Cuculidae – Old World Cuckoos

Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus ©Craig Brelsford Website
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.

Species List

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

Family Links
  • The Cuckoos of Shanghai

    Article
    Great photos, plus discussion of Shanghai's cuckoos, which includes most major East Asian types
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...
  • Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea

    HBW Species Account
    Full species account...
  • Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopacea

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmus

    Species Account
    Uncommon and elusive, the Black-billed Cuckoo skulks around densely wooded eastern forests and thickets.
  • Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmus

    Species Account
    Taxonomy: Cuculus erythropthalma A. Wilson, 1811, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.
  • Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Black-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus erythropthalmus

    Species Account
    The black-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus erythropthalmus) is a New World species in the Cuculidae (cuckoo) family.
  • Dark-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus melacoryphus

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

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Coccyzus melacoryphus Vieillot, 1817, Paraguay. Monotypic.
  • Dark-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus melacoryphus

    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

    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
    Full species account…
  • Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformis

    BirdLife Species Account
    ...the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
  • 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.
  • Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis

    HBW Species Account
    Images and account
  • Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis

    BirdLife Species Account
    ...the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
  • Klaas's Cuckoo Chrysococcyx klaas

    BirdLife Species Account
    ...the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
  • 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

    HBW Species Account
    Images, sonograms etc
  • Klaas's Cuckoo Chrysococcyx klaas

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis

    BirdLife Species Account
    ...the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
  • 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

    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

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor

    HBW Species Account
    images, sonograms etc
  • Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • 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

    Species Account
    The mangrove cuckoo (Coccyzus minor) is a species of cuckoo that is native to the Neotropics.
  • Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor

    BirdLife Species Account
    ...the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
  • Oriental Cuckoo Cuculus optatus

    Species Account
    The 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 optatus

    Species Account
    Taxonomy: 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 optatus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinus

    BirdLife Species Account
    ...the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
  • Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinus

    BirdLife Species Account
    Full species account…
  • 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

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Cuculus phasianinus Latham, 1801, New South Wales, Australia. Seven subspecies recognized.
  • Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • 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

    BirdLife Species Account
    ...the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
  • 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.
  • Senegal Coucal Centropus senegalensis

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Cuculus senegalensis Linnaeus, 1766, Senegal.
  • Senegal Coucal Centropus senegalensis

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Shining Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx lucidus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Shining Bronze Cuckoo Chrysococcyx lucidus

    Species Account
    Species 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 lucidus

    Species Account
    The 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 cayana

    Species Account
    The 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 cayana

    Species Account
    The 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 cayana

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Western Koel Eudynamys scolopaceus

    BirdLife Species Account
    This 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 superciliosus

    BirdLife Species Account
    ...the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
  • White-browed Coucal Centropus superciliosus

    Webpage
    BirdLife species account…
  • 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

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species profile...
  • White-browed Coucal Centropus superciliosus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • 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.
  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus

    BirdLife Species Account
    ...the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
  • 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

    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
  • Cuckoo

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    | 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

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  • 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
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    | 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

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