The Fan-tailed Cuckoo is a slender cuckoo, 24cm - 28cm in length. Its mournful, descending trill often draws attention to its presence. The adult bird is easily identified by its generally dark slate-grey back and wings, becoming pale rufous below, with a boldly barred black and white under tail. Younger birds are duller and browner in colour.
The striking yellow eye ring (slightly greenish in young birds) is clearly visible from quite a distance. I usually hear these birds distinctively. Their call is a monotonous trill , rather like a low postmanís whistle.
Distribution and Habitat
Fan-tailed Cuckoos are found throughout eastern Australia, south-western Western Australia and Tasmania. Birds in Tasmania migrate to the mainland in the non-breeding season. They are among the more commonly observed members of the cuckoo family, especially in the favoured habitat of open forests, woodlands and similarly vegetated gardens. Individuals are often seen perched on an exposed branch when calling.
Food and Feeding
The Fan-tailed Cuckoo enjoys hairy caterpillars in its diet, but will also take a variety of other insects and their larvae. Food is located from an exposed perch and is seized in flight or from the ground. The bird returns to its perch to eat the prey.
The breeding season of the Fan-tailed Cuckoo is between August and December in the east, and June to October in the south-west. As with most other species of Australian cuckoos, it is a brood parasite; laying its eggs in the nests of other species of birds. Host species of the Fan-tailed Cuckoo include flycatchers, fairy-wrens, scrubwrens and thornbills, particularly the Brown Thornbill, Acanthiza pusilla. A single egg is laid in the nest and one of the host's eggs removed. The young cuckoo generally hatches earlier than the host's eggs (12 to 13 days) and proceeds to eject the other eggs or hatchlings. The seemingly unaware foster parents then rear the cuckoo chick.