Greater Coucal in Rajaji National Park

Welcome to the Jungle Safari Rajaji National Park blog page. The Greater Coucal (Centropus sinensis), also known as the Crow Pheasant, is a captivating bird that defies easy categorization. Belonging to the cuckoo order (Cuculiformes), it possesses a unique blend of physical characteristics reminiscent of crows, pheasants, and even cuckoos themselves. This distinctive bird graces the landscapes of Asia, ranging from the Indian Subcontinent to Southeast Asia, with its presence adding a touch of the exotic to diverse habitats.

A Striking Appearance: A Bird of Contrasts

The Greater Coucal is a large bird, typically measuring between 40-45 cm in length. Its most striking feature is the contrasting plumage. Adults sport a sleek, glossy black body with a long, heavy tail that adds a touch of elegance. Their wings, however, stand out in stark contrast, boasting a rich, coppery brown hue that shimmers in the sunlight. This unexpected color combination makes the Greater Coucal a truly eye-catching bird.

Greater Coucal
Greater Coucal

Adding to their allure are their deep red eyes, which gleam with an intelligent intensity. Juveniles, on the other hand, lack the adult’s sophisticated look. They appear much duller, with brown feathers replacing the black, and white bars adorning their tails and underparts. Traces of black streaks may also be visible on their wings and upperparts, creating a mottled appearance. As they mature, these streaks gradually fade, giving way to the adult’s striking plumage.

A Bird of Many Habitats

The Greater Coucal is a remarkably adaptable bird, capable of thriving in a variety of habitats. From lush jungles teeming with life to cultivated farmlands and even urban gardens, they seem to find suitable homes in diverse environments. Dense forests, however, appear to be less preferred. This adaptability is likely a contributing factor to their widespread presence across Asia.

Greater Coucal
Greater Coucal

Within their chosen habitats, Greater Coucals prefer areas with dense undergrowth. This vegetation provides them with the perfect cover to stalk their prey, remaining unseen until the opportune moment for a strike. They are also known to frequent the edges of wetlands and marshes, further expanding their ecological niche.

A Master of Stealth

The Greater Coucal is a skilled predator, employing a combination of stealth and agility to secure its meals. Primarily insectivorous, their diet consists of a wide variety of insects, including grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, and even cockroaches. They also supplement their diet with spiders, lizards, small snakes, and frogs, making them opportunistic feeders that readily adapt to the available prey.

Their long, powerful legs allow them to stalk their prey with impressive speed and maneuverability through the undergrowth. Their strong, slightly curved beak is perfectly suited for tearing apart insects and other small creatures. When the right moment arrives, the Greater Coucal pounces with lightning speed, snatching its unsuspecting prey in a swift and decisive attack.

Greater Coucal
Greater Coucal

A Solitary Life

The Greater Coucal is primarily a solitary bird, except during the breeding season. They form monogamous pairs and work together to raise their young. Both parents contribute to building the nest, a cup-shaped structure typically constructed in dense vegetation close to the ground.

The female typically lays 2-4 eggs, which are incubated by both parents for around 14 days. Once hatched, the chicks are altricial, meaning they are helpless and require constant parental care for survival. Both parents diligently feed the chicks and keep them safe until they are fledged and able to care for themselves.

After the breeding season concludes, the pair separates, returning to their solitary lives. However, they may remain in the same general vicinity, occasionally reuniting to breed again in subsequent seasons.

A Bird of Cultural Significance

The Greater Coucal holds a special place in the cultures of various Asian countries. In India, they are considered to be symbols of good luck and fortune. Their adaptability is admired, and they are seen as a reminder of the importance of being able to adjust to changing circumstances.

Greater Coucal
Greater Coucal

In some parts of Southeast Asia, the Greater Coucal is believed to possess mystical powers. They are associated with protection and are sometimes seen as guardians of the spirit world. These cultural beliefs highlight the unique

Conservation Concerns and A Look to the Future

Despite its widespread presence and adaptability, the Greater Coucal is not without its threats. Habitat loss due to deforestation and agricultural expansion poses a significant challenge for these birds. As natural areas shrink, the availability of suitable nesting sites and food sources diminishes, potentially impacting their population numbers.

Another threat comes from the use of pesticides and insecticides. These chemicals can harm the insect populations that form the mainstay of the Coucal’s diet. A reduction in prey availability can lead to decreased breeding success and overall population decline.

However, there is hope for the future of the Coucal. The species is currently classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). This designation indicates that the population is currently stable and not facing immediate threats of extinction.

Greater Coucal
Greater Coucal

Conservation efforts are underway to address the challenges faced by the Coucal. Initiatives aimed at protecting natural habitats and promoting sustainable agricultural practices are crucial in ensuring the long-term survival of these birds. Additionally, raising public awareness about the importance of the Greater Coucal and its ecological role can garner support for conservation efforts.

Beyond the Expected

While the Coucal is not a brood parasite itself (unlike some of its cuckoo relatives), a fascinating twist exists in its breeding behavior. There have been documented instances of interspecific brood parasitism involving the Greater Coucal and the Common Hawk-cuckoo (Hieraspiza nisus).

In these rare cases, the Common Hawk-cuckoo lays its eggs in the Coucal’s nest. The unsuspecting Greater Coucal parents then unknowingly raise the cuckoo chick alongside their own offspring. The cuckoo chick, being larger and more aggressive, often outcompetes the Greater Coucal chicks for food, potentially reducing their chances of survival.

Greater Coucal
Greater Coucal


The Greater Coucal is a captivating bird that defies easy categorization. Its striking appearance, adaptable nature, and unique vocalizations make it a fascinating addition to the Asian avifauna. From its role as a skilled predator to its cultural significance and the occasional surprise of interspecific brood parasitism, the Greater Coucal continues to intrigue researchers and bird enthusiasts alike.

FAQs About Greater Coucal

What does a Greater Coucal look like?

  • Large bird (40-45 cm) with contrasting plumage.
  • Adults: Glossy black body, long black tail, rich coppery-brown wings, deep red eyes.
  • Juveniles: Duller brown feathers, white bars on tail and underparts, streaks on wings and upperparts.

Where do Greater Coucals live?

  • Widespread in Asia (Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia).
  • Adaptable to various habitats: forests (except dense ones), farmlands, gardens, wetlands, and marshes.
  • Prefer areas with dense undergrowth for cover.

What do Greater Coucals eat?

  • Primarily insectivores (grasshoppers, crickets, beetles).
  • Also eat spiders, lizards, small snakes, frogs, fruits, and seeds.
  • Opportunistic feeders, adapt the diet to available prey.

What sounds do Greater Coucals make?

  • Loud, booming “whoop-whoop” call (repeated in series).
  • Repertoire includes cackles, whistles, and clicks.
  • Vocalizations are used for territorial defense, communication, and attracting mates.

Are Greater Coucals social birds?

  • Mainly solitary except for breeding season.
  • Form monogamous pairs, working together to raise young.
  • After breeding, return to solitary lives but may reunite in the following seasons.

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