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Birds in Our Village - Pheasant Coucal

16th July 2015

The Village Voice of Autumn 2012 had an article on 46 species of birds around our Village. I like to watch birds but have difficulty in identifying some of them. Consequently in issues 28, 30, 31 and 33 I photographically identified the birds that visit us. Following those articles I've decided to learn more about each individual species. The Noisy Friarbird appeared in issue 35. The Blue-Faced Honeyeater appeared in issue 36. Any errors in these articles are mine. Ian Nicholson

The Pheasant Coucal (Centropus phasianinus), is also colloquially known as the Bananabird or incorrectly as a Swamp Pheasant.

Despite its name, it is not a pheasant but a long-tailed relative of the cuckoo, with limited powers of flight. Unlike other Australian cuckoos however, it doesn't parasitise the nest of other birds (place their eggs in host nests). Instead, they build a roofed nest so when they enter the nest their head and tail protrude from each end of the nest. Both sexes incubate the eggs and share feeding.

The Pheasant Coucal is a large 'pheasant-like', ground-dwelling cuckoo, with a long tail and short rounded wings. In its breeding plumage, it has a black head, neck and underbody with the upperparts and wings reddish-brown with black and cream barring and the black tail is barred orange. Out of breeding season, the head and back return to a reddish chestnut colour and the underparts are cinnamon brown, with all streaked boldly white. The eye is red. Females are larger than males. Young birds look like paler, non-breeding adults with orange spots on the head, neck and upper body.

They are secretive ground dwellers and are usually heard rather than seen, with a low descending 'boop boop boop'. In winter, they may use a sharp hissing. When disturbed, coucals run rather than fly, or fly clumsily, plunging into cover.

Pheasant Coucals feed on the ground on large insects, frogs, lizards, eggs and young of birds and, somtimes, small mammals.

They form lasting pairs, unlike other Australian cuckoos, build their own nests, and raise their young themselves. The nest is usually hidden in thick vegetation or weedy thickets and is a platform of sticks, grass or rushes, lined with leaves and grasses. The male usually incubates the eggs and feeds the young, with the female helping with feeding. The pairs may lay more than one clutch in one season.

Pheasant Coucals live in permanent territories and spend most of their time on the ground out of view, only occasionally hopping and flapping awkwardly up to a lookout tree where they can survey the scene, maybe proclaim their territory with a calling session or even just bask in the sun. When calling, pairs sometimes duet together, greatly emphasising the effect and likened by some to water bubbling from a big bottle.

This article is reproduced, with permission, from the 'Victoria Village Voice' a quarterly newsletter produced by residents of Renaissance Victoria Point and issued on behalf of the Residents' Association.   

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