Channel-billed cuckoos are the biggest (and noisiest) parasitic cuckoos in the world and migrate south at this time every year to lay eggs in the nests of unsuspecting Magpies, Currawongs and Crows.
Waking to their repetitive, loud and raucous calls might send you cuckoo unless you could put it to a good use like helping scientists track the migration!
Scientists are predicting that a warming climate might result in changes to the known range or to the timing of migration. Evidence for such a change requires lots and lots of observations.
That's why the Department of Education Environmental and Zoo Education Centres are encouraging all students to become citizen scientists by contributing sightings of Channel-billed cuckoos to the Climatewatch project.
Observations are mapped in real time so students can see the migration as it happens and appreciate their contribution to science.
So how do you put your school on the map?
- Register at Climate watch (teachers could register and record observations on behalf of their students), there is also a smartphone and tablet app that can be downloaded to record observations in the field.
- Go to the ‘Species' page, select Channel-billed cuckoo and click on ‘record your sighting'. Use the map to zoom in and pinpoint your location.
- To analyse the migration click the ‘results' tab and enter ‘channel-billed cuckoo' and your desired time period. Click filter and zoom in on the map to see all the sightings.
- For help and information call your nearest Department of Education Environmental and Zoo Education Centre, Rumbalara Environmental Education Centre and the Coordinator Mark Attwooll at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cuckoos - currawongs – weeds – people
Cuckoos are unusual and interesting in that most are parasitic. They lay their eggs in the nests of other ‘host' birds (magpies, currawongs, crows) that then become surrogate parents to the young cuckoos. The host young are usually ejected by the young cuckoos or in the case of Channel-billed cuckoos are starved by the bigger cuckoo out-competing it for food.
Channel-billed cuckoos have become much more common over the past 30 years. This could reflect an increase in currawongs due to changes in vegetation as a result of human disturbance. Dr Richard Major, an ornithologist and ecologist from the Australian Museum explained that around Sydney the cuckoos mainly parasitise currawongs, but until the 1960s, currawongs weren't found breeding in Sydney.
So what has changed?
Urban areas started providing lots of food in the form of introduced fleshy fruited plants like privet, lantana, camphor laurel and blackberries which provide the currawongs with a year round food supply. Currawongs assist these plants by spreading their seeds. "Currawong populations are now present year-round in Sydney, breeding prolifically, and the channel-billed cuckoos are playing catch-up, responding to the abundance of their favourite host," he says.
"For such a large, noisy bird, surprisingly little is known about channel-billed cuckoos, and a lot of knowledge is being gained through amateur observations", says Dr Richard Major.
Read the full Channel-bills go cuckoo in spring report this quote has been taken from on on the ABC science webpage.
Where to look?
They feed on fruits and mostly parasitise magpies, currawongs and crows so if these are present in your local area look out.
Past records of Channel-billed cuckoos indicate that they are mainly distributed down the coast.