When Rob and I were in the Kruger National Park earlier this year we came across a number of Burchell’s Coucals. It was the rainy season and there were more about than usual. The one I’m blogging about today was sitting quite far away which made it difficult for Rob to get a good photograph. We sat patiently watching the bird for a while hoping that it would move into a better position. Imagine our delight and surprise when the bird actually decided to watch us instead and flew to within a few meters of our car!
It’s not often than one has an inquisitive bird that comes to say hello so readily. In South Africa we call these Coucal’s “rain birds” because they usually start calling loudly shortly before it rains. Their rain predictions are extremely accurate too! They are normally quite shy and and prefer to take refuge or move about deep in the bushes.
This is obviously a juvenile bird as it doesn’t have the dark markings of an adult.
Having one come right out into the open and close to our car was rather exciting and Rob was able to get a couple of good photos after all.
The Burchell’s coucal is also commonly referred to as “The Rainbird” and has a well developed reputation in southern African for being able to predict impending rain. This association with rain probably arises because coucals often call during periods of high humidity; before, during and after rain. And the call is magnificent! A liquid, bubbling cascade of notes that the South African poet Douglas Livingstone referred to as “the rainbird’s liquid note”.
The Burchell’s coucal is near endemic to the southern African region, being limited to the east and south of the region – the regions with higher rainfall – and generally preferring areas with dense vegetation, such as thickets and reed beds. Although often heard, they are less often seen as they mostly remain hidden in the thick vegetation. They are generally found in pairs.
Burchell’s coucals are fairly large birds, with a length of approximately 41 cm. Males and females are alike in plumage colouration, and the females are slightly larger than the males. They have black heads and tails; back and wings are rufous-brown and underparts are white. Eyes are red; bills, legs and feet are black.
They are voracious when feeding, hunting small mammals such as mice and rats, reptiles such as lizards and chameleons, small birds such as doves and sparrows, a variety of insects and amphibians such frogs and toads. Unusually for a bird, when hunting they may stalk after mice in the manner of a domestic cat. Occasionally they will also eat fruit.
Burchell’s coucals are monogamous, and the males build an untidy deep cup-shaped nest of grass and leaves, usually in dense vegetation. The females lay a clutch of two to five chalky-white eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 15 days.
The scientific binomial for the Burchell’s coucal is Centropus burchellii; Centropus from the Greek for “spiked foot”, referring to the hallux claw possessed by most coucals, and burchellii after the naturalist William Burchell. Thus Burchell’s bird with a spiked foot, which is a strange description to say the least.