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Species Guide
A photo of a Red-chested Cuckoo (Cuculus solitarius)
Red-chested Cuckoo

Red-chested Cuckoo

Cuculus solitarius

The red-chested cuckoo, known scientifically as Cuculus solitarius, is a medium-sized bird that graces the African skies south of the Sahara. With a length of about 31 cm, the male boasts slate-grey upper parts and a pale grey throat, with the sides of his head complementing his dark grey tail, which is tipped with white. His breast is a striking rufous or cinnamon, occasionally barred, leading to a creamy-white or pale buff belly. The female mirrors the male in plumage, though her breast is a tad duller and may show varying degrees of barring.

Identification Tips

When attempting to identify the red-chested cuckoo, look for the distinctive rufous or cinnamon breast in males, which can sometimes be barred. The slate-grey upper parts and pale grey throat are also key characteristics. Females are similar but with a duller breast color and more variable barring.


The red-chested cuckoo favors woodlands as its preferred habitat, thriving in the lush greenery that these environments provide.


This bird's range is extensive across the African continent, from Angola to Zimbabwe, including countries like Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania. In Southern Africa, it is a common breeding migrant, though it tends to avoid the drier western regions.


A solitary creature by nature, the red-chested cuckoo is known for its vocal prowess. Its diet is varied, including insects such as hairy caterpillars, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, slugs, snails, small vertebrates, and even berries. The red-chested cuckoo is polygamous, taking on more than one mate during the breeding season. It practices brood parasitism, laying its eggs in the nests of other small birds, with the Cape robin-chat, Cape wagtail, and white-throated robin-chat being common hosts. The host birds then raise the cuckoo's offspring, often unaware of the deception.

Song & Calls

The red-chested cuckoo is highly vocal, and its call is so distinctive that it has influenced its Afrikaans name, "Piet-my-vrou."


During the breeding season, the red-chested cuckoo engages in brood parasitism, laying up to 20 brown eggs across different nests of other bird species. The host birds are left to raise the cuckoo chicks, which they do diligently, mistaking them for their own.

Similar Species

While there may be other cuckoo species within its range, the red-chested cuckoo can be distinguished by its unique coloration and vocalizations.

Diet and Feeding

The red-chested cuckoo has a diverse palate, feeding on a variety of insects, arachnids, mollusks, small vertebrates, and berries, which it forages for in its woodland habitat.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List classifies the red-chested cuckoo as Least Concern, indicating that, for now, this species does not face any immediate threat of extinction.

Red-chested Cuckoo Sounds

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Red-chested Cuckoo Fun Facts

Did you know?
Red-chested Cuckoos lay their eggs in the nest of other species; this is known as brood parasitism.

Red-chested Cuckoos on Birda


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