Channel-billed Cuckoo <i>Scythrops novaehollandiae</i> Click to enlarge image
Channel-billed Cuckoo, (Scythrops novaehollandiae) Image: Geoff Whalan
© Australian Museum

Fast Facts

  • Classification
  • Size Range
    58 cm to 65 cm

The Channel-billed Cuckoo is the largest parasitic cuckoo in the world.


Apart from the Channel-billed Cuckoo's large size, its massive pale, down-curved bill, grey plumage (darker on the back and wings) and long barred tail make it difficult to confuse it with any other bird. In flight the long tail and long wings give the bird a crucifix-shaped (cross-shaped) silhouette. Young Channel-billed Cuckoos have more mottled buff, brown and grey plumage. Although they are not nocturnal birds (night birds) in the strict sense, Channel-billed Cuckoos are notorious for calling all night long during the breeding season.


The Channel-billed Cuckoo is found in tall open forests, usually where host species occur.


The Channel-billed Cuckoo migrates to northern and eastern Australia from New Guinea and Indonesia between August and October each year. The birds leave Australia in February or March.

Scythrops novahollandiae
A Channel Bill Cuckoo is perched high on a white tree branch with green leaves above. It has black feathers with some white stripes, with an all-white face and an unmistakable large red eye. It’s greyish beak rounds down on the top, to form a peak underneath. Image: Hans Beste
© Australian Museum

Feeding and diet

The favoured foods of the Channel-billed Cuckoo are native figs and native fruits, though some seeds, insects and even baby birds are also taken. The birds take figs from the tree with their massive bills.


The call of the Channel-billed Cuckoo, a loud 'kawk' followed by a more rapid, and weaker 'awk-awk-awk...', is as distinctive as the bird's appearance. The call may be given when perched, but is most often given in flight.

Breeding behaviours

Scythrops novaehollandiae Latham, 1790. Channel-billed Cuckoo. Egg.
Scanned image of 35mm slide - egg reference collection Image: -
© Australian Museum

The Channel-billed Cuckoo lays its eggs in the nests of the Australian Magpie, Gymnorhina tibicen, the Pied Currawong, Strepera graculina and members of the crow family (Corvidae). Unlike many other cuckoos, the young birds do not evict the host's young or eggs from the nest, but simply grow faster and demand all the food, thus starving the others. Often the adult female will damage the existing eggs in the nest when she lays her own and she may even lay more than one egg in a single nest.

  • Breeding season: August to October
  • Clutch size: 1 or more


  • Strahan, R. (ed) 1994. Cuckoos, Nightbirds and Kingfishers of Australia. Angus and Robertson/Australian Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife, Sydney.