Tag Archives: Chrysococcyx cupreus

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.

Bird of the week – Week 23 : Scarlet-chested sunbird

The male Scarlet-chested sunbird is a magnificent bird. Fairly large for a sunbird, with a length of about 15 cm and a weight of up to 16 g, they are a sooty black overall, but with a brilliant metallic green crown and throat, with the lower throat and chest a bright scarlet. Admittedly, the green crown and throat are not always noticeable in the field, but when the sun catches it, the colours glow wonderfully. As with many of the sunbirds, the female suffers by comparison and is rather drab, with a greenish brown back; yellow bellow, and mottled with brown on throat and chest. As with the male, the bill, legs and feet are black
The Scarlet-chested sunbird is widely spread throughout Africa South of Sahara; inhabiting woodland, riverine bush, and also gardens. In South Africa it is a common resident in most areas, although it is absent from most of Cape Province. It is usually solitary or may be found in pairs.
They feed on nectar, especially favouring Aloes, while hovering or while perched and will often feed while hanging upside-down. They also eat insects and spiders. In summer, when the aloes are in flower, these birds are a dazzling sight.
The voice of the Scarlet-chested sunbird is a loud series of 3-5 notes that are repeated over and over, “chip cheeu chip chip”. The male perches quite conspicuously on the top of a tree while singing and is a delight to watch as he puffs out his scarlet chest. Of course the song is also a declaration of his presence and a marking of his territory, which he defends quite aggressively against intruders.
The nest of the Scarlet-chested sunbird is an untidy ball of grass and leaves, often bound together with spider webs. It may be lined with hair or feathers, or with soft plant material and is suspended from the branch of a tree, usually over water. The female lays a clutch of 1 to 3 white or cream eggs that hatch after an incubation period of about 16 days. The nest may be parasitized by Klaas’s cuckoo or the Emerald cuckoo (Chrysococcyx cupreus).
The binomial for the Scarlet-chested sunbird is Chalcomitra senegalensis. Chalcomitra from the Greek for a copper or bronze headband and senegalensis after the West Africa country of Senegal.