The world's largest parasitic cuckoo has landed in Australia for breeding season and it's wreaking havoc on all kinds of Australians, feathered and not.
You're more likely to have heard the channel-billed cuckoo than seen it, with its constant, grating squawks an unwelcome midnight alarm for many Australians throughout the spring.
But that's where the clock's glory resemblance to disturbing woodcuckoos begins and stops.
One, the cuckoo billed on the channel is much larger. With a wingspan of up to one meter and weighing up to a kilogram, it is the largest cuckoo and parasitic cuckoo in the world.
Second, its growl sounds like something out of Jurassic Park, and its appearance doesn't stop it from being compared to monsters, demons, or even Satan himself: with its large, curved, toucan-like snout and bright red eyes.
Nor stealing other birds' nests to lay eggs, sometimes by eating the nestling's eggs, then leaving her own brood to raise the “nurse” bird that outgrew the nest.
In general, this makes some cuckoos on the channel, “A **hole”.
Still, the bird experts we spoke to were quick to defend this exotic foreigner, originating from Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, visiting in the spring to breed before leaving again in February and March.
Great Eastern Ridge Initiative CEO Gary Holling said the cuckoo billed on the channel was far more “extraordinary” than we give them credit for.
He said it was not a “problem bird” and had actually helped keep other “problem species” with even more “predatory” tendencies to steal nests, such as magpies or kuraungs, “under control”.
“Canal wrens are actually a prolific species, they live in habitats where there is a large abundance of native figs and other fruit trees,” Mr Holling said.
“They get bigger insects and sometimes they get eggs. But they prefer fruit. “
Dr John Martin, senior ecologist at Ecosure Consultancy, echoed the veteran environmentalist's claim, saying the channel bill is no different to what other parasitic species do in the name of survival.
“It's a very successful strategy that allows them to lay their eggs in another species' nest, they don't have to do the work of parenting and they go and lay another egg,” Dr Martin said.
When a female channel bill is ready to lay her eggs, she will find the nest of a similar larger bird—a magpie, crow, or kuraung—and place hers among the others. Sometimes, it first eats eggs already laid by other birds to clear space.
When the cuckoo chicks hatch, they are cared for by the host birds that built the nest in the first place, and scientists have observed that they grow so fast and demand so much food from the “nurturer” birds that the other chicks starve.
But Dr Martin says there is evidence that cuckoos billed on the canal are “actively pushing these (younger) birds out”.
“It has been proven that they occupy the nest not only passively, but also actively,” he said.
“It's a unique example of adaptation, and if we appreciate them and recognize them, we can see them as big, beautiful birds – also noisy and intriguing.”
Adding to the intrigue is that the bird's loud arrivals in early spring from Papua New Guinea and Indonesia seem to welcome the first storms of the wet season up north. That is why it is sometimes nicknamed “storm bird”.
“They are certainly noticeable when they come here and noticeable when they leave, but they are not a bird that people can be afraid of,” Mr Holling said.
“They have a fascinating story of their migration being so remarkable and they are one of the species to be proud of as it provides a tangible lateral link to our neighbors (PNG and Indonesia).
Dr Martin agreed, saying their noisy arrival – and self-respect – albeit in the uncomfortably early hours – represented “the new sound of summer”.
“These birds weren't common in Sydney ten years ago and it's one of the few seasonal indicators we can pick up on,” he said, just like a jacaranda or bush flowering.
“I think they give us a change to appreciate nature and know that even when we are in the city, we are in nature. There are plants and animals, some do well and some don't.”
“When taking the work bus to work or picking up the children, we should think: enjoy the moment and watch the birds. Take a walk in the park to focus on everything around you,” added Dr. Martin.