't about Koels I thought that you might find it useful.
Several years ago at Stanthorpe Golf-Course, Qld I came across a juvenile Pallid Cuckoo with 3 feeding foster-parents; Yellow-faced and White-naped Honeyeater, and a Silvereye.

Alan Morris wrote:
Hi Birders
The bible in respect to Cuckoo hosts is the publication "Cuckoo Hosts in Australia" by M.G.& L.C. Booker, Australian Zoological Reviews, No 2 1989 RZS of NSW.
Mr Booker says that there are 21 species recorded as feeding juvenile Koels but only six species did he identify as biological hosts, ie their eggs have been laid in the nest of six species viz the four Australian Friarbirds, the Figbird and the Magpie-lark.  He points out that the Red Wattlebird is recorded as the usual host in Sydney but he found no egg record! However, reports of Red Wattlebirds feeding Koel Cuckoos did not appear in the literature until 1978, so that at the time of this publication there was no record of a Koel Cuckoo egg in a Red Wattlebird nest. The fact that there are fewer egg collectors these days is not a benefit in this case.
However as both a Sydney and now Central Coast resident, while I have never seen a Koel Cuckoo egg in a Red Wattlebird nest, I certainly seen many small baby Koel Cuckoos in RWB nests and have watched them being fed, and later on, have watched the Koel parents feeding them after they leave the nest, along with the RWB parents!
So it is obvious that the main host for Koel Cuckoos in the Newcastle/Central Coast/Blue Mountains/Sydney/Illawarra/South Coast area is the Red Wattlebird  and that this is a recent phenonema. More recently Little Wattlebirds have been proved to be a Koel Cuckoo host.
Since 1993-2000, in the NSW Annual Bird Reports, I have attempted to qualify the recorded hosts of the Koel Cuckoos and the results are as follows; Red Wattlebirds 22, Little Wattlebird 5, Noisy Friarbird 3, Blue-faced Honeyeater 2 and Noisy Miner 1. The first observation of a juvenile Koel fledging from a Little Wattlebird's nest was in 1999. In northern NSW Figbirds, Magpielarks and Noisy Friarbirds are known to be the usual hosts but this is not borne out by the records available to me. However, Regional Bird Reports, which is where one finds more information about nesting Koels, are produced for mid Central and South Coast NSW, whereas there are no annual regional reports as yet for north-eastern NSW! The fact that Blue-faced Honeyeaters and Little Wattlebirds also figure in my list probably indicates changing breeding patterns for those species as well as the Koel. That Olive-backed Oriole, Magpie-lark & Little Friarbirds do not figure in my summary is also of interest.
As to how many eggs are laid in a season, it is not known for any Australian cuckoo species although the European Cuckoo is considered to lay from 10-12 eggs!
In addition to the above species known to host the egg, HANZAB also mentions Spangled Drongo, Grey-shrike Thrush, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike & Victoria's Riflebird (note no mention of Little Wattlebird!). Species known to feed the young in addition to those mentioned are Yellow-throated Miner, Yellow-tinted Honeyeater, Leaden Flycatcher & Dusky Woodswallow (note no mention of Noisy Miner!).
There is still alot to learn about Australian cuckoos and their hosts.
Alan Morris

Tom & Marie Tarrant
Lot 10 (137) Watson Rd
Samsonvale, Queensland 4520

Tel: (07) 3425 1780 (H)
Mob: 0409 264 725

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