Goodbye to Rainbirds and Stormbirds: Cuckoos Fly North for Winter

Bronwen Scott
4 min readApr 9, 2021

A change in season means different sounds in the garden

Although the Coral Sea cyclone season ends officially on 30 April, I am going to make the call right now. Goodbye, swirly things. Hello, dry season.

I live in the Wet Tropics region of Far North Queensland where ‘dry’ means ‘not as soggy as it is for the rest of the year’. Things are never quite as cut and…er... Some dry seasons see rain into the middle of the year. In one particularly damp June, I was standing outside the post office, taking off my muddy shoes before going inside, when a local dairy farmer said to me, ‘After the drought of 1966, I swore I’d never complain about the rain again, but…’

My reason for making this not very brave pronouncement about the weather has little to do with the rain and a lot to do with (relative) the peace and quiet in the garden. Pacific (Eastern) Koels and Channel-billed Cuckoos have packed their bags and headed north to New Guinea for winter.

Male and female Pacific Koel (as Flinders Cuckoo, Eudynamys flindersii) from Gould’s Birds of Australia. Public Domain.

Over summer, a pair of koels took up residence in the garden. I heard them more often than I saw them, but when I did see them what a treat it was — the male in glossy black plumage, the female in fancier feathers, cream and brown, with spots and stripes on wings and tail, and fine dark lines across her front and over her fluffy pantaloons. The pair spent most of their time lurking, eating, and avoiding the judgement of Hornbill Friarbirds, whose nests they parasitise. (Hear their full range of calls.)

Linnaeus named the species as Cuculus orientalis in 1766, based on the appearance of the adult male. There was some confusion about the identity of Australian koels. Ornithologist John Latham described the Blue-headed Cuckow (sic)(Cuculus cyanocephalus) in 1801. He later (1822) referred to the Flinders Cuckow, which he considered to be a different species. He did not give that one a scientific name, but it was subsequently called Eudynamys flindersii by Vigors and Horsfield. From the descriptions, it seems likely that both the Blue-headed and Flinders Cuckoos were either female birds or young male birds moulting…

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Bronwen Scott

Zoologist, writer, artist, museum fan, enjoying life in the tropical rainforest of Far North Queensland. She/her. Website: bronwenscott.com