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 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


Cuckoos of Shanghai

The Cuckoos of Shanghai: Craig Brelsford examines the Shanghai-area parasitic cuckoos and teaches you how to tell them apart. The non-Cuculus parasitic cuckoo that one is most likely to see in Shanghai is Large Hawk-Cuckoo. Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo, Asian Koel, and Chestnut-winged Cuckoo also are occasionally noted.

Indian Cuckoo, Common Cuckoo

Indian Cuckoo & Common Cuckoo: A Comparison: Note the smaller size of Indian Cuckoo, its thicker barring, and its darker iris. Voice as always is the surest differentiator. Both Indian Cuckoo and Common Cuckoo occur on passage in Shanghai and breed in the region.


Why This Cuckoo Is Lesser Cuckoo: The Cuculus I saw at Shanghai’s Cape Nanhui in September had the dark eye, well-defined and widely spaced barring, and small size suggestive of Lesser Cuckoo. See my photos of the thrush-sized cuckoo.


My Exchange with a Reader About Cuculus Cuckoos: “Draw a circle around the five [Cuculus] cuckoos [of China],” Craig Brelsford instructs a reader. “Within that circle, draw three circles: one around Indian, one around Lesser, and one around Common, Himalayan, and Oriental.” Using this method, one quickly clusters the three main groups of Cuculus in China.

THE CUCKOOS OF CHINA covers every species in the order Cuculiformes in China. Click any link:

Common Cuckoo
Common Cuckoo

Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis
Lesser Coucal C. bengalensis
Green-billed Malkoha Phaenicophaeus tristis
Chestnut-winged Cuckoo Clamator coromandus
Jacobin Cuckoo C. jacobinus
Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopaceus
Asian Emerald Cuckoo Chrysococcyx maculatus
Violet Cuckoo C. xanthorhynchus
Banded Bay Cuckoo Cacomantis sonneratii
Plaintive Cuckoo C. merulinus
Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo Surniculus lugubris
Large Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx sparverioides
Common Hawk-Cuckoo H. varius
Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo H. hyperythrus
Hodgson’s Hawk-Cuckoo H. nisicolor
Lesser Cuckoo Cuculus poliocephalus
Indian Cuckoo C. micropterus
Himalayan Cuckoo C. saturatus
Oriental Cuckoo C. optatus
Common Cuckoo C. canorus


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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