Kid Story: the Animal Spirits

The Pheasant Coucal – A Fable

An Australian story by Greg Grimmett

A long time ago, on a day lost in the mists of time, the Australian animal spirits got their bodies.

Uluru, Australia, Credits: Wikicommon, Weyf

The spirit that pushed to the front of the pack was human and it grabbed the biggest brain and the longest arms.

Prehistoric man, Brno museum Anthropos, Credits: Wikicommon, HTO

Next came the wedge tailed eagle who took the best eyes, the strongest wings and the largest talons.

Wedge Tailed Eagle, Credits: Wikicommon, Thomas Schoch

So it went all day as animal spirits assembled their bodies from the shelves of beaks, fur feathers and feet.

Kangaroos, emus and even the little swallow all put their bodies together and went away happy.



Around sundown only three shy and quiet animal spirits were still waiting to put together their bodies and there was not much left on the shelves.

First, came the platypus.  

It found an electric bill, a flat tail, some waterproof fur and a couple of poisonous spurs.



This body proved perfect for catching fresh water crayfish and other animals that lived in the creeks.

Next was the echidna. 

At first it thought there was nothing left apart from a little bit of fur.

Then the little spirit saw hundreds of tough quills that nobody else had wanted so it took as many as it could carry. 

For a snout it took the last one remaining which was long and thin with little nostrils at the very tip. It matched this to a tongue which looked like a shoe lace. 

Finally it fitted out its body with some strong claws attached to short legs.



What a perfect body it turned out to be.  Snout, and tongue were great for catching termites and after digging in, neither the dingo nor the goanna could catch it because of all the spines.


Echidna all dug in

Finally the last spirit, a little bird spirit, emerged from the shadows where it had been hiding.

It looked around and its heart sank.  All the really COOL stuff was gone.

The Brolga had the beautiful long legs and the albatross had the best wings.


What was left for this quiet shy little bird spirit?

Mm, not that much!

There was a set of cuckoo feet with two toes facing forward and two facing backward.

Typical cuckoo foot, credits: WT Blanford, 1895 Fauna of British India

Then there were some quills that the echidna had dropped.

Some heavy wings with a beautiful black and tan pattern that nobody else had wanted and finally a couple of preen glands. One looked OK the other seemed to be defective.  Every time the little spirit squeezed it, it emitted a foul black fluid that stank worse than a skunk’s spray. 

Still, needing two preen glands, it grabbed them both.

Finally a beak that the Tawny frogmouth discarded as too small, a couple of legs too small for the Plains Bustard and a long black and tan tail that nobody else wanted.


Tawny frogmouth

The poor little bird spirit was very sad as it put its body together but once assembled it became a Pheasant Coucal.

What an amazing bird!!

Pheasant Coucal, Credits: Wikicommon, James Niland

That little quiet and shy bird spirit can now slide through the undergrowth like a goanna or a snake thanks to its powerful feet and strong quill feathers.

It can deter predators with its specialized preen gland which can squirt a foul mucus nearly 30 cms (1 foot).

It can climb trees using its powerful legs and glide a long way thanks to those large heavy wings.

It is the only cuckoo that raises its own young in its own nest.  All other cuckoos are parasites on other birds.

It feeds on frogs, insects, fruits and anything else that looks tasty.


Now it’s time for Dandy’s story...


Dandy, the baby Pheasant Coucal