A New Zealand Summer Migrant: The Elusive Shining Cuckoo

Chrysococcyx lucidus [SHINING CUCKOO] Ruatiti, New Zealand 05-01-2018 (16)
Click to zoom in

A Familiar Noise

Most, if not all of those that have spent time outdoors in New Zealand’s summer, will recognise this noise: Weep weep weep weep weep woooooop (click to listen).  Few of these people, however, will have actually seen the creature that belts out this long, repetitive whistling tune.  The reason for this is perhaps down to its small size, cryptic colouration and habit of remaining high up in the tree tops.

This mystery whistler only calls during the summer here in New Zealand because in the winter it travels great distances to the tropics.

Another fascinating aspect of this creature’s life history, other than its long annual trans-oceanic migration, is that it is a brood parasite. It will lay its eggs singly in the nests of tiny grey warblers (Gerygone igata) by removing one egg from the warbler’s nest and replacing it with an olive-green egg of its own.

This intriguing bird is the shining cuckoo, and the subject of today’s blog post.

Click to zoom in

The Search

Since getting hold of a long-reach lens (Tamron 150-600mm) for my Nikon D500, I have been lugging it around in the hope I would be lucky enough to hear a shining cuckoo, pin-point which tree it is in and hone in on the branch it is sitting on. Despite the enormous length of time I spend outside and the numerous birds I have heard, getting to even see one through the lens has proven nearly impossible.

Recently, we spent some time camping at Ruatiti Domain in the Ruapehu District. We had been planning this trip for awhile, so when a subtropical storm was forecast to roll in, we decided to brave the weather, even if it meant very wet walks and sitting in the caravan for days on end. The first few days gave us a continuous deluge of heavy rain. Very few birds were heard or seen from the window of the caravan during the downpour.

At around 5am while lying in bed, I realised that the rain had suddenly stopped.  The birds began to sing as the sun was rising and amongst the cacophony of songs, I could hear numerous shining cuckoos. I snatched the camera from the darkness and stepped out into the morning light. For the next 30 minutes, I could hear and see roughly 10 shining cuckoos high in the canopy of a few trees. As the light improved, I snapped away hoping that one bird would drop low enough for me to get a clear photograph. Eventually the opportunity presented itself and I took these three crisp photographs and then all the birds were gone.

Click to zoom in

Shining Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx lucidus) Facts

Biology and General

  • The shining cuckoo’s Maori name is Pīpīwharauroa
  • It weighs 23g and measures 16cm in length which is approximately the same size as a house sparrow
  • They are found near forest and scrub, but can be found wherever its host species is found
  • Male and female shining cuckoo look alike
  • Shining cuckoo are predominantly insectivorous
  • Like most cuckoos, they have the ability to eat toxic insects like hairy caterpillars and ladybirds
  • Their most recognisable call is a string of ascending whistles followed by one or two descending whistles. Other calls they make can be heard here.
  • The shining cuckoo is one of two cuckoos found in New Zealand, the other being the long-tailed cuckoo.


  • They migrate from their tropical overwintering grounds of the Bismarck Archipelago (New Guinea) and Solomon Islands to New Zealand where they spend the summer
  • They are first heard in New Zealand sometime around September or October
  • They make their migration to the tropics in February or March
  • The New Zealand subspecies breeds only in New Zealand (including the Chatham Islands)
  • Different subspecies breed in Australia, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and on Rennell and Bellona Islands (Solomon Islands)
  • The two cuckoos found in New Zealand are the only migratory bush birds in New Zealand

Brood Parasites

  •  Shining cuckoos are brood parasites, laying their eggs singly in nests of grey warblers
  • Shining cuckoos remove one egg from a grey warbler’s nest and replace it with an olive-green egg of their own
  • The eggs are laid in November, and are then left to be completely cared for by the nest owner, the grey warbler
  • About 4 to 7 days after the shining cuckoo chick has hatched, it will kick out all of the remaining grey warbler eggs and chicks
  • Young cuckoos are dependent on their foster-parents for several weeks after fledging

Click to zoom in

Recording Sightings

Little is known about the migration patterns of either species of cuckoo found in New Zealand, so researchers are keen to find out all the information they can. They are particularly interested in the dates the cuckoos arrive at each part of the country.

If you hear or see one of these birds, you can help by reporting your sighting using the following links:

Shining cuckoo records

Long-tailed cuckoo records

You can also add your pictures and log your sighting on NatureWatchNZ (the New Zealand branch of iNaturalist).


Chrysococcyx lucidus [SHINING CUCKOO] Ruatiti, New Zealand 05-01-2018 (14)
Click to zoom in

References and Further Reading

Climate Watch Website – http://www.climatewatch.org.au/species/birds/shining-bronze-cuckoo
(Retrieved 7 January, 2018)

iNaturalist Websites – https://www.inaturalist.org/
(Retrieved 7 January, 2018)

Janzoon Website, Shining Cuckoo – http://www.janszoon.org/the-park/our-birds/shining-cuckoo-pipiwharauroa/
(Retrieved 7 January, 2018)

New Zealand Birds Online Website, Long Tailed Cuckoo – http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/long-tailed-cuckoo
(Retrieved 7 January, 2018)

New Zealand Birds Online Website, Shining Cuckoo – http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/shining-cuckoo
(Retrieved 7 January, 2018

Radio New Zealand – Birds: Shining Cuckoo (An episode of “This Way Up” from 10 September 2011)

Te Ara Website, Shining Cuckoo – https://teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/7225/shining-cuckoo
(Retrieved 7 January, 2018)

Wildabout New Zealand Website, Shining Cukckoo – http://www.wildaboutnz.co.nz/2010/10/shining-cuckoo/
(Retrieved 7 January, 2018)



16 Comments Add yours

  1. “Ka tangi te wharauroa, ko ngā kārere ā Mahuru.”
    “If the shining cuckoo cries, it is the messenger of spring.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wendy says:

    What beautiful photographs and thank you for the information and the links. Shining and long tailed cuckoos are annual visitors to our place. I had a wonderful experience early one morning when I was out watering the garden. A shining cuckoo decided the hose was it’s personal shower and spent half a minute or so having a good wash. It flapped it’s wings under the water one way and then turned and washed it’s back the same way before tootling off to start it’s day. A magical privilege. But oh the things you see when you haven’t got a camera.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Wendy! You’re welcome.

      Oh, wow! What a wonderful encounter! It’s so rare that you get a good view of a shining cuckoo, so that would’ve been very magical indeed. 🙂

      It’s true – you never have your camera when you most want it! The birds must be conspiring against us! 😛 The great thing about smart phones these days is that not having a ‘camera’ on one’s person is becoming a rare event. Take that, Wildlife! 😀 😉



  3. You sure got a good look at all these cuckoo birds for very few being able to be lucky enough to get a glimpse of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, guys! It was pretty exciting. 🙂 It certainly helped having my binos and Tom’s long-lens though… XD



  4. Sounds like a very satisfying trip!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It certainly was! Thanks, Helen. 🙂



  5. blhphotoblog says:

    Just discovered your blog, very informative, nice images. Nice to see wildlife from the other side of the world. Regards Brian.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Brian, thank you for visiting our blog! We’re very happy to hear that you like it. Glad we can share some of our unique New Zealand fauna with you. 🙂


      Liked by 1 person

      1. blhphotoblog says:

        A pleasure to see!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. spugwash says:

    Still to see one of our cuckoo’s. Hopefully this year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good luck! 🤞🤞🤞


      Liked by 1 person

  7. Tamanna Kalam says:

    What a beautiful species! Great photographs too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Tamanna!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Sanna says:

    Very informative! Learnt about cuckoo birds 😊 thank you x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Zoomology says:

      You’re welcome, Sanna. 🙂 I’m glad we could share them with you!


      Liked by 1 person

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