Tag Archives: cuckoo

An Obliging Cuckoo

Birds are difficult to photograph.  They are, with a few exceptions, small and nervous, and they move quickly.  They fly.  They hide in thickets.  They can disappear in a flash.  Just sitting still they can become invisible.  From a photographer’s point of view, when they perch they are usually too high or too low.   99 times out of 100 they are too far away, regardless of what lens you have on your camera.  Rob has a theory that birds can read the focal length engraved on the front of a camera lens and know exactly how far away they must be to taunt the photographer, so it’s no use changing the lens for a longer model!  To add to a photographer’s woes, so many birds are most active at dawn or dusk when the light is approaching its worst in the deep thickets and under the forest canopy where birds spend so much of their time.

Levaillant's Cuckoo

But there are exceptions and it is for these special times that photographers spend their days behind their cameras.  Days of waiting for a split second exposure.

Levaillant's Cuckoo

Recently the Kruger National Park delivered such an exception.  We came upon a Levaillant’s Cuckoo perched in the open, reasonably close to the road and, at 5.30 in the afternoon, in fair light – and he (or she; the sexes are alike) didn’t fly.  He had located a patch of sparsely vegetated veld rich in hairy caterpillars and was not leaving!

Levaillant's Cuckoo

For several minutes we sat and watched his antics as he feasted, downing a dozen or more caterpillars in half as many minutes.  From the car the angle for photography was not ideal, but just watching him was enthralling.

Levaillant's Cuckoo

Typical of what happens in any national park, several folks stopped to see what we were watching and moved on disappointed when seeing that it was “just a bird”.  The cuckoo was not offended.

Levaillant's Cuckoo

Levaillant’s Cuckoos are not rare;  they are fairly common breeding migrants to Southern Africa, where obliging Bulbuls and Southern Fiscals generously raise the next generation for them, but we still felt privileged to witness this little feeding frenzy.

The identification of this particular bird has caused some head-scratching in our circle.  We were undecided whether it was a Levaillant’s Cuckoo or a Jacobin Cuckoo.  The Jacobin has a pure white breast, however, the streaking on this cuckoo’s chest is not very heavy.  If any of our readers feel strongly that we have misidentified this bird, please feel free to drop us a line.  We would welcome your input.

Bird of the week – Week 55: Diderick cuckoo

At that time of the year when spring is moving towards summer, a new bird call, familiar from last year, is heard with growing frequency throughout most of southern Africa, excluding the really arid regions. A loud and persistent deed-deed-deed-deed-er-ick. This is the striking and distinctive call that gives the Diderick cuckoo its onomatopoetic name, which you may sometimes find written as “Diederik” or “Dideric”. It is the male who does the calling, energetically declaring his territory and no doubt letting the females know where he can be found.
Like most cuckoos, the Diderick cuckoo is heard more often than it is seen, although it is not quite as retiring as some of its relatives. It is a one of the smaller cuckoos, with a length of about 20 cm; green above and with whitish underparts. They have a broken white eyestripe, a green moustauchial stripe, and green outer tail feathers adorned with white spots. Eyes are red; the bill black and legs and feet grey.  Females differ slightly in plumage and are slightly larger than males.
It is generally a solitary bird and is found singly in open woodland and savanna, eschewing forests and plantations. In keeping with other cuckoos, the Diderick cuckoo is a brood parasite, although it is perhaps less discriminatory in its choice of host than  some, and has been known to parasitise at least 24 other species. The most common amongst these are the sparrows, weavers (including the bishops) and the wagtails, all of which are significantly smaller than the Diderick cuckoo, and are thus faced with an extremely challenging task when it come to feeding the hatchling.
Diderick cuckoos are intra-African migrants and arrive in southern Africa from central or east Africa in September/October and depart again in March/April. They feed mainly on caterpillars and insects.
Being a brood parasite is not a totally idyllic life, and while the males are letting the world know who and where they are with their characteristic call, the females must locate a suitable nest which is at the right stage in the breeding cycle, locate a male to mate with (this is the easy part!) and then enter the well guarded host’s nest undetected to lay her egg amongst the host’s clutch and then leave again. Not an easy task in view of the heightened alertness of all birds during the breeding period.
The scientific binomial of the Diderick cuckoo is Chrysococcyx caprius; Chrysococcyx from the Greek for a golden cuckoo, in reference to the metallic sheen of the plumage and caprius from the Latin for like a goat – a careless error as the spelling should have been cupreus from the Latin for like copper. By the time the error was realized, cupreous had been given to the African emerald cuckoo (Chrysococcyx cupreus) and so the inappropriate goat-reference was left . Thus we have a metallic cuckoo that looks like a goat. Oops! A metallic cuckoo that has a coppery sheen – that’s better.