Old King Koel was a cranky old soul…. you’d have to admit this male Eastern Koel looks pretty fierce. He’s putting on a dominance display for the benefit of another male who’s landed in his territory.
The story started at the Randwick Environmental Centre when a "southerly buster" had just hit. Male koels often get excited by changes in weather, and sure enough, one started carrying on in a nearby banksia tree:
A few minutes later a female koel flew past. He took off after her, and they disappeared into private gardens a few hundred metres away. About ten minutes later, the female reappeared and settled into a dead tree 150 metres away. As I got closer, I saw she was being watched suspiciously by one of two red wattlebirds. (Wattlebird nests are a favourite target for these cuckoos.)
The wattlebirds left as I got closer, leaving the rather tousled-looking female by herself.
The male then flew into a small grove of trees nearby. Then, as I got closer, I saw a second male fly in and perch on a tree next to the first male.
There followed a bit of vocal abuse and threat-displaying from both birds, not always easy to see through the thicket of branches.
Gradually the newcomer seemed to become the more dominant:
The less dominant bird eventually moved off, with the other one following. I left them to it then, but those glowing coal eyes (pun intended) were unforgettable.
Eastern koels (Eudynamus orientalis) are among the larger cuckoos, and like many other cuckoos are migratory, spending about 6 months in the Sydney region from October to April each year before heading off to winter in New Guinea or Indonesia. They are noisiest when breeding, typically not long after they arrive. There is a constant “Coo-ee” call from the male-- melodious but monotonous when continually repeated at around 3 a.m. The males in today’s pictures were making what the Australian Bird Guide describes as an excited ascending “Wurroo-wurroo-wurroo” sound, and which Pizzey describes as slightly manic.
When breeding, koels often parasitise magpie-larks (peewees) and the larger honeyeaters such as wattlebirds. Unlike channel-bill cuckoos, the female doesn’t usually evict or eat the host bird’s eggs (though the chick may push out other fledglings after hatching). Their diet consists mostly of fruit.
Juvenile koels look more like the female, but have more brown plumage, particularly above their eyes, like this one: