Christopher Taylor Bird Nature Wildlife Mammal Photography
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Greater Coucal Picture

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The Greater Coucal or the Crow Pheasant, Centropus sinensis, is a non-parasitic member of the cuckoo order of birds, the Cuculiformes. It is a widespread resident in Asia, from India, east to south China and Indonesia. There are several subspecies with some treated as full species. It found in wide range of habitats from jungle to cultivation.

They are weak fliers that clamber in vegetation or walk on the ground searching for their food of insects, eggs and nestlings of other birds. They have a deep resonant call that makes it a bird that brings omen in many parts of its range.

Description Nominate race in Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

This is a large species at 48 cm. The head is black, upper mantle and underside are purplish black. The back and wings are chestnut brown. There are no pale shaft streaks on the coverts. The eyes are ruby red. Juveniles are duller black with spots on the crown and there are whitish bars on the underside and tail. There are several races and some races may need to be treated as full species. Earlier treatments included the Brown Coucal (C. (s.) andamanensis) under this name. Rasmussen & Anderton (2005) suggest that the race parroti may be a full species - the Southern Coucal which is fround in peninsular India (northern boundary unclear). The race intermedius of the Assam and Bangladesh region is smaller than the nominate race found in the sub-Himalayan zone. Songs of the races are said to vary considerably. Race parroti of southern India has a black head and the underparts glossed blue and has the forehead, face and throat more brownish.

Partially albinistic specimens have been observed.

Subspecies and distribution

The nominate race is found in Pakistan, India in the Indus valley through the sub-Himalayas and the Gangetic plain to Assam, Nepal and the Bhutan foothills into southern China (Guangxi, Zhejiang, Fujian).

Race parroti Stresemann, 1913 is found in Peninsular India (Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and southwards). The upper back is black and the juvenile has the wings without bars.

Race intermedius Hume, 1873 is smaller in size and found in Bangladesh, west Cachar and into Myanmar and the Chin Hills into China (Yunnan, Hainan), Thailand, Indochina and the northern part of the Malay Peninsula.

Race bubutus Horsfield, 1821 is found in the southern part of the Malay Peninsula into the islands of Sumatra, Nias, Mentawai Islands, Java, Bali, Borneo, western Philippines (Balabac, Cagayan Sulu and Palawan). The wing is paler rufous in this race.

Race anonymus Stresemann, 1913 is found in the southwestern Philippines (Basilan, Sulu Islands) and is shorter and darker winged than bubutus.

Race kangeangensis Vorderman, 1893 is found in the Kangean Islands. This has pale and dark plumage phases.

Immatures Immature of nominate race showing barred/speckled underside. Haryana, India

The young when hatched have black skin and white hairy feathers (termed as trichoptiles) forming a fringe over the eye and beak. The centre of the belly is pinkish and the upper mandible is black with a pink edge. The iris is brown, gape yellow and feet dark brown-gray.

The juvenile of race parroti is unmarked dull black on the underside (contra barred in the northern races) and much darker, dusky chestnut on the wings. Race bubutus found in Southeast Asia has a distinct call. Individuals from the Western Ghats are very similar in size to the Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis but the latter has a stubbier bill, shorter tail, wing tips extending beyond the tertials and a chestnut wing lining, dark eyes and a tail with green/bronze sheen. Females of the race parroti develop dusky or sooty wing coverts between November and January and the northern boundary of the race is along the Punjab plains where it forms intermediates with the northern forms.

Behaviour and ecology Picking up a snail shell in Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

The Greater Coucal is a large bird which takes a wide range of insects, caterpillars and small vertebrates (including Saw-scaled vipers. They are also known to eat bird eggs, nestlings, fruits and seeds. In Tamil Nadu they were found to feed predominantly on snails Helix vittata. They are also known to feed on the toxic fruits of Thevetia peruviana (Yellow Oleander). In Oil palm cultivation, they have been noted as an avian pest due to their habit of eating the fleshy mesocarps of the ripe fruits.

Sunning (West Bengal, India)

They sunbathe in the mornings singly or in pairs on the top of vegetation with their wings spread out. The territory of a nesting pair has been found in southern India to be 0.9 to 7.2 ha (mean 3.8 ha). They are most active in the warm hours of the morning and in the late afternoon.

The calls are a booming low coop-coop-coops repeated and with variations and some duets between individuals. When duetting the female has a lower pitched call. Other calls include a rapid rattling "lotok, lotok ..." and a harsh scolding "skaah" and a hissing threat call.

Breeding Nest in a Whistling Pine.

The breeding season is after the monsoon in southern India but varies in other parts of its range. Greater coucals are monogamous, and the courtship display involves chases on the ground and the male brings food gifts for the female. The female lowers her tail and droops her wings to signal acceptance. The nest is built mostly by the male over about three to eight days. The nest is hidden in dense vegetation inside tangles of creepers or Pandanus crowns. They can be built as high as 6m above the ground and the typical clutch is 3-5 eggs. The eggs (of size 36-28 mm weighing 14.8 g ) are chalky white with a yellow glaze when laid that wears off. Both the male and the female take part in nest building. They lay 2 to 4 eggs that hatch after 15-16 days of incubation. The chicks take 18-22 days to fledge. A study in southern India found that 77% of the eggs hatched and 67% fledged. Nests with eggs were sometimes abandoned or marauded by the Jungle Crow Corvus macrorhynchos.

Haemosporidia closely related to those that cause malaria have been found in their red blood cells. One species, Haemoproteus centropi, is described from Cuckoos such as Clamator jacobinus and Centropus sinensis and is spread by mosquitoes.

In culture

The bird is associated with many local beliefs. The deep calls are associated with spirits and omens. Local names include Mahoka in Hindi; Punjabi: Kamadi kukkar; Bengali: Kuka Assamese: Kukoo sorai, Kukuha sorai, Dabahi kukuha; Cachar: Dao di dai; Manipuri: Nongkoubi; Gujarati: Hokko, Ghoyaro, Ghumkiyo; Kutch: Hooka; Marathi: Bharadwaj, Kumbhar kaola, Kukkudkumbha, Sonkawla; Oriya: Dahuka; Tamil: Kalli kaka, Chembakam; Telugu: Jemudu kaki, Chemara, Mahoka kaki, Samba kaki; Malayalam: Uppan, Chemboth; Kannada: Kembootha; and Sinhalese: Atti kukkula, Bu kukkula.

The flesh was once eaten as a folk cure for tuberculosis.


at Narendrapur near Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

at Narendrapur near Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

Immature Hodal, Faridabad, Haryana, India.

Immature Hodal, Faridabad, Haryana, India.

Immature Hodal, Faridabad, Haryana, India.

In Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

In Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

near Hodal, Faridabad, Haryana, India.

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