Eastern Koel

A male Common Koel concealed within foliage of a tree. [Photographed by Peter Rowland]


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Scientific Name: Eudynamys orientalis

Size: 39 to 46 cm

What does it look and sound like?

When seen, the male Eastern Koel is easily identified by its entirely glossy black plumage, tinged with blue and green, and striking red eye. The female has glossed brown upperparts, heavily spotted with white, and a black crown. The underparts are generally buff-cream with numerous fine black bars. Young birds resemble the adult female, but have a dark eye. The Eastern Koel is a member of the cuckoo family. The male Eastern Koel advertises its presence by a loud ascending whistle “coo-ee” or “ko-el“, monotonously repeated; the call of the female is a repetitive “wook-wook-wook…“.

There are two subspecies of the Eastern Koel in Australia. Birds across the north belong to the subspecies E. s. subcyanocephala and are smaller and duller than E. s. cyanocephala from the east.

Another member of the genus is the Long-tailed Cuckoo, Eudynamys taitensis, of New Zealand, Fiji and the Solomon Islands. This bird loosely resembles the female Eastern Koel in plumage.

Where is it found?

In late September and early October each year, the Eastern Koel arrives in Australia from India and New Guinea to breed. It inhabits the tall forests and suburbs of northern and eastern Australia, south to about Nowra, New South Wales.

The Koels leave southern Australia in about March. Most birds migrate from Australia to New Guinea, Indonesia and the Philippines, but some will stay in northern Australia.

What are its habitats & habits?

Eastern Koels feed almost entirely in the canopy of trees. Occasionally mixed flocks are formed with other species such as pigeons. Food consists fruits, especially figs, taken directly from the tree.

The Eastern Koel is a brood parasite, in that it lays its eggs in the nests of other bird species. Common hosts are friarbirds, the Magpie-lark, Grallina cyanoleuca, and figbirds. A single egg is laid in the host’s nest and once hatched the chick forces the other eggs and hatchlings out of the nest. When the chick leaves the nest it roosts in the outer branches of a tree, cheeping incessantly while the significantly smaller parents desperately search for sufficient food to satisfy the nagging youngster. This is a full-time job, as the young Koel will grow to nearly twice their size over the next 4 to 6 weeks.

The adult Koels gradually make their way back to Asia in March and early April to continue breeding. Here they parasitise members of the crow family.

Interesting facts

Also known as: Common Koel; Pacific Koel

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Front cover of Australia's Birdwatching Megaspots book showing a picture of an Eastern Spinebill

This species features in my book Australia’s Birdwatching Megaspots

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