Greater Coucal feeding Subadult

Greater Coucal

Greater Coucal
Greater Coucal

That afternoon as I came home for lunch I was alerted to this adult Greater Coucal (Centropus sinensis) with its usual deep booming calls. Spotted the bird near the Yellow Oleander Thevetia peruviana bush where it frequents to eat its toxic fruit. It was accompanied by two birds which looked very similar to Lesser Coucal. These birds are usually very shy and I was shooting them from a restricted window of my dining room through the glass window pane. Soon I found the Adult picked up some food from the ground and started feeding the other two smaller birds, then I realized that they are not Lesser Coucals, but sub adult Greater Coucals following their parent in foraging for food.

Greater Coucal feeding Subadult
Greater Coucal feeding Subadult

I was photographing though a very small area behind the window glass pane. When shooting through window glass panes beware of reflections on the glass. A reflection can make the image look washed out, even if no discernible details are visible in the reflection. For best results, bring the lens all the way to the glass, so that the front of the lens or hood makes a seal against the glass. That way, the only thing reflected will be the lens itself or the black inside of the lens hood. If you can’t get the lens or hood all the way to the glass, or if you need to shoot at a slight angle, then shield the opening between lens and glass. Use a dark cloth, sweatshirt, specialized glare hood. If nothing else, use your hand. Here I was using my Canon EF 1.4x III Extender with Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L II IS USM on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III body.

Greater Coucal
Greater Coucal

Greater Coucal is a beautiful terrestrial bird, and although it resembles pheasants, it belongs to Cuculidae family, but it is not a brood parasite. It is also known as Crow Pheasant or Coucal. A widespread resident in Asia, from India, east to south China and Indonesia. They are large, crow-like with a long tail and coppery brown wings and found in wide range of habitats from jungle to cultivation and urban gardens. They are weak fliers, and are often seen clambering about in vegetation or walking on the ground as they forage for insects, eggs and nestlings of other birds. They have a familiar deep resonant call which is associated with omens in many parts of its range.

Subadult Greater Coucal
Subadult Greater Coucal

Adult has glossy black-purple head and body. Wings are bright chestnut on upperwing, and black on underwing. Long graduated tail is glossy dark green. Contrast between chestnut and black is very conspicuous in adults. Strong, heavy bill is blackish. Eyes are deep red. Legs and feet are dark grey. Both sexes are similar. The young when hatched have black skin and white hairy feathers (termed as trichoptiles) forming a fringe over the eye and beak. The center 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.

Greater Coucal
Greater Coucal

The juvenile of race parroti is unmarked dull black on the underside (contrast to the 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 Lesser Coucal 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.

Subadult Greater Coucal
Subadult Greater Coucal

Greater Coucal feeds on large insects, caterpillars, young mice, snails, lizards, birds’ eggs, fruits and seeds. In Tamil Nadu they were found to feed predominantly on snails Helix vittata. They are also very fond of the toxic fruits of Thevetia peruviana (Yellow Oleander) in our garden. They sunbathe in the mornings singly or in pairs on the top of vegetation with their wings spread out. 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 “skeeaaaw” and a hissing threat call.

Subadult Greater Coucal
Subadult Greater Coucal

The breeding season is after the monsoon in southern India but varies in other parts of its range but chiefly June to September. 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 a deep cup with a dome in dense vegetation inside tangles of creepers, bamboo clump 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.

Greater Coucal
Greater Coucal

The nictitating membrane seen in the photo below is a transparent or translucent third eyelid present in some animals that can be drawn across the eye for protection and to moisten it while maintaining visibility. Coucal has a full nictitating membrane. Often called a third eyelid or haw. In humans, the plica semilunaris (also known as the semilunar fold) and its associated muscles are homologous to the nictitating membranes seen in some other mammals and other vertebrates. Unlike the upper and lower eyelids, the nictitating membrane moves horizontally across the eyeball. It is normally translucent. Birds will blink repeatedly with their nictitating membranes to clear debris and spread moisture across the eyes. Woodpeckers tighten their nictitating membrane a millisecond prior to their beak impacting the trunk of a tree to prevent shaking-induced retinal injury.

Nictitating Membrane of the Subadult Greater Coucal
Nictitating Membrane of the Subadult Greater Coucal

The bird is associated with many superstitions and beliefs. The deep calls are associated with spirits and omens. In British India, it was noted that new-recruits to India often mistook it for a pheasant and shot it to find it “evil flavored” giving it the nickname of “Griff’s pheasant”. The flesh was once eaten as a folk cure for tuberculosis and pulmonary ailments.

EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/7.1 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark III | Taken : 30 October, 2012 | Exposure bias : -2/3EV | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 420mm | ISO : 3200 | Location : 13° 4.031′ 0″ N 74° 59.728′ 0″ E | Shutter speed : 1/400s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.
EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/7.1 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark III | Taken : 30 October, 2012 | Exposure bias : -2/3EV | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 420mm | ISO : 3200 | Location : 13° 4.031′ 0″ N 74° 59.728′ 0″ E | Shutter speed : 1/400s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.
EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/7.1 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark III | Taken : 30 October, 2012 | Exposure bias : -2/3EV | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 420mm | ISO : 3200 | Location : 13° 4.031′ 0″ N 74° 59.728′ 0″ E | Shutter speed : 1/400s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.
EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/7.1 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark III | Taken : 30 October, 2012 | Exposure bias : -2/3EV | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 420mm | ISO : 3200 | Location : 13° 4.031′ 0″ N 74° 59.728′ 0″ E | Shutter speed : 1/400s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.
EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/7.1 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark III | Taken : 30 October, 2012 | Exposure bias : -2/3EV | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 420mm | ISO : 3200 | Location : 13° 4.031′ 0″ N 74° 59.728′ 0″ E | Shutter speed : 1/400s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.
EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/7.1 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark III | Taken : 30 October, 2012 | Exposure bias : -2/3EV | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 420mm | ISO : 3200 | Location : 13° 4.031′ 0″ N 74° 59.728′ 0″ E | Shutter speed : 1/400s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.
EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/7.1 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark III | Taken : 30 October, 2012 | Exposure bias : -2/3EV | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 420mm | ISO : 3200 | Location : 13° 4.031′ 0″ N 74° 59.728′ 0″ E | Shutter speed : 1/400s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.
EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/7.1 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark III | Taken : 30 October, 2012 | Exposure bias : -2/3EV | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 420mm | ISO : 3200 | Location : 13° 4.031′ 0″ N 74° 59.728′ 0″ E | Shutter speed : 1/400s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.
EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/7.1 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark III | Taken : 30 October, 2012 | Exposure bias : -2/3EV | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 420mm | ISO : 3200 | Location : 13° 4.031′ 0″ N 74° 59.728′ 0″ E | Shutter speed : 1/400s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.

20 thoughts on “Greater Coucal

  1. ನವಿಲು ಕಂಡು ಕೆಂಬೂತ ಗರಿ ಸಿಕ್ಕಿಸಿಕೊಂಡದ್ದು, ಕೋಗಿಲೆ ಕೇಳಿ ಕೊರಳೆತ್ತಿ ಅಪಸ್ವರ ತೆಗೆದದ್ದು, ಕಣಗಿಲೆ ಕಾಯಿ ತಿಂದು ಆತ್ಮಹತ್ಯೆಗೆಳೆಸಿದ್ದು, ನನ್ನದೃಷ್ಟ ಹೆಚ್ಚಿಸಲು (lucky bird) ದರ್ಶನ ಕೊಟ್ಟದ್ದೆಲ್ಲಾ ಅಂದ್ರೆ ಸುಳ್ಳಾ 🙂

  2. Great coucal indicates what kind of omen or spirit, does the omen associated with great coucal positive or negative?? I have seen great coucal many times and I feel that it is indicating omen but what or which omen that I want to know?

  3. Dear Kratika, Birds are never a bad omen. We Humans have lot of misconception within us and that make us imagine all sort of concepts and myths. Greater coucal is a good bird and keeps your garden checking growth of insects and snake population. So I would say it is very good omen 🙂

  4. @ Kratika. Birds are just another creation of God like humans. I feel its the otherway round, it may be a bad omen for a bird to spot a human, coz you never know whats in store for, he may kill it or injure it in the process 🙂 As far as your case I feel there must be a lot of food for it in the near vicinity where you stay as Dr. Krishi mentioned above the type of food it eats, so they actually help us in keeping the area clean.
    And finally as far myth goes spotting this bird (Callef as Bharadwaj locally) is a good omen, may be for the reason above 🙂 🙂

  5. sir pleas expalain th miths behind the bird greatet cocule…..i experienced it has a good omen….

  6. Please check my reply to Kratika Above.
    Birds are never a bad omen. We Humans have lot of misconception within us and that make us imagine all sort of concepts and myths. Greater coucal is a good bird and keeps your garden checking growth of insects and snake population. So I would say it is very good omen

  7. I have heard that Greater Coucal is very lucky if you happen to see them. I love to see them Fly, their flight is what has always greatly impressed me. Whenever I’m low on my mood, I wish to see this Bird which enlightens my mood and feel happie inside. Also different region has different belief, West India says if you see Common Raven it resembles bad luck while in South India they say seeing 3 common raven together gives some good news.
    So its better to always see the good side of everything 🙂

  8. Hi, Just need help as I found one coucal lying in my garden panting. I picked it up and checked for physical injury.Nothing noticed. It is limping and unable to fly though. To safeguard it from predators I’ve put her in a cage with clean water and some seeds. Its seems to be normal now but still limping and not eating or drinking. Can you pls guide,I’ve searched enough on internet and found this site quite related to my issue. PLS HELP,I’d like to save this bird.

  9. This morning in my garden I saw a greater Coucal chase a snake away from our vegetable patch. There were other birds, like mynas, parrots, who saw this and joined in. The Greater Coucal was like their leader. When I first spotted the snake and the Coucal, it seemed like they were measuring up each other. Finally the snake decided to leave, and as he slithered away, the birds started making a lot of sounds which were very hostile. And they continued to do so till the snake went over the boundary wall. All this while the Coucal followed the snake, but didn’t make any sound. He was amazing! I cannot identify birds, but after witnessing this, I searched the net and came across your blog. Very informative. Thank you!

  10. Hi krishna Mohan…. I wanna buy this bird and I’m placed in bangalore…can u suggest where will I get this coucal to purchase or any online website to purchase?

  11. Dear KM
    All photos are related to Greater coucals. Are lesser coucals spotted in Kerala. ? Have you any. As per Grimmit field book they are present in kerala/western ghats

    A piece of advice to Shri Venkatesh. coucals are not birds of caging category. Indeed birds are best left in their natural habitat

  12. Thanks for contacting me. I have personally written to Shri Venkatesh, regarding the greater coucals and caging.

    There is a myth that it has Sanjivini Stick and that is supposed to fetch crores of Rupees. These guys are stealing every nest they find in search of that stick. In fact I got a call from a student studying BSc from nearby college where her guide has told her to get the greater coucal nest, for that same mythical stick. If she doesn’t get she won’t be given marks to pass the exam. We have lowered to do such nasty things even in education institutes, which is supposed to teach science and scientific temper. Thanks for your concern.

    The species is widely distributed west from the Indian subcontinent extending east across Southeast Asia. The population patchily distributed[ Philip, V (1993). “Occurrence of the Lesser Crow-Pheasant Centropus tolou in Neyyar.”. Newsletter for Birdwatchers. 33 (5): 93–94.] in the Western Ghats of southern India may constitute a distinct subspecies.[Rasmussen, Pamela C.; Anderton, J.C. (2005). Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide. Volume 2. Washington D.C. and Barcelona: Smithsonian Institution and Lynx Edicions. pp. 223–224] I did not spot any in my place, all those which I mistook for lesser coucal were young Greater Caucals
    Thanks for visiting my website and liking it

  13. Very very interesting and detailed information. Thankyou. i’ve been seeing this bird of late in pairs at times, and now recognize their ”çoop coop coop calls. Really shy birds.

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