Domestic Birds

Greater Coucal or the Crow Pheasant

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.

Greater Coucal


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.

Subspecies Differences:

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.

Greater Coucal

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.

Greater Coucal
Greater Coucal
Greater Coucal

Coucal Information and Listing of SpeciesCoucal Photo Gallery


Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

One Comment

  1. Hi, just wondering on how aggressive these birds are to each other. I just had 2 outside my window here in Thailand, and it looked like one was killing the other. There is a sunken 1m wide concrete water ring, filled with dead leaves and general garden waste. Bird 1 was on top dragging bird 2 about and I think pecking it, although I am not really sure what was going on there. When I opened my window to let my presence known the bird one flew off, leaving the 2nd gasping for air, it was panting heavily and looked completely exhausted. It let me approach it until touching range, where I placed a bowl of water and a ripe mango for it, just in case it felt the need. I backed off and stayed close as the neighbours cats have killed everything else that lives in that area. After about 10 mins it started to move again, so I feel exhaustion was what it was suffering from. I do not think it was any mating ritual and the only other 2 choices I can see would be attack or an attempt to rescue, something loud dragged me out of an after nap, so maybe the bird hit a window or something and its mate was trying to assist. Really not sure, if it was a mate I would have expected it to have stayed close to make sure I was no threat too. Any insight as to what happened would be appreciated. I spend a lot of time trying to stop the damn cats from killing everything, so hope the birds are not turning on each other too!

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