Coucal in the Tree Nextdoor

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Coucal in the Tree next door

I heard a scrabble in the discarded tree branches and saw a movement. Thinking it could be a snake, I moved closer, and a coucal flew out of a hollow in the trees and sat on a branch. Silently, I went inside and got my camera and took the first shots through the verandah posts. As the coucal stayed there, I slowly moved to get a better view and took some photos. He watched me warily, and deciding he had had enough, flapped his wing and flew away

You might recognise the Pheasant Coucal by its distinctive ‘oop-oop-oop-opp’ call. A coucal is one of about 30 species of birds in the cuckoo family. All of them belong in the subfamily Centropodinae and the genus Centropus. Many coucals have a long claw on their hind toe (hallux). The genus name from Greek kentron, a spike and pous for foot describe this hallux claw. The feet have minute spurs and this is responsible for the German term for coucals Sporenkuckucke. The common name is perhaps derived from the French coucou and alouette (for the long lark like claw)

Many are opportunistic predators, Centropus phasianus is known to attack birds caught in mist nets while white-browed coucals Centropus superciliosus are attracted to smoke from grass fires where they forage for insects and small mammals escaping from the fire. Coucals generally make nests inside dense vegetation and they usually have the top covered but some species have the top open.

Ready to take off

The Pheasant Coucal feeds on the ground on large insects, frogs, lizards, eggs and young of birds and, sometimes, small mammals. Weak fliers, they feed chiefly on large insects but can run down small rodents and reptiles.

The Pheasant Coucal builds its own nest, a shallow platform of sticks and grass, into which it lays between two and five white eggs. The young coucals are fed by both sexes, but the male parent does most of the feeding, providing the nestlings with small vertebrates, such as frogs, and grasshoppers and other insects.

Pheasant Coucals form lasting pairs and, unlike other Australian cuckoos, build their own nests and raise their young themselves. The nest is usually hidden in thick grass or sugar cane or in weedy thickets and is a platform of sticks, grass or rushes, lined with leaves and grasses. The male usually incubates the eggs and feeds the young, with the female helping with feeding. More than one clutch can be laid in one season.

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