Australian Bush Birds
White-winged Cough  -  Corcorax melanorhamphos
White-winged Cough
White-winged Cough on the ground. The long curved beak, long tail and red eye distinguish this bird from a raven. The white wing patches are usually visible only when the bird is in flight. (Sutton, near Canberra)
map map The White-winged Cough - Corcorax melanorhamphos - (pronounced "chuff") is a dusky black bird with long broad tail; feathers often ruffled. Long, black, down-curved bill; eye is red (especially in bright sunlight). Wings are black with large, conspicuous white wing patches divided by black lines at the leading edge of the flight feathers. Legs and feet are strong and black. Reaches 45 centimetres in length.

White wing patches are usually visible only while the wings are spread. When the bird is on the ground foraging it is all black and may be confused with ravens which have a more solid body; the cough's tail is more clearly defined than the ravens and head is less robust. If there is sufficient light the cough's red eye is an obvious characteristic, as well as the downward curved bill of the cough. When seen along the road a group of coughs is usually more active than a groups of ravens.

Events within a group or an external disturbance prompt displays with fanned tail, wings spread to show white panels and eyes flushing bright red.

Adult males and females are similar. Juveniles are dark-eyed, have shorter tail, are brownish black in colour, have fluffy plumage and retain a wispy white eyebrow for up to four months. Immatures are similar to adults but with brown eyes that change gradually to the adult red over 3 to 4 years.

Forages predominantly on the ground, moving forward as a group, individuals moving over the ground stop to probe through litter for insects and larvae, earthworms, snails and other ground-dwelling prey. Larger finds are shared with the rest of the group. Groups fly between sites in their territory or to escape predators.

Strongly territorial and highly gregarious, living in family groups sharing the work of building mud-nests, incubating eggs and feeding young. Groups roost huddled together along branches. Groups build up over several years from the offspring of one pair and increase to 4 to 20 birds. Family groups combine in winter into flocks of more than 100 birds.

Distributed over most of New South Wales and Victoria as well as the south-eastern part of Queensland and south-east South Australia.

Lives in eucalyptus woodland and drier, open forests where there is abundant litter across relatively open ground. Found in mallee, mulga, timbered watercourse margins and farmland. Fairly common and locally nomadic; in many localities populations have become fragmented where forest-floor litter has been lost as habitats are broken up.