- Written by Nadia O'Carroll
With a length of 39-46 centimetres, the koel is quite a large bird but it can also be shy and difficult to see so it is more often heard than seen.
The male and female have quite different plumage. The male is glossy black while the female has a black head and neck, its back and wings are brown with fine white spots and its chest is buff with fine black bars.
The Common Koel feeds on fruit such as figs and may also take caterpillars and insects. It feeds in the canopy of forests, parks and gardens and will occasionally join flocks of other species such as pigeons.
The Common Koel is a long distance migrant, which divides its time between New Guinea and northern and eastern Australia (south to Eastern Victoria). In September/October it arrives in Australia from New Guinea for its breeding season.
The Common Koel is a cuckoo and is a brood parasite. The male and female only appear to have a short-term pair bonding. The female lays one egg in the nest of the host bird, often Wattlebirds, Friarbirds or Magpie Larks, sometimes she returns to feed the nestling. The Koel nestling does not always eject other hatchlings, but it is the largest, noisiest and most demanding nestling in the nest, and its much smaller “parents” must work hard to satisfy its appetite.
In March the Koels leave Australia to return to New Guinea, they travel long distances. A Koel ringed in New South Wales was located in New Guinea 2950 kms away.
The young Koels usually leave for New Guinea shortly after the adult birds. This is a remarkable journey since the young birds do not have any parental guidance or escort to make this first long journey to New Guinea.
The Common Koel’s distinctive calls are a reminder that summer is not too far away.