nly two species of land-based cuckoo
The shining cuckoo
winters in the western
tropical Pacific – from Indonesia to the
Solomon Islands and Bismarck Archipelago.
Known also by Maori as the “bird of Hawaiki”
and, as tradition told of the annual wintering in
Hawaiki, it is thought the migratory flight of the
may have encouraged them to
make their own great migration here.
The cuckoo arrives exhausted in the northern
region of the North Island. Maori state that
a favourite landing place is Manganui Bluff,
where they can be seen in great numbers
after their arrival. The bird is said to carry in its
claws a small pebble, usually white, which it
licks during flight when thirsty.
The shining cuckoo is a ‘brood parasite’,
meaning it lays its eggs into the nest of another
bird, usually a grey warbler, for its offspring
... harbinger of
“Ka tangi te
wharauroa, ko nga
karere a Mahuru”,
says a Maori proverb.
“If the shining
cuckoo cries it is the
messenger of Spring”.
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to be raised by this unwitting surrogate. The
choice of nest is a bit of a puzzler, for the
parent cuckoo is too large to get inside the
warbler’s woven nest.
And what a comical sight to see the tiny
warbler feeding the gaping mouth of this
comparatively giant ‘baby’. The clever cuckoo
is also known to foster its chicks out to
fantails, tits and silvereyes.
These amazing birds, about the size of a
sparrow, are iridescent dark green above,
its white front banded with green horizontal
stripes. Want to catch sight of one? Cuckoos
are characteristically shy, adept at concealing
themselves. But you might be lucky to see one
while it is distracted foraging for its favourite
meal, the kowhai moth caterpillar.
Liz Hart’s watercolour
(see Gallery ad p3).
Shining Cuckoo illustration by Walter Lawry Buller,
A History of the Birds of New Zealand
by Sandra Scott
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