Greater Coucal

Greater Coucal
Greater Coucal, Centropus sinensis, Yunnan, China. (Craig Brelsford)

Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis is a large, glossy-black, chestnut-winged, non-parasitic cuckoo with short, rounded wings, a long tail, and a red eye. Two races resident in China: nominate eastern Yunnan to Fujian and Zhejiang (accidental Shanghai) and intermedius southern and western Yunnan and Hainan. HABITAT & BEHAVIOR in lowlands in open forest and forest edges, thick scrub, and mangroves, to 800 m (2,600 ft.). Clambering walk reminiscent of a crow, whereas weak, labored flight recalls pheasant (thus old name, “crow-pheasant”). Often on ground, but also in trees, searching for invertebrates and small vertebrates (birds’ eggs and nestlings, snakes, lizards). ID & COMPARISON Wings and part of mantle chestnut, rest of plumage black (can show glossy purple or green, depending on angle of light). Juvenile lightly streaked white on black plumage, heavily streaked black on chestnut wings. Nominate slightly larger than intermedius. Both races distinguished from Lesser Coucal C. bengalensis by greater size, cleaner mantle, and glossier black plumage. BARE PARTS Bill thick, decurved, black; feet black. Juvenile has grey eye and pale bill. VOICE Booming, low-pitched hoot. Also harsh, cackling cluck. — Craig Brelsford


Daniel Bengtsson served as chief ornithological consultant for Craig Brelsford’s Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of China, from which this species description is drawn.

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