Crazy about cuckoos

Let’s Chirp with Tim Cockcroft

NOT FROM EUROPE: Klaas’s cuckoo is one of the ‘green’ cuckoos found in the area Picture: TIM COCKCROFT

GREETINGS all. This week we are going to have a look at just some of the Cuckoos that are present in our area at this time of the year.

When thinking about cuckoos, most people think about a grey bird with barred underparts that calls, “CUCK-oo”. Well, that species does indeed visit our area, but is silent during its stay here, thus being easily overlooked.

The more familiar species of cuckoo that we all know, do not come from Europe, as many non-birders are led to believe. They are mainly intra-African migrants and some are even resident. They all feed on hairy caterpillars.

I think I have mentioned the black cuckoo in a previous edition of this Chirp, but for the sake of this article I’ll recap briefly. The black cuckoo is one of the better-known cuckoos in our area. Its “Poppa’s BOOOY” call is a common sound from October to January. It, like other cuckoos, is a brood parasite, laying its eggs in the nest of the southern boubou.

There are three other species of cuckoo that literally outshine their larger cousins. I’ll mention two that are more common in our immediate area first. The Klaas’s cuckoo is found just about everywhere. It is also a partial resident.

I have seen and heard them calling in June and July in the past. The call is more well-known than you might realise: a whistled, “whei-et-kie, wei-et-kie”. You can visit to hear my recording of this lovely bird.

Anyone searching for this bird will be rewarded with views of a smallish cuckoo with a green head, wings and collar, which comes halfway across the front. The throat, chest and belly are pure white, contrasting strongly against the green. There is also a white mark behind the eye. The female has a similar pattern, but is quite a bit duller, marked with brown bars in between the green on the wings.

Next we have the noisy Diederik cuckoo, which uses some species of weaver as their host parents. This is the larger of the “green” cuckoos, has red eyes and is more heavily marked above. It also has a more bronze wash to the green plumage. The call is a far-carrying, “Dee, dee, dee, DEEdidi”.

Lastly, there is the African emerald cuckoo. It is not so common in our area, but can occasionally be found in the higher forests near Alexandria, Port Elizabeth and Hogsback. It is a beautiful bird indeed. The male has a shimmering green head and chest with a pale yellow belly, and the female is heavily barred green. The call is also distinctive: A loud, “Chippy, teu-TWIE”, as can be heard in my recording at .

There you have it, friends. May you now be more aware of our special visitors at this special time of the year. Please remember I am available for local birdwatching tours. You can contact me on 072-314-0069 for more information. Until next time, don’t let the cuckoos drive you cuckoo!


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