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A photo of a Greater Coucal (Centropus sinensis)
Greater Coucal

Greater Coucal

Centropus sinensis

The Greater Coucal, also known as the Crow Pheasant (Centropus sinensis), presents itself as a large, non-parasitic member of the cuckoo order. This bird, stretching to a length of 48 cm, boasts a striking black head, a glossy purple-black mantle and underside, and chestnut brown wings. The eyes of this species are a captivating ruby red, while juveniles exhibit a duller black with spots on the crown and white bars on the underside and tail.

Identification Tips

To identify the Greater Coucal, look for its long tail and the characteristic long and straight hind claw. The absence of pale shaft streaks on the coverts is notable. Leucistic specimens, displaying partial albinism, have been observed, though they are rare.

Habitat

This bird is quite adaptable, found in a variety of habitats ranging from dense jungle to cultivated areas and even urban gardens.

Distribution

The Greater Coucal is a widespread resident across the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia. It is divided into several subspecies, with some being treated as full species. The nominate race inhabits areas from the Indus Valley to southern China, while other races are distributed across Peninsular India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and the Malay Peninsula, extending to the islands of Sumatra, Java, Borneo, and the Philippines.

Behaviour

The Greater Coucal is known for its weak flight capabilities, often seen clambering in vegetation or walking on the ground. It is most active during the warm hours of the morning and late afternoon. Sunbathing is a common behavior, with the bird spreading its wings atop vegetation.

Song & Calls

The species is recognized by its deep, resonant call, often associated with omens in its range. The call is a low "coop-coop-coops" that varies, including duets between individuals. The female's call is typically lower pitched.

Breeding

Breeding occurs after the monsoon in southern India, with the season varying across its range. Greater Coucals are monogamous, and the male engages in courtship displays, including chases and food gifts. The nest is a dome-shaped structure built in dense vegetation, and the typical clutch consists of 3-5 chalky white eggs.

Similar Species

The Greater Coucal can be confused with the Lesser Coucal (Centropus bengalensis), but the latter has a stubbier bill, shorter tail, and dark eyes, among other distinguishing features.

Diet and Feeding

Their diet includes insects, caterpillars, snails, small vertebrates, bird eggs, nestlings, fruits, and seeds. They have also been known to consume the toxic fruits of Cascabela thevetia.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List classifies the Greater Coucal as Least Concern, indicating a stable population without significant threats at present.

In the words of David Attenborough, "The Greater Coucal, with its deep, resonant call, is a bird that captures the essence of the wild landscapes it inhabits. Its adaptability to various environments is a testament to the resilience of nature."

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