Coucal Pheasant
Coucal Pheasant Centropus phasianinus

Yesterday I had a short drive – only 700 kilometres or so – down the Stuart Highway from Katherine to Tennant Creek. A few hours into my trip a fluttering wing, tossed by a strong hot wind caught my eye and I stopped to record the very recent death of this Coucal Pheasant.

Coucal Pheasants are clumsy fliers that seem often to flutter or stagger clumsily across roadways in front of cars and trucks. Many years ago a friend struck one while driving. Assuming it dead he didn’t stop – only to be surprised when he did to see a very much alive – if not very shocked – Coucal distentangle itself from the grille of his car and stagger away into the scrub.

For mine the most attractive characteristic of this atypical member of the Australian cuckoos – unlike the others it is the only member of that family is not an “obligate brood parasite” and alone of that group makes its own nest – is its call.

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That call is an iconic sound of summer across the Top End – a bubbling, ventriloqual, quickening and falling “boop, boop, boop” that booms through the thick scrub where these birds are typically found.

This bird is in its relatively plain non-breeding plumage…but still beautiful nonetheless. The copper-colour on the under-wings – that grabbed me eye event at 120 km/h remains in the breeding plumage that emerges in the coming breeding season, when the body plumage changes to a lustrous black, setting off the mottled cream and rufous wing plumage.

And for mine they are no less beautiful in death as in life…

Look out for these birds – they can be very difficult to spot and their ventriloqual call can mislead as to just where they are. You can see Coucal Pheasants right down the eastern seaboard to around the Illawarra in New South Wales and in the west down to about the Pilbara. And there have been records of them as far south in the NT as Alice Springs.

Also along the road I saw many other roadkills – including many young Wedge-tailed Eagles the victims of what I call secondary roadkill . But that is for another day…

But very much dead.

PS: Apologies for my silence here over the recent few weeks – I have been busy with work and travel and promise to soon post the many pieces sitting in my files.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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