Black-faced cuckoo-shrike (Coracina novaehollandiae)
|Also known as:||Australian greybird, Australian shrike, black-faced cuckooshrike, blue jay, Blue Mountain pigeon, blue pigeon, cherry-hawk, greater cuckoo-shrike, gunidjaa, lapwing, large cuckoo-shrike, leatherhead, shufflewing, summer-bird, white-vented cuckoo-shrike|
|Size||Length: 32 - 35 cm (2) (3)|
|Weight||89 - 150 g (2) (3)|
- Despite its name, the black-faced cuckoo-shrike is neither a cuckoo nor a shrike.
- The black-faced cuckoo-shrike is also known as the shufflewing, due to the way it shuffles and stows its wings when it lands.
- The black-faced cuckoo-shrike eats a wide variety of invertebrates, including grasshoppers, wasps and beetles, but it also feeds on fruits and seeds.
- The materials used to make the small, neat nest of the black-faced cuckoo-shrike are bound together using spider webs.
- The flight of the black-faced cuckoo-shrike is described as being lazy and undulating.
The black-faced cuckoo-shrike is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Despite its name, the black-faced cuckoo-shrike (Coracina novaehollandiae) is neither a cuckoo nor a shrike (3) (4). Cuckoo-shrikes (Coracina species) get their name from the stout, hooked, shrike-like bill and their cuckoo-like shape and plumage (3).
Much like other members of its genus, the black-faced cuckoo-shrike has a slim body, long pointed wings, and a fairly long tail (3). Male and female black-faced cuckoo-shrikes are similar in appearance (2), and this species can easily be recognised by its distinctive black facial mask and throat (3) (5), which stand out against the slate-grey upperparts and paler grey underparts (3). Except for the central two feathers, which are grey, the black-faced cuckoo-shrike’s tail is black (2), and tipped with white (2) (5). The eyes, bill and legs of this species are also black (2).
The juvenile black-faced cuckoo-shrike can be distinguished from the adult by its white throat and cheeks, the arrow-shaped black bars decorating the throat, and the crescent-like grey barring on the head and upper breast (2). The juvenile also has a duller facial mask than the adult (3).
The three recognised subspecies of black-faced cuckoo-shrike are all slightly different in appearance. Coracina novaehollandiae subpallida differs from Coracina novaehollandiae novaehollandiae by having much paler grey upperparts, a very pale grey breast and a whitish belly. Coracina novaehollandiae melanops is very similar to C. n. novaehollandiae, but it has a longer bill, and its more southern populations are also longer-winged (2).
The black-faced cuckoo-shrike flies in a lazy, undulating manner (6), and upon landing on a branch or stump it repeatedly shuffles its wings and lifts them up and down until they are in place by its side (4) (5) (6). This behaviour has earned the black-faced cuckoo-shrike the alternative name of ‘shufflewing’ (4).
When in flight, the black-faced cuckoo-shrike is said to call with a cheerful-sounding ‘shri-lunnk’, as well as a plaintive ‘plee-urk’. This species also produces loud, musical purring notes (2) (5) as well as harsh ‘kreer’ and ‘skair’ calls (2).
The black-faced cuckoo-shrike is native to Australia, as well as to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste, and it is also known as a vagrant in New Caledonia (7) and New Zealand (2) (4) (5) (7).
The three subspecies of black-faced cuckoo-shrike all have different ranges, between them covering most of mainland Australia, as well as Tasmania and islands in the Bass Strait (2).
Primarily an inhabitant of open eucalypt forest and woodland (2) (3) (6), the black-faced cuckoo-shrike also occurs on forest edges (2), in grassland (3), along gullies (6), and even in parks, gardens and farmland (2) (3).
The black-faced cuckoo-shrike is generally found in coastal areas and lowlands, including islands, although in New Guinea it has been recorded up to elevations of 1,830 metres (2).
The black-faced cuckoo-shrike is usually seen singly or in pairs, although groups of up to ten birds are occasionally observed. However, in the southern parts of its range, this species is migratory (5), and it is known to gather in large numbers prior to migration (2).
The diet of the black-faced cuckoo-shrike consists of a wide variety of invertebrates, such as grasshoppers, dragonflies, spiders and worms (2), as well as seeds and fruits (2) (3), including mistletoe, figs and berries (2).
The black-faced cuckoo-shrike usually forages for food among the foliage of the canopy (2) (6), as well as under bark (2). Most prey is caught by flying out from a perch, known as sallying, although insects are sometimes caught on short hovering flights over trees or low grass (2) (6). The black-faced cuckoo-shrike is also known to seize insects from the ground (2) (4), behaving like a shrike and swooping down from a favourite perch to catch its invertebrate prey (4). Large prey items, such as moths and larvae, are usually bashed against a branch before being consumed (6).
The timing of breeding in the black-faced cuckoo-shrike varies depending on the location, although in arid regions it often occurs after the rains. Populations in northern Australia breed between May and February, while those in the south breed between August and January. Like all other cuckoo-shrike species, the black-faced cuckoo-shrike is monogamous, and both sexes are involved in building the nest (2).
The black-faced cuckoo-shrike’s small nest is a neat, shallow cup made of fine twigs, bark and dry grasses, which is lined with finer materials (2) and bound together with spider webs (2) (3). The nest is placed on the horizontal fork of a tree, usually between 8 and 20 metres above the ground, and the adult birds defend it by diving at intruders, or posturing by raising the feathers of the crown, back and rump, fanning the tail and opening the mouth to display the pink-red palate (2).
The female black-faced cuckoo-shrike lays a clutch of two to three eggs, which are incubated by both sexes, although the incubation period is unknown (2). Both the male and the female black-faced cuckoo-shrike care for the young birds (2) (3), which fledge at 22 to 26 days old (2).
Although the black-faced cuckoo-shrike is widespread and locally common in Australia and is not considered to be globally threatened (2), its population is thought to be in decline as a result of habitat destruction (7).
As the black-faced cuckoo-shrike has an extremely large range and is not currently considered to be at risk of extinction (7), there are no known conservation measures specifically in place for this species.
Find out more about the black-faced cuckoo-shrike:
BirdLife International - Black-faced cuckoo-shrike:
Learn more about bird conservation in Australia:
Find out more about conservation in Australia:
Australian Wildlife Conservancy:
Australian Conservation Foundation:
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- Genus: a category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
- Incubate: to keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- Incubation: the act of incubating eggs; that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
- Invertebrates: animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
- Larva: immature stage in an animal’s lifecycle, after it hatches from an egg and before it changes into the adult form. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but are usually unable to reproduce.
- Monogamous: having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
- Subspecies: a population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
- Vagrant: an individual found outside the normal range of the species.
IUCN Red List (September, 2012)
- del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D.A. (2005) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 10: Cuckoo-shrikes to Thrushes. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
- BirdLife International (2011) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Birds. Dorling Kindersley Ltd., London.
- Burton, R. (1970) The International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Volume 1. Marshall Cavendish, Singapore.
- Leach, J.A. (2005) An Australian Bird Book: A Complete Guide to the Identification of Australian Birds. Kessinger Publishing, Montana, USA.
- Tzaros, C. and Shimba, T. (2005) Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country. CSIRO Publishing, Victoria, Australia.
BirdLife International (September, 2012)