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The Greater Coucal is not your average cuckoo

The Greater Coucal can be found on nature trails in Delhi-NCR

The Greater Coucal can be found on nature trails in Delhi-NCR | Photo Credit: Abhishek Gulshan

The Crow Pheasant, now more commonly called the Greater Coucal, does not belong to the crow family, Corvidae , but is a large species (48 cm) belonging to the Cuckoo family, Cuculidae . It does have a large crow-like appearance though, unlike a cuckoo, and the bird’s non-parasitic behaviour is contrary to a majority of cuckoos, who display brood parasitism, a behaviour involving laying eggs in other bird (host parents) nests.

The Greater Coucal ( Centropus sinensis ), called Bhardwaj in Hindu, is a widespread resident bird in the Indian Subcontinent and the Southeast. Its plumage is black, with a purple gloss and deep rufous coloured wings. The overall look is rigid, with the feathers on the forehead bristly and strong, and the feathers of the neck and breast have strong shiny shafts.

It has a long black tail, hence was often mistaken for a pheasant, as pheasants generally have long tails, though it never belonged to the pheasant-family. One of the most captivating features of this bird is its bright blood-red eyes.

On nature trails, we usually find the bird, but it is not easy to come by. Considering its shy nature, we locate it by its typical sonorous whoop, whoop, whoop call, while basking singly or sometimes in pairs with wings spread out, on tree-tops.

You may catch them by the typical inflating of the throat, bending of the head and the elevation in their tail while they call.

The Greater Coucal is sluggish, and a low and weak flyer, possibly why it was once hunted quite conveniently before and during the British era.

Clambering through dense foliage swiftly, it’ll enter one end and hop from branch to branch, make its way out the other. You’ll see it walking inconspicuously and silently with its tail elevated, on the ground, between hedge-rows and trees, it forages on the ground for unfortunate beings like large insects, centipedes, scorpions, lizards, and small snakes, slugs, caterpillars. It’ll occasionally pilfer eggs from nests of other birds. I once saw a Greater Coucal feeding on a juvenile Checkered Keelback snake at the Basai Wetlands in Gurugram.

Before their breeding season between June and September, the courtship display of these monogamous birds involves the male trying to woo a female by chasing after her on the ground and bringing her gifts of food. If she accepts, with a droop of wings, they bond and go into the nesting process.

According to research and observations made by British naturalists, they make nests of twigs, grasses and leaves, domed at the top, forming a cup. These nests are usually made in the most dense and inaccessible thickets to avoid predation.

The writer is the founder of NINOX - Owl About Nature, a nature-awareness initiative. He is the Delhi-NCR reviewer for Ebird, a Cornell University initiative, monitoring rare sightings of birds. He formerly led a programme of WWF India.

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Printable version | Feb 16, 2022 9:27:57 pm |