The Whoop Whoop Bird of the Escarpment: The Pheasant Coucal

Pheasant CoucalShe might look like a big chicken (maybe a Rhode Island Red), but the Pheasant Coucal is a fascinating bird that does something quite different to other cuckoos.

The Pheasant Coucal (Centropus phasianinus) is unlike other cuckoos in two ways:

1. They make their nest on the ground.
2. They make their own nest, care for their own eggs and raise their own young.

Other cuckoos don’t make their own nests. They, instead, lay their eggs in the nests of other bird species. By the time the young cuckoos are born, the non-cuckoo mum thinks the young baby cuckoo is hers and rears them as her own.


Pheasant Coucal plumage is a beautiful red-brown colour, with dramatic black and red wings with white stripes; they look distinctive even when unextended. Their very long black and white tail, making up the rest of their 50cm to 70 cm frame, make them look like a pheasant.

During breeding season, Coucals’ head and neck feathers colour turn a dramatic dark brown / black colour.

Habit & habitat

The Pheasant Coucal tends to run along the ground. They can fly, but aren’t the most elegant in the air, preferring to fly-jump from tree to tree before reaching their destination.

Sclerophyll Forest with CycadsCoucals to use low-growing shrubs and dead trees to move from one place to the next. They like thicker lower shrubs for ground protection from exposure to threats.

Coucals love forests with understory vegetation, such as bracken, grasses and rushes. They go well in wet sclerophyll forests, which offer a variety of low-growing plants to help them move from one place to another and to rear their young.

Where are they found?

Pheasant Coucals can be found in northern and eastern Australia. They are also found in Western Australia’s Pilbara region and south-eastern NSW. They’re sedentary animals, meaning they stay in the place they find adequate food and shelter. Our Coucals have been nesting in the Tamborine Mountain Escarpment for years, always returning to the same nesting site.

Breeding & feeding

Pheasant Coucals pair for life. The male Coucal incubates the eggs – from one to five in a single nest. Both the male and female Coucals take turns feeding their young, but the male does most of the work.

Pheasant Coucals live on lizards, frogs and insects (and sometimes small mammals).

The sound of the Pheasant CoucalPheasant Coucal

Pheasant Coucals are also called the Whoop Whoop Bird, or, to residents in the Escarpment “Whoopies”. They are called this for a very good reason; they have a very distinctive call, where they whoop several times to communicate with their partner Coucals.

The Pheasant Coucal is a beautiful ground-dwelling bird; just one of the many amazing animals of the Escarpment.

More information:

Birds in Backyards: Pheasant Coucal
BirdLife Australia: Pheasant Coucal
Graeme Chapman: Read about the Pheasant Coucal
Graeme Chapman: Hear the Pheasant Coucal

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