Sometimes it is very obvious when the bird you can hear calling is new to the area. In the last couple of weeks a number of Daylesford residents were treated to an extremely loud ‘tee-looo tee-loo’ call – somewhat like a repetitive peacock call.
Fiona McIntyre recorded video footage of the bird calling from a densely leaved European tree, and posted it on the Daylesford grapevine Facebook page. Thus I was thrilled to see and hear evidence of probably the first ever Eastern Koel in Daylesford!
The Eastern Koel is a type of large cuckoo with the males a glossy blue black, pale bill and red eye, and the females a lovely mix of brown and faun. Like other cuckoo species, koels lay their eggs in the nests of other species, known as host birds. Koels primarily use Figbirds, Noisy Friarbirds and Magpie-larks. The hatched cuckoo chick unceremoniously ejects the original bird’s eggs, and then the host species parent feeds this large and very demanding cuckoo chick until it fledges.
Each summer, Koels fly to Australia from New Guinea, Indonesia and possibly the Philippines. They breed in Northern and eastern Austrlia, and then return north around March.
Eastern Koels are changing their range dramatically. In my favourite field guide, the Pizzey and knight 1997 edition, the distribution map shows the range of this species stopping as far north as Sydney. Over the past decades, each year they have been seen further south – in Mallacoota, Bairnsdale and occasionally in Melbourne. And then regularly in Bendigo and Melbourne.
This November has seen a veritable influx, with Koels calling in Greensborough, Camberwell, Frankston, Bendigo, and Daylesford. Why is this range change occurring?
Could it be due to an increase in the availability of their favourite food? They are fruit eaters – figs mainly but also mulberries. It is telling that the birds have been seen mainly in towns with well-watered gardens, perhaps the fruit is more readily available, and of a higher quality?
I was fortunate to be able the pose the question of the Koel’s move southwards to experts at the recent BirdLIfe Ornithological Conference in Adelaide. Sure, the conversation was after a few too many wines after the conference dinner, on the bus back to our motels! But the good work of the bird enthusiast never dims and I was able to get a very good answer.
Our parks and gardens are seeing less and less small birds, and an increase in larger dominant nectar feeding birds such as Red Wattlebirds. Red Wattlebirds are large brown streaked honeyeaters so named for the little red flaps of skin on either side of their faces – their wattles. Red Wattlebirds are doing very well on all the large- flowering banksia and grevillea hybrid species that are planted in towns and gardens.
Virginia Abernathy at Australian National University has been studying Koels and has found that they have recently switched hosts from their usual figbirds and friarbirds to Red Wattlebirds which are abundant in cooler places such as Canberra and Victoria. And indeed Daylesford!
Koels are commonly known as storm birds as their calls come before big rains. The Bureau predicts much higher than average rainfall in western Victoria for January and February – I am happy to take the Koel’s visit as a very good omen!