Fatbirder - linking birders worldwide... Wildlife Travellers see our sister site: WAND

Cuculidae - Old World Cuckoos

Cuckoo
Klaas's Cuckoo Chrysococcyx klaas ©Trevor Hardaker Website

The Cuculidae or cuckoos are a family of birds, which are the sole taxon in the order Cuculiformes. The family includes the common or European cuckoo, roadrunners, koels, malkohas, couas, coucals and anis. The coucals and anis have sometimes been separated as distinct families, the Centropodidae and Crotophagidae respectively.

The cuckoos are generally medium-sized slender birds. The majority are arboreal, with a sizeable minority that are terrestrial. The family has a cosmopolitan distribution, with the majority of species being tropical. Some species are migratory. The cuckoos feed on insects, insect larvae and a variety of other animals, as well as fruit. Many species are brood parasites, laying their eggs in the nests of other species, but the majority of species raise their own young.

Cuckoos have played a role in human culture for thousands of years, appearing in Greek mythology as sacred to the goddess Hera. In Europe, the cuckoo is associated with spring, and with cuckoldry, for example in Shakespeare's Love's Labours Lost. In India, cuckoos are sacred to Kamadeva, the god of desire and longing, whereas in Japan, the cuckoo symbolises unrequited love.

About 56 of the Old World species and 3 of the New World species (Pheasant, Pavonine, and Striped) are brood parasites, laying their eggs in the nests of other birds. These species are obligate brood parasites, meaning that they only reproduce in this fashion. The best-known example is the European Common Cuckoo. In addition to the above noted species, yet others sometimes engage in non-obligate brood parasitism, laying their eggs in the nests of members of their own species in addition to raising their own young. The shells of the eggs of brood-parasites are usually thick. They have two distinct layers with an outer chalky layer that is believed to provide resistance to cracking when the eggs are dropped in the host nest. The cuckoo egg hatches earlier than the host's, and the cuckoo chick grows faster; in most cases the chick evicts the eggs or young of the host species. The chick has no time to learn this behaviour, so it must be an instinct passed on genetically. The chick encourages the host to keep pace with its high growth rate with its rapid begging call and the chick's open mouth which serves as a sign stimulus.

Cuckoos have various strategies for getting their egg into a host nest. Different species use different strategies based on host defensive strategies. Female cuckoos have secretive and fast laying behaviours, but in some cases, males have been shown to lure host adults away from their nests so that the female can lay her egg in the nest. Some host species may directly try to prevent cuckoos laying eggs in their nest in the first place – birds whose nests are at high risk of cuckoo-contamination are known to 'mob' cuckoos to drive them out of the area. Parasitic cuckoos are grouped into gentes, with each gens specialising in a particular host. There is some evidence that the gentes are genetically different from one another.

The IOC considered there to be 147 species of Couas, Cuckoos, Koels, Anis, Coucals and Malkohas within the family Cuculidae; they are:

Guira Cuckoo Guira guira

Greater Ani Crotophaga major
Smooth-billed Ani Crotophaga ani
Groove-billed Ani Crotophaga sulcirostris

Striped Cuckoo Tapera naevia

Pheasant Cuckoo Dromococcyx phasianellus
Pavonine Cuckoo Dromococcyx pavoninus

Lesser Ground Cuckoo Morococcyx erythropygus

Greater Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus
Lesser Roadrunner Geococcyx velox

Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo Neomorphus geoffroyi
Scaled Ground Cuckoo Neomorphus squamiger
Banded Ground Cuckoo Neomorphus radiolosus
Rufous-winged Ground Cuckoo Neomorphus rufipennis
Red-billed Ground Cuckoo Neomorphus pucheranii

Buff-headed Coucal Centropus milo
White-necked Coucal Centropus ateralbus
Ivory-billed Coucal Centropus menbeki
Biak Coucal Centropus chalybeus
Rufous Coucal Centropus unirufus
Green-billed Coucal Centropus chlororhynchos
Black-faced Coucal Centropus melanops
Black-hooded Coucal Centropus steerii
Short-toed Coucal Centropus rectunguis
Bay Coucal Centropus celebensis
Gabon Coucal Centropus anselli
Black-throated Coucal Centropus leucogaster
Senegal Coucal Centropus senegalensis
Blue-headed Coucal Centropus monachus
Coppery-tailed Coucal Centropus cupreicaudus
White-browed Coucal Centropus superciliosus
Burchell's Coucal Centropus burchellii
Sunda Coucal Centropus nigrorufus
Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis
Malagasy Coucal Centropus toulou
Goliath Coucal Centropus goliath
Black Coucal Centropus grillii
Philippine Coucal Centropus viridis
Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis
Violaceous Coucal Centropus violaceus
Black-billed Coucal Centropus bernsteini
Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinus
Andaman Coucal Centropus andamanensis

Bornean Ground Cuckoo Carpococcyx radiceus
Sumatran Ground Cuckoo Carpococcyx viridis
Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo Carpococcyx renauldi

Crested Coua Coua cristata
Verreaux's Coua Coua verreauxi
Blue Coua Coua caerulea
Red-capped Coua Coua ruficeps
Red-fronted Coua Coua reynaudii
Coquerel's Coua Coua coquereli
Running Coua Coua cursor
Giant Coua Coua gigas
Red-breasted Coua Coua serriana

Raffles's Malkoha Rhinortha chlorophaea

Blue Malkoha Ceuthmochares aereus
Green Malkoha Ceuthmochares australis

Sirkeer Malkoha Taccocua leschenaultii

Red-billed Malkoha Zanclostomus javanicus

Yellow-billed Malkoha Rhamphococcyx calyorhynchus

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha Phaenicophaeus curvirostris
Red-faced Malkoha Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus
Chestnut-bellied Malkoha Phaenicophaeus sumatranus
Blue-faced Malkoha Phaenicophaeus viridirostris
Black-bellied Malkoha Phaenicophaeus diardi
Green-billed Malkoha Phaenicophaeus tristis

Rough-crested Malkoha Dasylophus superciliosus
Scale-feathered Malkoha Dasylophus cumingi

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo Clamator coromandus
Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius
Levaillant's Cuckoo Clamator levaillantii
Jacobin Cuckoo Clamator jacobinus

Little Cuckoo Coccycua minuta
Dwarf Cuckoo Coccycua pumila
Ash-colored Cuckoo Coccycua cinerea

Squirrel Cuckoo Piaya cayana
Black-bellied Cuckoo Piaya melanogaster

Dark-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus melacoryphus
Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus
Pearly-breasted Cuckoo Coccyzus euleri
Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor
Cocos Cuckoo Coccyzus ferrugineus
Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmus
Grey-capped Cuckoo Coccyzus lansbergi
Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo Coccyzus pluvialis
Bay-breasted Cuckoo Coccyzus rufigularis
Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo Coccyzus vetula
Great Lizard Cuckoo Coccyzus merlini
Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo Coccyzus vieilloti
Hispaniolan Lizard Cuckoo Coccyzus longirostris

Thick-billed Cuckoo Pachycoccyx audeberti

Dwarf Koel Microdynamis parva

Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopaceus
Black-billed Koel Eudynamys melanorhynchus
Pacific Koel Eudynamys orientalis

Pacific Long-tailed Cuckoo Urodynamis taitensis

Channel-billed Cuckoo Scythrops novaehollandiae

Asian Emerald Cuckoo Chrysococcyx maculatus
Violet Cuckoo Chrysococcyx xanthorhynchus
Diederik Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius
Klaas's Cuckoo Chrysococcyx klaas
Yellow-throated Cuckoo Chrysococcyx flavigularis
African Emerald Cuckoo Chrysococcyx cupreus
Long-billed Cuckoo Chrysococcyx megarhynchus
Horsfield's Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis
Black-eared Cuckoo Chrysococcyx osculans
Rufous-throated Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx ruficollis
Shining Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx lucidus
White-eared Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx meyerii
Little Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx minutillus

Pallid Cuckoo Cacomantis pallidus
White-crowned Cuckoo Cacomantis leucolophus
Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo Cacomantis castaneiventris
Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformis
Banded Bay Cuckoo Cacomantis sonneratii
Plaintive Cuckoo Cacomantis merulinus
Grey-bellied Cuckoo Cacomantis passerinus
Brush Cuckoo Cacomantis variolosus
Rusty-breasted Cuckoo Cacomantis sepulcralis
Moluccan Cuckoo Cacomantis aeruginosus

Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo Cercococcyx mechowi
Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo Cercococcyx olivinus
Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo Cercococcyx montanus

Philippine Drongo-Cuckoo Surniculus velutinus
Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo Surniculus lugubris
Fork-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo Surniculus dicruroides
Moluccan Drongo-Cuckoo Surniculus musschenbroeki

Moustached Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx vagans
Large Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx sparverioides
Dark Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx bocki
Common Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx varius
Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx hyperythrus
Philippine Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx pectoralis
Malaysian Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx fugax
Hodgson's Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx nisicolor

Black Cuckoo Cuculus clamosus
Red-chested Cuckoo Cuculus solitarius
Lesser Cuckoo Cuculus poliocephalus
Sulawesi Cuckoo Cuculus crassirostris
Indian Cuckoo Cuculus micropterus
Madagascan Cuckoo Cuculus rochii
African Cuckoo Cuculus gularis
Himalayan Cuckoo Cuculus saturatus
Oriental Cuckoo Cuculus optatus
Sunda Cuckoo Cuculus lepidus
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus

Family Links

Cukoos & Allies Cuculidae

Family Account

The cuckoos are a family of birds, Cuculidae, the sole taxon in the order Cuculiformes.[1][2][3] The cuckoo family includes the common or European cuckoo, roadrunners, koels, malkohas, couas, coucals and anis. The coucals and anis are sometimes separated as distinct families, the Centropodidae and Crotophagidae respectively.

Cukoos & Allies Cuculidae

Family Account

The Cuculidae is a diverse family of mid-sized to largish birds found in wooded habitats, savannas, or marshes around the globe. Cuckoos thrive on all continents except Antarctica.

Cukoos & Allies Cuculidae

Cornell Family Account

Annotated list of American species…

Cukoos & Allies Cuculidae

HBW Family Account

Annotated species list

Species Links

Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea

Species Account

The common koels are three species of cuckoos. They have commonly been considered conspecific under the scientific name Eudynamys scolopaceus, but are increasingly treated as separate species...

Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformis

Species Account

Full species account…

Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis

Species Account

The greater coucal or crow pheasant (Centropus sinensis), is a large non-parasitic member of the cuckoo order of birds, the Cuculiformes. A widespread resident in Asia, from India, east to south China, Nepal and Indonesia, it is divided into several subspecies, some being treated as full species.

Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis

Species Account

The lesser coucal (Centropus bengalensis) is a species of cuckoo in the family Cuculidae. It has a wide distribution range that overlaps with several other similar species.

Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis

BirdLife Species Account

Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinus

BirdLife Species Account

Full species account…

Senegal Coucal Centropus senegalensis

Species Account

The Senegal coucal (Centropus senegalensis) is a member of the cuckoo order of birds, the Cuculiformes, which also includes the roadrunners, the anis, and the hoatzin. It is a medium-sized member of its genus and is found in lightly-wooded country and savannah in central and southern Africa.

White-browed Coucal Centropus superciliosus

Webpage

BirdLife species account…

Dark-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus melacoryphus

Species Account

The dark-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus melacoryphus) is a species of bird in the Cuculidae family, the cuckoos.

Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor

Species Account

The mangrove cuckoo (Coccyzus minor) is a species of cuckoo that is native to the Neotropics.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus

Species Account

The yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) is a cuckoo. Common folk-names for this bird in the southern United States are rain crow and storm crow. These likely refer to the bird's habit of calling on hot days, often presaging thunderstorms.

Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea

BirdLife Species Account

Full species account...

White-browed Coucal Centropus superciliosus

HBW Species Account

HBW species profile...

Klaas's Cuckoo Chrysococcyx klaas

HBW Species Account

Klaas's Cuckoo Chrysococcyx klaas

BirdLife Species Account

Klaas's Cuckoo Chrysococcyx klaas

Species Account

The species was named by French explorer François Le Vaillant after his Khoikhoi servant. Le Vaillant was the only colonial biologist to name a bird species after local people.

Klaas's Cuckoo Chrysococcyx klaas

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Dark-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus melacoryphus

BirdLife Species Account

Dark-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus melacoryphus

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Coccyzus melacoryphus Vieillot, 1817, Paraguay. Monotypic.

Dark-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus melacoryphus

Cornell Species Account

Dark-billed Cuckoo is primarily insectivorous, eating mainly caterpillars but also grasshoppers, stick-insects, beetles, and ants (Haverschmidt 1968, Payne 1997, 2005). Ervin (1989) specifically reported Dark-billed Cuckoo chicks having fed on hawkmoth larva.

Dark-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus melacoryphus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformis

Species Account

The fan-tailed cuckoo (Cacomantis flabelliformis) is a species of cuckoo in the family Cuculidae. It is found in Australia, Fiji, Indonesia, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.

Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformis

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformis

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Cuculus flabelliformis Latham, 1801, Sydney area, New South Wales, Australia.

Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformis

BirdLife Species Account

Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis

HBW Species Account

Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis

IUCN Species Status

Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis

BirdLife Species Account

Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Cuculus bengalensis J. F. Gmelin, 1788, Bengal, India. Molecular data indicate that this species is closest to C. grillii and C. viridis. Has been considered possibly conspecific with C. grillii, but marked differences in morphology and, apparently, vocalizations. In the past was thought to be conspecific with C. toulou. Race philippinensis sometimes synonymized with javanensis, but appears to merit recognition. Proposed race chamnongi (Thailand and S Vietnam) not certainly separable from nominate. Six subspecies recognized.

Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis

IUCN Species Status

Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor

BirdLife Species Account

Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor

Cornell Species Account

Mangrove Cuckoo is widespread, ranging from southern Florida and northern Mexico south through the West Indies and Central America to the northern tip of South America, and occurs in a variety of habitats, yet its natural history remains almost a complete mystery.

Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor

IUCN Species Status

Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor

HBW Species Account

Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinus

Species Account

The pheasant coucal (Centropus phasianinus) is a species of cuckoo in the family Cuculidae. It is found in Australia, Timor and New Guinea.

Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinus

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Cuculus phasianinus Latham, 1801, New South Wales, Australia. Seven subspecies recognized.

Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinus

BirdLife Species Account

Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinus

Species Account

A large 'pheasant-like', ground-dwelling cuckoo, the Pheasant Coucal has a long tail and short rounded wings. In its breeding plumage, it has a black head, neck and underbody with the upperparts and wings reddish-brown with black and cream barring and the black tail is barred orange.

Senegal Coucal Centropus senegalensis

IUCN Species Status

Senegal Coucal Centropus senegalensis

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Cuculus senegalensis Linnaeus, 1766, Senegal.

Senegal Coucal Centropus senegalensis

BirdLife Species Account

Senegal Coucal Centropus senegalensis

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea

IUCN Species Status

Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea

HBW Species Account

Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

White-browed Coucal Centropus superciliosus

Species Account

The white-browed coucal or lark-heeled cuckoo (Centropus superciliosus), is a species of cuckoo in the Cuculidae family. It is found in sub-Saharan Africa.

White-browed Coucal Centropus superciliosus

BirdLife Species Account

White-browed Coucal Centropus superciliosus

IUCN Species Status

White-browed Coucal Centropus superciliosus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus

BirdLife Species Account

Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus

Cornell Species Account

Yellow-billed Cuckoos are slender, long-tailed birds that manage to stay well hidden in deciduous woodlands.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus

IUCN Species Status

Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Cuculus americanus Linnaeus, 1758, South Carolina, USA. Treated as monotypic.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 147

Useful Reading

Cuckoos, Cowbirds & Other Cheats

N B Davies - T & AD Poyser 2000

ISBN: 0856611352

Buy this book from NHBS.com

The Cuckoos

by Robert B Payne [Illustrated by Karen Klitz] OUP 2005

ISBN: 0198502133

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Cuckoos of the World

By Johannes Erritzøe, Clive F Mann, Frederik P Brammer, Richard A Fuller, Richard Allen, Jan Wilczur, Martin Woodcock & Tim Worfolk | 544 Pages | 36 Plates | Colour Illustrations | Colour Photos | Distribution Maps | Christopher Helm | 2012
See Fatbirder Review

ISBN: 9780713660340

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Cuckoo: Cheating by Nature

by Nick Davies | Bloomsbury | 2015 | Hardback | 320 pages, 8 plates with colour illustrations
See Fatbirder Review

ISBN: 9781408856567

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Other Links

Australian Cuckoos

Information

The Koel and Channel-Billed Cuckoo are both types of cuckoo, and they must be shy because in all the time I have lived in Sydney I have only seen one Koel and I’ve never seen a Channel-Billed Cuckoo. When I found the Koel in my back yard I had to research in my bird book to determine what type of bird I’d just discovered.…

Photographers & Artists

Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis

Image

Excellent image from IBC

White-browed Coucal Centropus superciliosus

Gallery

Image

White-browed Coucal Centropus superciliosus

Gallery

Excellent image