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African Emerald Cuckoo by Jacques Pitteloud

Cuckoos, malkohas and coucals

Order Cuculiformes – Cuckoos has 1 family – Cuculidae. The other family Hoatzins are not in Africa.

The family of Cuckoos has 140 species which are found in tropical, subtropical and temperate zones on all continents except Antarctica. To this family belong: Cuckoos and Coucals as well as others not found in Africa. They are mainly medium seized arboreal birds which means they won’t be found in deserts and regions without trees.

Cuckoos are known to be brood parasites, but some build their own nests and raise their young themselves as Coucals do. Each species has a distinct call.

Cuckoos are mainly solitary, while Coucals are often found in pairs. They feed on insect and whatever fits into their bills. Coucals are larger and can therefore feed on larger prey.

Cuckoos are often very colourful

Some species are migrants like the Common / Eurasian Cuckoo, some are residents, others intra African migrants and follow the rain.

Some parasitic Cuckoos practice courtship feeding. The male is looking for a caterpillar or any other prey and brings it to the female. This is an old remnant from the time Cuckoos had not yet evolved to brood parasites. The female has her favourite foster parents (each species favours different bird species to raise their young) and the eggs look almost identical to the host’s eggs. Often you see very small birds feeding the much larger Cuckoo chick.

Malkohas or Yellowbills are represented by 2 species in tropical Africa. They are not easily spotted.

To give you as actual information as possible we use Avibase, the books “Birds of South of the Sahara”, “Birds of East Africa”, “Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania”. Then we put the most characteristic information to the photo.

You can also follow us on Facebook “Bird photography Safaris Kenya” and see the numerous species as well as the beautiful photos from Lorenzo Barelli.

Depending on the species you are keen to see the time of the year plays a big role. 

We tailor-made most of our safaris according to your wishes and visit those areas offering the highest chance to find your dream bird species. Sometime travelling over long distances is required, but it is also possible to fly from one corner to the other to safe time and some long journeys on the roads.

Click on the photo for larger view. The names of the photographers are on the photo and in the text. Without the generosity of several amazing bird photographers it had not been possible to create the pages with so many bird species. Those photos without name are from Elvira Wolfer.

On our Central to Western Kenya Safari you have the chance to find different Cuckoo and Coucal species. Nairobi National Park is one place that hosts a number of different cuckoo species.

Diederick Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx caprius) is an intra African migrant and widespread in bushy or wooded areas. They have different hosts: weavers, bishops, sparrows, sunbirds and buntings.

Klaas’s Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx klaas) is a resident and intra African migrant. It is found in forested areas, woodland, savanna and gardens. They parasite batis, sunbirds and warblers. The second photo shows courtship feeding.

African Emerald Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx c. cupreus) lives in evergreen forests South of the Sahara. It is not a frequently met species. They parasite bulbuls, warblers and sunbirds. Males mate with different females. One female can lay 19 – 25 eggs in average in a breeding season. Photo Jacques Pitteloud

Jacobin Cuckoo (Clamator jacobinus pica) is the subspecies South of the Sahara except South Africa. It is a common intra African migrant to different open habitats. On the right an immature bird.

Levillant’s (African striped) Cuckoo (Clamator levaillantii) is an uncommon intra African migrant South of the Sahara. It is found in savanna and woodland. It parasites babblers. 

Great spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) is an intra African migrant South of the Sahara but also occurs in SW Palearctic. It is found in savanna and wooded areas and parasites crows.

Thick-billed Cuckoo (Pachycoccyx audeberti) is found in East Africa along the coast, Southern Tanzania and in part of Uganda. They parasite Retz’s and possibly Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrikes. Photo Per Holmen

Barred long-tailed Cuckoo (Cercococcyx m. montanus) is found in the forest in the Albertine Rift. The subspecies patulus breeds in Kenya’s highland forests and further south. It parasites Akalats and Broadbills. Photo Per Holmen, Nyungwe Forest

Red-chested Cuckoo (Cuculus solitarius) is an intra African migrant. It calls mostly a few days before rains set in. The female doesn’t have the reddish throat. They parasite wagtails, robin-chats and thrushes. 

African Cuckoo (Cuculus gularis) is locally common in woodland and savanna – intra African migrant. Parasites Fork-tailed Drongos. 

Common (Eurasian) Cuckoo (Cuculus c. canorus) is a quite common palearctic migrant to South of the Sahara from August to April. In Africa it is mostly silent. Photo Jacques Pitteloud and Per Holmen

Black Cuckoo (Cuculus c. clamosus) is a resident and intra African migrant in areas with trees. Its main hosts are bush-shrikes and Boubous. The subspecies gabonensis is found in Western Kenya and further west and has the reddish throat. Photo by Lorenzo Barelli and Elvira Wolfer.

Lesser Cuckoo (Cuculus poliocephalus) is a scarce palearctic migrant from November to April to coastal regions of Kenya and Tanzania also to southern Tanzania. Photo Per Holmen

Madagascar Cuckoo (Cuculus rochii) is a scarce migrant from Madagascar to many areas in East Africa mostly between April and September. Photo Doris Schaule

Green Malkoha or Whistling Yellowbill (Ceuthmochares australis) occurs in dense foliage along the Eastern side of Africa. It is a scarce bird and often overlooked. Datcha Woodland

Blue Malkoha or Chattering Yellowbill (Ceuthmochares a. aereus) is locally common in dense foliage from West Kenya  / Tanzania to Uganda and Rwanda. It is a secretive bird. Photo Lorenzo Barelli, Kakamega Rainforest

Black Coucal (Centropus grillii) is the smallest coucal. Distinctive black when breeding, brownish when not breeding. Moist grassland is the habitat. Uncommon resident and intra African migrant. Photo Per Holmen

Senegal Coucal (Centropus s. senegalensis) occurs from Western Kenya to Somalia and DRC in tangled vegetation and moist grass. The subspecies flecki is found in Central and Southwestern Tanzania. Photo Moses Kandie

Burchell’s Coucal (Centropus burchelli fasciipygialis) is found in moist grassland from Eastern Tanzania to Eastern Zimbabwe. The head is dark blue. Some consider it as a subspecies. Photo Per Holmen

White-browed or lark-heeled Coucal (Tiputip or water bottle bird due to the call) (Centropus s. superciliosus) is common and wide spread in East Africa in moist grassland and even gardens. The subspecies loandae occurs from Uganda to Southwestern Kenya.

Blue-headed Coucal (Centropus monachus fischeri) is found in swampy areas from Western Kenya, to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and NW Tanzania. Photo Per Holmen, Entebbe

Coppery-tailed Coucal (Centropus cupricaudus) occurs in Southwestern Tanzania and further South in marshland and reedbeds. Photo Per Holmen