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Shining cuckoo spied hiding in the branches

While recently investigating the mysterious chirping noise coming from the backyard, a local photographer discovered such a peculiar scene that she couldn’t believe her eyes.

Masterton-based photographer Jade Cvetkov said she was at home last week when she heard some unusual, high-pitched cheeping from the backyard.

“I went out to check it out, and it was a bloody cuckoo up our tree!” Cvetkov said.

“Then I saw this tiny little bird flying around and feeding it.”

While unusual to witness, the situation unfolding before Cvetkov was a shining cuckoo being fed and cared for by a grey warbler.

Shining cuckoos are ‘brood parasites’, meaning that they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds – in New Zealand, these are mainly grey warblers – and leave them to be raised by that bird.

According to Predator Free NZ, the unsuspecting grey warbler doesn’t know that the baby cuckoo isn’t biologically its own despite it being absolutely dwarfed in size by the chick.

Cvetkov – who has a keen interest in birds – said she was mesmerised watching the grey warbler feed the cuckoo chick and admired its iridescent green wings and striped chest.

“I’d heard about it before, but never in my life thought I’d see it myself and definitely not in Masterton,” Cvetkov said.

“It just sat there with its mouth open, waiting for the other bird to feed him.”

Department of Conservation science advisor Kerry Weston said that the shining cuckoo is common throughout New Zealand but is heard more often than seen.

“It has a distinctive whistling call with several upwardly-slurred whistles followed by a single downwardly-slurred whistle.”

To get away with the adoption hoax, Weston said that after hatching, the cuckoo chick ejects all grey warbler eggs or nestlings from the nest and is raised alone.

It was difficult to gauge the age of the cuckoo chick in Cvetkov’s backyard, but Weston said if it’s still being fed, it’s probably only a few weeks old despite being much larger than its grey warbler ‘mother’.

She said that while raising the shining cuckoo comes at the cost of the grey warbler’s own brood, it doesn’t appear to impact the overall health of its population.

“Riroriro [grey warbler] are widespread throughout New Zealand and locally abundant in suitable habitats,” Weston said.

“They are not threatened.”

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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