Pheasant Coucal Click to enlarge image
Pheasant Coucal Image: Tony Hisgett
creative commons

Fast Facts

  • Classification

The Pheasant Coucal is the only Australian cuckoo to build its own nest. It also lives and nests on the ground, unlike other cuckoos.


A large 'pheasant-like', ground-dwelling cuckoo, the Pheasant Coucal has a long tail and short rounded wings. In its breeding plumage, it has a black head, neck and underbody with the upperparts and wings reddish-brown with black and cream barring and the black tail is barred orange. Out of breeding, the head and back return to a reddish chestnut colour and the underparts are cinnamon brown, with all streaked boldly white. The eye is red. Sexes are similar in plumage, but females are larger than males. Young birds look like paler, non-breeding adults with orange spots on the head, neck and upper body. When disturbed, coucals run rather than fly, or fly clumsily, plunging into cover. Unlike most other cuckoos, the Pheasant Coucal is not a nest parasite.


The Pheasant Coucal prefers dense understorey vegetation, particularly grasses, rushes, bracken and sedges, in open forests and woodlands, and around wetlands. Often found in sugar cane plantations near wetlands, on farmlands with thick grasses and weed-infested thickets, such as Lantana. Often seen in parks, gardens and along roads or railway lines.


The Pheasant Coucal is found in northern and eastern Australia, as well as New Guinea and East Timor. It is found from the Pilbara, Western Australia, to south-eastern New South Wales. In New South Wales it is mainly found east of the Great Dividing Range from the Queensland border to the southern Hunter region, with some around Sydney and further south to Illawarra.



Feeding and diet

The Pheasant Coucal feeds on the ground on large insects, frogs, lizards, eggs and young of birds and, sometimes, small mammals.


Deep, hollow 'oop-oop-oop-oop'; also a metallic tapping call.

Breeding behaviours

Pheasant Coucals form lasting pairs and, unlike other Australian cuckoos, build their own nests and raise their young themselves. The nest is usually hidden in thick grass or sugar cane or in weedy thickets and is a platform of sticks, grass or rushes, lined with leaves and grasses. The male usually incubates the eggs and feeds the young, with the female helping with feeding. More than one clutch can be laid in one season.

  • Breeding Season: September to March
  • Clutch size: 3 to 5
  • Incubation: 15 days
  • Time in nest: 13 days

Economic impacts

Pheasant Coucals have benefited from land clearing where weedy thickets have grown up, especially of Blackberry or Lantana. However have been adversely affected by widening urban development and where overgrazing by livestock has occurred.


  • Higgins, P.J. (ed) 1999. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, Volume 4 (Parrots to Dollarbird). Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
  • Strahan, R. (ed) 1994. Cuckoos, Nightbirds and Kingfishers of Australia. Angus and Robertson/Australian Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife, Sydney.
  • Morcombe, M. 2000. Field guide to Australian Birds. Steve Parish Publishing.