Adult Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike atop a large walnut tree.
Adult Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike atop a large walnut tree.

… or cuckoo, for that matter, when it’s neither. Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes are usually unobtrusive seasonal visitors to most of the Strathbogie Ranges. Their call is a gentle churring and not particularly loud; unless you’re listening for it, you’ll probably miss it. And they have very distinctive, almost loopy flight, making this an easy bird to ID in flight. Additionally, plumage colouration, as their name implies, is also distinctive, so you’ll recognize one when it’s not flying. Nonetheless, these handsome birds are often overlooked by the general public because they’re relatively quiet and shy. You can listen to the call of the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike on the ‘Birds in backyards’ website.

Most years, large, loose flocks move through the Strathbogie region in early Summer, often with other insect-eating species such as orioles, friar-birds and wattle-birds. Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes often go unnoticed in this crowd.

However, this year they’re making their presence felt, at least around our garden. Whilst there at least several pairs in the vicinity of our house, so they’re seen/heard almost daily, this year a family of 5 or 6 birds (2 adults and 3 juveniles) have taken to hanging out in the trees and garden around the house. Like many other species at the moment, the cuck00-shrikes are feasting on cicadas, which seem particularly numerous and vocal this year.

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So why ‘shrike’? The term ‘shrike’ is used to describe a number of similar, but unrelated bird families, that share certain traits, like: having a hooked bill, feeding on small animals and often impaling their prey on thorns or between branches. In this case, cuckoo-shrikes aren’t cuckoos and they’re not shrikes either, but they have characteristics of both; their flight is  similar to the looping flight of some cuckoos and their colour and body shape is similar to some ‘true’ shrikes.

Spying on the cuckoo-shrikes also gave me nice views of Sacred Kingfishers, White-eared Honeyeaters and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters.

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