birding-aus Cicadabird and Chestnut-breasted Cuckoos

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Subject: birding-aus Cicadabird and Chestnut-breasted Cuckoos
From: Lloyd Nielsen <>
Date: Thu, 05 Aug 1999 23:06:55 +1000
Just to pick up on a point that Glenn (Holmes) made recently about cicadabird - I fully agree with him that there are two species involved in this northern part of Queensland.  One seems to be confined to the lowler altitudes in the Wet Tropics wheras the other is the bird well known up and down the east coast of Australia, inhabiting more open tropical woodland.

Next time you are in this area during late spring and summer, ask Chris at Daintree to point out the call of the lowland bird - you will be amazed.  Or just get a copy of David Stewart's tape 'Birds of Queensland's Wet Tropics and Great Barrier Reef - Passerines'.  Dave has actually recorded three very different calls.  Which makes me wonder if there are more than two species involved.  The eastern population seems to be replaced by a bird with a totally different call again in the dry tropical woodland on Cape York north from about Cooktown.  I have had no recent experience with the species in the NT but suspect this call may be identical with that.  I examined skins at the Qld Museum some years ago and though the collection was rather small, there were two males which probably were of the wet tropics lowland bird.  They were both slightly smaller with darker lores and nape.

 To anyone contemplating doing a trip to Cape York, I would suggest they take special note of 'Fantailed Cuckoos' especially if atlassing.  I suspect some Fantailed Cuckoo records from Cape York are actually Chestnut-breasted.  Calls are almost identical so it is dangerous to make an ID on call alone.  We are not sure of the range of the Chestnut-breasted in the Wet Tropics - we know the CB comes as far south as Mt Lewis and Julatten (50 km north of Mareeba).  I rather suspect that the Fantailed is a winter visitor to Cape York only, and in small numbers.  I have seen typical Fantailed in spring on the Atherton Tableland, very vocal and obviously in breeding condition. There was supposedly a Chestnut-breasted hit a window at Yungaburra on the more southern part of theAtherton Tableland a few years ago.  A couple of years ago, there was talk of a 'chestnut breasted form of the Fantailed' about Cardwell, supposedly a distinct race.  Mathews described a race athertoni from north Queensland in 1912 but it was never been accepted.

The call of the Chestnut-breasted is slightly shorter and more clipped than that of the Fan-tailed. They can be separated on call only with quite a bit of experience.

Both Fantailed and Chestnut-breasted were recorded from Starke Station (north of Cooktown) in April 1998 but when Dave Stewart and I went through in October, we could only get Chestnut-breasted.

The message  is that if you are visiting north-eastern Queendland or on Cape York and hear a Fan-tailed type call, DO NOT record it as a Fan-tailed Cuckoo unless you check it out.  The Chestnut-breasted has a rich chestnut breast, unlike the pale rufous of the Fan-tailed, is slightly smaller and has less 'etching' on the tail.

Lloyd Nielsen
Mt Molloy
Nth Qld


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