Becky Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.
LET'S NOT EVEN talk about how it looks like a medieval war bird, ready to strike some rebels, or a dinosaur that walked straight out of the Cretaceous and into the present day, just so it could eyeball us all to death.
We don’t need to convince you that this is clearly one of the coolest looking birds in Australia. But there’s another reason why the pheasant coucal (Centropus phasianinus) is worth a closer look.
Not only is it one of the largest cuckoo species in the country, but unlike most cuckoo birds, the pheasant coucal actually takes its parenting very seriously.
Found in northern and eastern Australia and the Torres Strait islands, the pheasant coucal's range extends from the Pilbara region of Western Australia, all the way over to the south-eastern coast of New South Wales. It’s also found in Timor and east and southeast New Guinea.
With a particular attraction to the canefields of northern Australia, and our tropical and subtropical forests and mangroves, the pheasant coucal is one of the few cuckoo species that lives its entire life on the ground, feeding on large insects, frogs, lizards, eggs, and whatever tiny birds and mammals it can get its claws on.
That’s actually where it gets its name from – being large and heavyset, with black, white, and golden markings along its wings and tail feathers, it looks just like a pheasant, running through the undergrowth.
It even startles like a pheasant – if it feels threatened, the pheasant coucal is much more likely to run for cover, because if it opts for flight, it’s going to have to settle for a really clumsy exit.
But at least it looks good doing it at the right moment: