The first indication that you will get that a Black cuckoo is in the neighborhood is likely to be the mournful call “I’m so siiiiiiick” repeated often enough to convince you that there is an invalid nearby. It is a call that carries well and the bird can be quite difficult to locate in spite of its regular calls.
The Black cuckoo is an intra-African migrant and is present in the southern African region from around September to April, spending the balance of the year further north in Ethiopia, Sudan and neighbouring countries. Within the southern African region they are fairly widely distributed during the summer months, being absent from the more arid areas.
A medium sized cuckoo, it has a length of approximately 30 cm and the males and females are the same size. Males are almost entirely black; the females sometimes have pale brown barring on breast and under parts. Both sexes have black bills; black legs and feet; and brown eyes.
Black cuckoos are solitary and quite retiring, their presence being made known mainly by their call. They are usually found high up in the canopy where they feed on caterpillars and insects. When feeding on the ground they prey on termites, grasshoppers and beetles, and they may also hawk prey from the air.
Like all cuckoos, the Black cuckoo is a brood parasite and does not build a nest of its own. It parasitizes the Boubou shrikes as well as the Crimson-breasted shrikes in southern Africa, and is thought to remove the host’s eggs before laying its own. The female lays a series of 4 or five eggs, but may lay up to twenty during the season. The eggs hatch after an incubation period of approximately 14 days.
The scientific binomial for the Black cuckoo is Cuculus clamosus; Cuculus from the Latin meaning “like a cuckoo”; and clamosus from the Latin for “noisy”. Thus the name describes a noisy bird that looks like a cuckoo. I wouldn’t describe that wonderfully characteristic call is noisy, but I suppose it does go on a bit.