Story: Small forest birds

Page 9. Cuckoos

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Two cuckoo species breed in New Zealand. Both are migratory, arriving in spring to breed and flying north to Pacific islands for winter.

Like most cuckoos, both lay their eggs in the nests of other species, which incubate them and then rear the chicks.

Shining cuckoo

Shining cuckoos or pīpīwharauroa (Chrysococcyx lucidus) breed in Australia, Vanuatu and New Caledonia as well as New Zealand. The New Zealand subspecies overwinter in the Bismarck Archipelago and Solomon Islands, and returns to New Zealand from late September. The shining cuckoo’s call – repeated ascending whistles followed by one or two long descending whistles – heralds spring.

Once they have mated and laid their olive-green eggs in grey warbler’s nests (one egg per nest), they are free of parental duties, but stay around for several months. They feed mainly on invertebrates, including a kōwhai-eating caterpillar. When ready to migrate they gather in flocks of several hundred.

Shining cuckoos are 16 centimetres long and weigh 25 grams. They have a metallic green back and white underparts with green bars.

Long-tailed cuckoo

Long-tailed cuckoos or koekoeā (Eudynamys taitensis) breed only in New Zealand. They migrate mainly to islands east of Fiji, including French Polynesia, but also further west into Micronesia. Long-tailed cuckoos place their creamy brown-blotched eggs (one per nest) in the nests of other birds – in the North Island the whitehead, and the South Island the brown creeper or yellowhead.

Their call is harsher and louder than the shining cuckoo’s – several ascending shrieks, sometimes followed by a loud pe-pe-pe-pe-pe. Their main foods are large invertebrates such as wētā, but they also eat skinks, geckos, small birds, eggs, chicks and fruit. Forty centimetres long, they weigh 125 grams. They have a heavy bill and a streamlined build, with a long tail. On the topside they are copper brown with horizontal black bars, and underneath they are pale with vertical brown streaks, which are finer in juveniles.

How to cite this page:

Christina Troup, 'Small forest birds - Cuckoos', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/small-forest-birds/page-9 (accessed 20 October 2019)

Story by Christina Troup, published 24 Sep 2007, reviewed & revised 17 Feb 2015