Visitor from afar to Alex's backyard


2612 Pheasant Coucal OKBy ALEX NELSON
I have just been privileged with a visit in my back yard of a rare traveller to the Centre – a Pheasant Coucal.
Even better, I managed to get a few photos of this bird. Seen in the Old Eastside of Alice Springs, it is way outside of its normal tropical and coastal distribution.
According to Wikipedia: “The pheasant coucal (Centropus phasianinus) is a species of cuckoo in the family Cuculidae.
“It is found in Australia, Timor and New Guinea.
“Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and subtropical or tropical mangrove forests.
“It has adapted well to canefields in northern Australia. The pheasant coucal is unusual among Australian cuckoos in that it incubates and raises its own young instead of laying its eggs in the nest of another species.”
This is probably the same bird I glimpsed through the canopy of a mulberry tree in front of my flat last November but didn’t have a clear view of it. My first thought was that it is a channel-billed cuckoo helping itself to the fruit but it didn’t look quite right.
Not long afterwards my neighbour across the street reported seeing a pheasant coucal in his yard; since then, however, I’ve not seen any sign of it until today.
2612 Pheasant Coucal 2Pheasant coucals are similar in size to channel-billed cuckoos (regular summer migrants to Alice Springs) but prefer to stay close to the ground and don’t make a raucous cry in the tree-tops as the cuckoos are fond of doing.
The coucals’ spotted brown plumage also makes them harder to distinguish in the dappled shade in tree and shrub canopies.
I had a lucky break to find this bird in plain view on the back lawn, apparently attracted to ripe berries that have dropped off a nearby curry tree.
Although it was wary, I kept a sufficient distance not to spook it and so was able to get a few photos of the bird as it gradually made its way up into a nearby tree canopy via a shed roof and tree stump.
One of those special moments that makes living here so delightful.


  1. Nice work Alex. They have been reported only about once a year from Alice Springs, so certainly quite unusual.

  2. It was in my backyard in Chewings Street in early December, and in another Chewings Street kitchen before that. It is possible that it is a hitchhiker.

  3. Hi Alex, thanks for article on the pheasant coucal. Just on this Friday gone my daughter and I spotted another coucal in the backyard it this was a black one. Maybe it was a jeuvenile? Couldn’t get a photo as it kept moving away from us.

  4. @ John Crellin (Posted February 24, 2019 at 1:27 pm): A most intriguing sighting, John. According to my (very old) “Complete book of Australian birds” juvenile pheasant coucals do have dark plumage; and breeding birds also display darker feathers. I’m not sure if the bird I photographed is in breeding condition.
    Their breeding season extends from October to March so the recent sightings of these birds in the Old Eastside corresponds to that period.
    If your observation is correct, it indicates there are at least two of these birds – possibly more – in town but they are secretive so can only guess at their numbers.
    As Charlie Carter indicates, it begs the question how they got here. Pheasant coucals are weak flyers so it doesn’t seem likely they would make it to Central Australia of their own accord; but maybe we underestimate their abilities.

  5. Hi All,
    The Pheasant Coucal in breeding plumage has a black body but retains its mottled brown plumage on the wings and back.
    If John’s bird was black all over, it could have been a male Koel, a bird of similar appearance to a Coucal though a size smaller.
    Koels are also very occasional visitors to Alice from the north.

  6. I last saw one on the Tanami near Chilla Well several years go and another near Newhaven.
    I took particular notice because it could not fly, but fluttered along the side of the road as though injured.
    I stopped but could not approach it, but it made its way into a low tree with difficulty.
    Perhaps they are extending their range for climatic reasons.

  7. An adult pheasant coucal appeared on the ground in our Old Eastside backyard the other morning.
    It had its black mating plumage, and as others have reported from their sightings, it fluttered (rather than flew) to perch in our date palms, perhaps attracted to their ripening fruit.


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