The Greater Coucals or the Crow Pheasants (Centropus sinensis) are non-parasitic cuckoos (unlike other cuckoos, they raise their own chicks).
Locally, they are known by numerous names, including: Hindi: Mahoka; Punjabi: Kamadi kukkar; Bengali: Kuka Assamese: Kukoo sorai, Kukuha sorai, Dabahi kukuha; Cachar: Dao di dai; Manipuri: Nongkoubi; Gujarati: Hokko, Ghoyaro, Ghumkiyo; Kutch: Hooka; Marathi: Bharadwaj, Kumbhar kaola, Kukkudkumbha, Sonkawla’; Oriya: Dahuka; Tamil: Kalli kaka, Chembakam; Telugu: Jemudu kaki, Chemara, Mahoka kaki, Samba kaki; Malayalam: Uppan, Chemboth; Kannada: Kembootha; and Sinhalese: Atti kukkula, Bu kukkula.
Several subspecies have been identified.
Distribution / Range
They are widespread resident (non-migratory) birds in Asia, where they are found from India, east to south China and Indonesia.
They occur in a wide range of habitats – from jungle to cultivation.
In the mornings, they are often seen sunbathing singly or in pairs on the top of vegetation with their wings spread out.
These large cuckoos measure, on average, 19 inches or 48 cm in length, including the long tail.
The head is black, upper mantle and underside are purplish black. The back and wings are chestnut brown. There are no pale shaft streaks on the coverts. Their eyes are red.
Partially albinistic specimens have been observed.
Juveniles have a duller black plumage, with spots on the crown and whitish bars on the underside and tail.
Hatchlings have black skin and white hairy feathers forming a fringe over the eye and beak. The center of the abdomen is pinkish and the upper beak is black with a pink edge. The eyes are brown, the gape yellow and the feet are dark brown-grey.
The race intermedius of the Assam and Bangladesh region is smaller than the nominate race found in the sub-Himalayan zone.
The race parroti of southern India has a black head and the underparts glossed blue and has the forehead, face and throat more brownish.
Subspecies, Ranges and Identification
Centropus sinensis sinensis – Nominate Form
- Range: Pakistan, India in the Indus valley through the sub-Himalayas and the Gangetic plain to Assam, Nepal and the Bhutan foothills into southern China (Guangxi, Zhejiang, Fujian)
Centropus sinensis parroti (Stresemann, 1913)
- Range: Peninsular India (Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and southwards).
- ID: Black upper back. Juveniles have an unmarked dull black on the underside (contra barred in the northern races) and have much darker, dusky chestnut-colored wings
Centropus sinensis intermedius (Hume, 1873)
- Range: Bangladesh, west Cachar and into Myanmar and the Chin Hills into China (Yunnan, Hainan), Thailand, Indochina and the northern part of the Malay Peninsula.
- Smaller in size
Centropus sinensis bubutus (Horsfield, 1821)
- Range: Southern part of the Malay Peninsula into the islands of Sumatra, Nias, Mentawai Islands, Java, Bali, Borneo, western Philippines (Balabac, Cagayan Sulu and Palawan)
- ID: The wings are a paler rufous
Centropus sinensis bubutus (Stresemann, 1913)
- Range: Southeast Asia – Southwestern Philippines (Basilan, Sulu Islands)
- ID: Have a distinct call
Centropus sinensis kangeangensis (Vorderman, 1893)
- Range: Kangean Islands
- Two phases exist – a pale and a dark plumage phase.
Diet / Feeding
Greater Coucals feed on insects, caterpillars and small vertebrates (including Saw-scaled vipers.
They are also known to eat bird eggs, nestlings, fruits and seeds.
In Tamil Nadu, they mostly feed on snails Helix vittata.
In Oil palm cultivation, they take the fleshy mesocarps of the ripe fruits.
Calls / Vocalizations
The calls are described as booming low coop-coop-coops repeated and with variations. Individuals may perform in duets. When duetting the female has a lower pitched call. Other calls include a rapid rattling “lotok, lotok …” and a harsh scolding “skaah” and a hissing threat call.
Breeding / Nesting
In Southern India, Greater coucals maintain breeding territories of about 0.9 to 7.2 ha (the average being: 3.8 ha). They tend to be monogamous, mating with the same mate.
Their courtship displays involve chases on the ground and mutual feeding. The female lowers her tail and droops her wings to signal her willingness to mate.
The nest is built mostly by the male over about three to eight days. The nest is typically hidden in dense vegetation, inside tangles of creepers or Pandanus crowns. They can be built as high as 6m above the ground.
The average clutch consists of 3 – 5 eggs. The eggs measure 36-28 mm and weigh about 14.8 g). They are chalky white with a yellow glaze.