A cuckoo in the nest?

My recently acquired hobbies of blogging and photography have made me far more aware and curious about what is going on around me. Especially in our garden and out on our walks. About a month ago I saw a “new” bird in our garden. By “new”, I of course mean that it was one I could not identify. Some very blurry photos and a vague description, resulted in a friend suggesting that it might be a young cuckoo. He suggested trying to find out which birds this one was “hanging out with”. At first I thought that the pair of Fiscal Shrikes (Lanius collaris) in our garden were attacking it, but after a while I realised that they were looking after it. Our bird identification books had photographs of similar looking young cuckoos . . .  but not quite.

Eventually I was able to get this clearer photograph of the young bird, and something made me tap in “Juvenile Fiscal Shrike” on Google. And there it was! Except for the very distinctive beak, it really doesn’t look like its parents does it? It’s also behaving a little like a cuckoo – is very demanding of its parents, and not popular amongst the other birds in our garden.

A cuckoo or not? Actually a juvenile Fiscal Shrike. ©LB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

Maybe the other birds know the reputation that the Fiscal Shrikes have. They are commonly known as “Jackie Hangman or Butcher Birds due to [their] habit of impaling [their] prey on acacia thorns to store the food for later consumption” (Wikipedia article). We don’t have acacias with thorns in our garden, but I’ve watched these birds impale worms on any sharp stake-like twig they can find. Quite gruesome!

An adult Fiscal Shrike - the parent of the juvenile above. ©LB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

I wonder what will happen when this baby grows up. Will it leave our garden – or just set up home in another corner of it? And if it stays, will it torment Lucy (our cat) as much as its parents do? Lucy just needs to set a paw outside of the house, and they start to shriek at her. Then they follow her as she does her rounds of our property, continuing to make a racket and warning any living creature that there’s a kitty on the prowl!

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Categories: Nature/Environment, Random


I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at https://notesfromafrica.wordpress.com and http://southerncape.wordpress.com (my photoblog)


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22 Comments on “A cuckoo in the nest?”

  1. February 15, 2012 at 11:23 am #

    Great photos! I love the fact that you have such cute birds in your garden. We have possums in ours. I love those too except when they eat all my parsley.

    • February 16, 2012 at 8:46 am #

      Well, these aren’t the cutest birds we’ve got . . . You don’t have ANY birds in your garden?!

      • February 16, 2012 at 11:54 am #

        We have noisy minors and sparrows of course. We hear kookaburras, but rarely see them. We have bats that come to feed in the evenings on the palm trees and mango trees around us. We have a couple of blue tongue lizards and lots of gheckos. We had a lovely green frog come to visit a little while ago. We live very close to the city, so I think it is amazing we get anything. And how could I forget the bush turkeys who strut around our streets, building mounds wherever they can find suitable building materials. I love them, but they are not popular with everyone.

      • February 21, 2012 at 8:23 am #

        That’s interesting . . . I thought that Queensland would be literally full of different bird species. Or is that “bird drought” only in the city? Even though we live in a small city, the local gardens are very green and beautiful, and we get a lot of interesting birds coming in from the neighbouring forests and mountains.

  2. February 15, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    Well done on getting those pictures, Lisa. Photographing birds isn’t very easy, is it? I did not know that fiscal shrikes liked to impale their food – fascinating! I love coming here to learn more about my own country and its flora and fauna.

    (Incidentally, something was a bit odd with your layout – the reply section was right ontop of the black footer, and I couldn’t get to the ‘Post Comment’ click. Luckily, Debra had left her comment, so I could paste mine in again after refreshing the page.)

    • February 16, 2012 at 8:55 am #

      Thank you! It was raining the day I took the photo of the juvenile bird. The “fuzziness” around the bird are actual raindrops.

      You didn’t know about fiscal shrikes? Here’s another piece of useless info for you: In Afrikaans they’re called “Laksman” birds which means “executioner” or “hangman”. Which sounds even worse!

      Thanks for letting me know about my blog problems. It’s not the only one. It appears that my blog layout keeps reverting to its original format and ignoring any CSS changes I’ve made.

  3. February 15, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

    Who knew that’s what a cuckoo looked like. I’d never seen one before. Great photo, Lisa.

    • February 16, 2012 at 8:56 am #

      Thanks Kathy! Well, it looks like a cuckoo . . . but then turned out not to be.

  4. Jackie Cangro
    February 16, 2012 at 6:06 am #

    You are a super sleuth! I wouldn’t have guessed that plain-looking bird was the younger version of the more handsome bird.
    I have a feeling they wouldn’t have a second thought about dive bombing poor Lucy if she got too close.

    • February 16, 2012 at 8:58 am #

      I’m very good at Googling things! 🙂 I only did the search because I couldn’t find a cuckoo with the specific beak shape. Yes, poor Lucy is right! She tries to ignore them these days, but you can see the look of irritation on her face.

  5. Sarita Botha
    February 16, 2012 at 8:21 am #

    Wow! those are great photos. well done.

    • February 16, 2012 at 8:59 am #

      Thank you! As you can see I’ve improved a little from the early days of bird photography! 😉

  6. February 16, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    Lovely photos: intelligent birds if a little barbaric!
    I find watching the bird life around here quite mesmerising, but I always have to have an identification book to hand. Recently I saw a crow and a rat having an argument: they each had hold of one end of some food and neither would let go. The crow kept flapping up into the air while the rat danced about on its back feet refusing to let go: it was too heavy for the crow to take off completely. The rat won:)

    • February 21, 2012 at 8:24 am #

      Thanks! It helps if the birds perch reasonably close by and sit still for long enough for me to focus the camera.

  7. February 18, 2012 at 4:37 am #

    Wow, you able to get really close to those birds. Nice shots!

    • February 21, 2012 at 8:25 am #

      Thanks! I had to zoom in to get those shots, but it helped a lot that the birds were posing for me. 😉

  8. Lu
    February 18, 2012 at 9:24 am #

    I would never have guessed that this would be a young Fiscal Shrike – great shot!
    I do feel sorry for poor Lucy – imagine not being able to relax in your own back garden 😦

    Re: CSS reverting to default theme styles, mine does that too – and unfortunately it is usually due to the speed of your connection to the internet. It always happens at certain times of the day – perhaps when the local network is a bit jammed due to too many people trying to surf at the same time. Not so strange that all three of us suffering this problem are all in South Africa!! I’m not on ADSL… – perhaps that would improve things 😉

    • February 21, 2012 at 8:25 am #

      I don’t think I’d ever seen a young Fiscal Shrike before now. Would also never have guessed that it would look like this.

  9. March 27, 2012 at 6:41 am #

    Such a lovely bird! I am always so thrilled by your photos and posts. I am giving you the Sunshine Award; hope you don’t mind! http://believeanyway.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/well-sing-in-the-sunshine-well-laugh-every-day/

  10. April 5, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    I am in awe! – photographing birds is SO difficult and you have done it so well. When I first arrived in the UK I thought ‘their’ birds were very boring compared to birds in SA (well not many birds can hold a candle to a Lilac Breasted Roller…) but then I discovered that they do have interesting birds. They also have Shrikes who pin their victims/food to thorns etc. The Shrikes in the UK are visitors from abroad – the Great Grey Shrike and the Red-backed Shrike.
    Now I am living in China and here in Beijing I hardly ever see or hear birds – why am I surprised, they’re not stupid, if they come here and perch for a nano second someone will scoop them up and put them into a soup!

    • April 19, 2012 at 9:14 am #

      Thanks for your kind comment! I practise my bird photography on the birds that visit our garden, which is a more controlled environment than photographing them out in “the wild”. For us that is often the Kalahari. Don’t know if you’ve seen the posts on a few of the birds we photographed there?

      Raptors: http://wp.me/pXfHY-4D
      Little Birds: http://wp.me/pXfHY-ah
      More Little Birds: http://wp.me/pXfHY-fQ

      Yes, the Lilac Breasted Roller is a beautiful bird. Although I follow the blog of a Canadian nature blogger/photographer and some of the birds she photographs have amazing colours. Very different blues to what we get here in Southern Africa.

      Your comment about the birds staying away from Beijing made me laugh!

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