Cuculidae – Old World Cuckoos
The Merry Cuckoo Messenger of Spring
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 (2019) there to be 149 species of Couas, Cuckoos, Koels, Anis, Coucals and Malkohas within the family Cuculidae (including two now extinct); the extant 147 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
The Cuckoos of ShanghaiArticleGreat photos, plus discussion of Shanghai's cuckoos, which includes most major East Asian types
Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopaceaSpecies AccountThe 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...
Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopaceaHBW Species AccountFull species account...
Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopaceaSpecies AccountSound archive and distribution map.
Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmusSpecies AccountUncommon and elusive, the Black-billed Cuckoo skulks around densely wooded eastern forests and thickets.
Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmusSpecies AccountTaxonomy: Cuculus erythropthalma A. Wilson, 1811, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.
Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmusSpecies AccountSound archive and distribution map.
Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmusSpecies AccountThe black-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus erythropthalmus) is a New World species in the Cuculidae (cuckoo) family.
Dark-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus melacoryphusSpecies AccountThe dark-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus melacoryphus) is a species of bird in the Cuculidae family, the cuckoos.
Dark-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus melacoryphusHBW Species AccountTaxonomy: Coccyzus melacoryphus Vieillot, 1817, Paraguay. Monotypic.
Dark-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus melacoryphusSpecies AccountSound archive and distribution map.
Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformisHBW Species AccountTaxonomy: Cuculus flabelliformis Latham, 1801, Sydney area, New South Wales, Australia.
Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformisSpecies AccountSound archive and distribution map.
Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformisSpecies AccountThe 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 flabelliformisSpecies AccountFull species account…
Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformisBirdLife Species Account...the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Greater Coucal Centropus sinensisSpecies AccountThe 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.
Greater Coucal Centropus sinensisHBW Species AccountImages and account
Greater Coucal Centropus sinensisSpecies AccountSound archive and distribution map.
Greater Coucal Centropus sinensisBirdLife Species Account...the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Klaas's Cuckoo Chrysococcyx klaasBirdLife Species Account...the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Klaas's Cuckoo Chrysococcyx klaasSpecies AccountThe 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 klaasHBW Species AccountImages, sonograms etc
Klaas's Cuckoo Chrysococcyx klaasSpecies AccountSound archive and distribution map.
Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensisBirdLife Species Account...the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensisHBW Species AccountTaxonomy: 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 bengalensisSpecies AccountThe 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 bengalensisSpecies AccountSound archive and distribution map.
Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minorHBW Species Accountimages, sonograms etc
Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minorSpecies AccountSound archive and distribution map.
Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minorCornell Species AccountMangrove 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 minorSpecies AccountThe mangrove cuckoo (Coccyzus minor) is a species of cuckoo that is native to the Neotropics.
Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minorBirdLife Species Account...the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Oriental Cuckoo Cuculus optatusSpecies AccountThe Oriental cuckoo or Horsfields cuckoo (Cuculus optatus) is a bird belonging to the genus Cuculus in the cuckoo family Cuculidae. It was formerly classified as a subspecies of the Himalayan cuckoo (C. saturatus) with the name Oriental cuckoo used for the combined species
Oriental Cuckoo Cuculus optatusSpecies AccountTaxonomy: Cuculus saturatus Blyth, 1843, Nepal. Recent mtDNA study suggests that present species is closest to C. canorus, the two being a sister-clade to C. gularis and C. rochii.
Oriental Cuckoo Cuculus optatusSpecies AccountSound archive and distribution map.
Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinusBirdLife Species Account...the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinusBirdLife Species AccountFull species account…
Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinusSpecies AccountThe 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 phasianinusHBW Species AccountTaxonomy: Cuculus phasianinus Latham, 1801, New South Wales, Australia. Seven subspecies recognized.
Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinusSpecies AccountSound archive and distribution map.
Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinusSpecies AccountA 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 senegalensisBirdLife Species Account...the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Senegal Coucal Centropus senegalensisSpecies AccountThe 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.
Senegal Coucal Centropus senegalensisHBW Species AccountTaxonomy: Cuculus senegalensis Linnaeus, 1766, Senegal.
Senegal Coucal Centropus senegalensisSpecies AccountSound archive and distribution map.
Shining Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx lucidusSpecies AccountSound archive and distribution map.
Shining Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx lucidusSpecies AccountSpecies Information Breeding and ecology The shining cuckoo (shining bronze-cuckoo in Australia) is a summer migrant to New Zealand. It is common throughout New Zealand but it is small and cryptically-coloured and so is more often heard than seen
Shining Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx lucidusSpecies AccountThe shining bronze-cuckoo (Chrysococcyx lucidus) is a species of cuckoo in the family Cuculidae, found in Australia, Indonesia, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. It was previously also known as Chalcites lucidus.
Squirrel Cuckoo Piaya cayanaSpecies AccountThe squirrel cuckoo (Piaya cayana) is a large and active species of cuckoo found in wooded habitats from northwestern Mexico to northern Argentina and Uruguay, and on Trinidad.
Squirrel Cuckoo Piaya cayanaSpecies AccountThe Squirrel Cuckoo is a pan-Neotropical inhabitant of a large diversity of forested, wooded, and disturbed habitats across the entire humidity gradient from tropical deciduous forest, coffee plantations, and gallery forests to primary humid lowland rainforest
Squirrel Cuckoo Piaya cayanaSpecies AccountSound archive and distribution map.
Western Koel Eudynamys scolopaceusBirdLife Species AccountThis species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation)
White-browed Coucal Centropus superciliosusBirdLife Species Account...the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
White-browed Coucal Centropus superciliosusWebpageBirdLife species account…
White-browed Coucal Centropus superciliosusSpecies AccountThe 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 superciliosusHBW Species AccountHBW species profile...
White-browed Coucal Centropus superciliosusSpecies AccountSound archive and distribution map.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanusSpecies AccountThe 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.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanusBirdLife Species Account...the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanusCornell Species AccountYellow-billed Cuckoos are slender, long-tailed birds that manage to stay well hidden in deciduous woodlands.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanusHBW Species AccountTaxonomy: Cuculus americanus Linnaeus, 1758, South Carolina, USA. Treated as monotypic.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanusSpecies AccountSound archive and distribution map.
Number of bird species: 147
Cuckoo| (Cheating by Nature) | By Nick Davies & James McCallum | Bloomsbury | 2016 | Paperback | 289 pages, 8 plates with colour illustrations | ISBN: 9781408856581 Buy this book from NHBS.com
Cuckoos of the World| By Johannes Erritzøe, Clive F Mann, Frederik P Brammer & Richard A Fuller, Richard Allen | Christopher Helm | 2012 | Hardback | 544 Pages | 36 Plates | Colour Illustrations | Colour Photos | ISBN: 9780713660340 Buy this book from NHBS.com
Cuckoos, Cowbirds & Other Cheats| By N B Davies | T & AD Poyser | 2011 | Hardback | 310 pages, photos, illustrations | ISBN: 9781408136669 Buy this book from NHBS.com
Cuckoos, Nightbirds and Kingfishers of Australia| Edited by Ronald Strahan | Angus & Robertson | 1994 | Hardback | 270 pages, Colour photos, maps | ISBN: 9780207185229 Buy this book from NHBS.com
Gowk the Cuckoo| (Call of the Spring) | By John Miles & Barry Robson | Langford Press | 2014 | Hardback | 32 pages, colour illustrations | ISBN: 9781904078654 Buy this book from NHBS.com
Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo| By Michael McCarthy | John Murray | 2010 | Paperback | 243 pages, no illustrations | ISBN: 9781848540620 Buy this book from NHBS.com
The Cuckoo| (The Uninvited Guest) | By Oldřich Mikulica, Tomáš Grim, Karl Schulze-Hagen & Bård G Stokke | Wild Nature Press | 2016 | Hardback | 160 pages, colour photos | ISBN: 9780995567306 Buy this book from NHBS.com
The Cuckoo and the Warbler| (A True New Zealand Story) | By Kennedy Warne & Heather Hunt | Potton & Burton | 2016 | Paperback | 36 pages, colour illustrations | ISBN: 9780947503048 Buy this book from NHBS.com
The Cuckoos| By Robert B Payne | OUP | 2005 | Hardback | 618 pages, 20 colour plates, tables, maps | ISBN: 9780198502135 Buy this book from NHBS.com
Working Bibliography of Cuckoos and Turacos of the World| By Johannes Erritzoe & Oscar van Rootselaar | Johannes Erritzoe | 2000 | Hardback | 401 pages, no illustrations | ISBN: 9788798783503 Buy this book from NHBS.com