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Species Guide
A photo of a African Cuckoo (Cuculus gularis)
African Cuckoo

African Cuckoo

Cuculus gularis

The African cuckoo, or African grey cuckoo (Cuculus gularis), is a medium-sized bird with a total length of 32 cm (13 in). It exhibits a dashing flight reminiscent of a bird of prey. Both sexes display a similar plumage with dark grey head, upper parts, and wings, while the throat and breast are pale grey, and the belly is white barred with dark grey. The tail is dark grey with dark barring and a white tip. Males have yellow eyes, while females' eyes are light brown. The beak is yellow with a black or horn tip, and the legs and feet are yellowish. Juveniles come in two color morphs: grey and hepatic, with the latter replacing the white with buff or a tawny hue.

Identification Tips

To distinguish the African cuckoo from similar species, note the grey upper tail covers, unlike the blackish ones of lesser or Madagascar cuckoos. The tail barring is complete, setting it apart from the common cuckoo, which has outer rectrices incompletely barred. The male's call is a distinctive "coo-coo," with the second note higher and louder, and the female produces a bubbling "Kwik-kwik-kwik."


The African cuckoo favors savannahs with scattered acacia trees and open woodlands. It avoids dense forests and arid regions, preferring areas with sufficient foliage for foraging.


This species is found across Sub-Saharan Africa, migrating within the continent to coincide with the rainy season. It breeds in various locations during this period, with some populations, such as those in Nigeria, present year-round.


The African cuckoo is generally solitary, foraging in trees and on the ground for insects. It perches almost vertically and is territorial, with pairs in southern Africa occupying territories greater than 60 hectares (150 acres), actively driving off other cuckoos.

Song & Calls

The male's song is a two-note "coo-coo," with the second note being more pronounced. The female's call is a bubbling series of "Kwik-kwik-kwik."


As a brood parasite, the African cuckoo lays its eggs in the nests of other bird species, such as the yellow-billed shrike and fork-tailed drongo, often removing an existing egg. The eggs closely resemble those of the host in color and size. The cuckoo chick will eject other eggs and nestlings from the nest upon hatching.

Similar Species

The African cuckoo can be confused with the common cuckoo, lesser cuckoo, or Madagascar cuckoo, but can be differentiated by its complete tail barring and grey upper tail covers.

Diet and Feeding

The diet mainly consists of hairy and smooth caterpillars, as well as other insects like beetles and winged termites. The African cuckoo forages through foliage and probes cattle dung in search of food.

Conservation status

The African cuckoo is classified as "Least Concern" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with a fairly common presence across a wide range and no identified specific threats to its population.

African Cuckoo Sounds

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