Well, it wasn’t exactly one of my New Year’s resolutions, but I’ve been immersed in ‘accidental’ birdwatching for the past few weeks – all from the comfort of my top-floor apartment. It’s not that you can observe too many bird species around here; rather, this particular pair of birds have caught my attention.
Soon after the New Year’s Day, I noticed what sounded like a kitten meowing or swan calling (although it couldn’t have been a swan, for there’s no lakes around here!). I soon discovered the source of the sound when I saw a pied currawong feeding what looked like an adult kookaburra. …So, it was this ‘kookaburra’ loudly begging for food, but since when did currawongs and kookaburras become this chummy with each other?
I thought, “Hmmm… something is not right here,” and searched online for images of ‘pied currawong juvenile’. And among the results that came up was an image of an adult currawong feeding a young channel-billed cuckoo – the largest parasitic cuckoo in the world. Well, this is it! That’s what I just witnessed!
Obviously, these currawong parents have fallen victim to selfish and irresponsible cuckoo counterparts, and the poor surrogate Mom (or Dad) is seen diligently feeding the cuckoo chick that’s already bigger than them.
Watching this rather unconventional ‘family’ has been quite entertaining, sometimes even comical or downright hilarious.
The Cuckoo Kid has a voracious appetite and incessantly begs for feed, and the Currawong Mom has a tough time keeping up with its demand. Whenever Mom brings food, the Kid screeches with sheer joy and quivers its whole body as if having an orgasm – which somehow reminds me of that Meg Ryan scene in a restaurant from the movie When Harry Met Sally…
When food is not forthcoming, the Kid tenaciously follows Mom around, clumsily hopping, climbing and fluttering between tree branches. In the end, exhausted Mom gets sick of feeding it and just flies away. Or sometimes she completely ignores the Kid and keeps preening herself, until the chick screeches itself hoarse (which sounds quite funny!).
On another occasion, I saw the Kid fly headfirst into the wall of a house – presumably trying to catch an insect – before flopping straight down to the ground, causing quite a commotion among a family of noisy miners nearby. Obviously, it needs a bit more practice before it can feed itself!
The young cuckoo looks nothing like juvenile currawong, which makes you wonder why the deceived currawong parents wouldn’t think, “Hang on a minute, you are not our child,” and kick it out of the nest. But then it is also possible that they grow to love their rather odd-looking son / daughter just like any adoptive or stepparents in human society.
As the channel-billed cuckoo is a migratory bird, the Kid will eventually leave its surrogate parents and fly away to Papua New Guinea or Indonesia. And it will come back to Australia for the next breeding season to trick another, unsuspecting currawong couple into raising a cuckoo foster child as their own all over again…
P.S. – After about 10 days, the Kid has suddenly stopped coming and completely disappeared from my neighborhood, and I began to worry about its welfare and whereabouts. Then, on January 15, I discovered – by sheer chance – where it had gone. When I went out to a big sports ground about half a kilometer from my place, I heard the unmistakable screeching in one of the big trees around the park. At first, I couldn’t quite see the Kid, but its currawong parent was sitting close by. And sure enough, when the currawong flew away, the Kid followed suit. As the chick grows bigger and bigger, it looks like they’ve now moved on to a bigger and better feeding ground. But wherever the Kid goes, it’s so loud that you just can’t miss it!
Main image: Juvenile channel-billed cuckoo sitting pretty in an avocado tree