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Discover the Fascinating Behavior and Survival Strategies of the Black Coucal in Sub-Saharan Africa

Birdwatching is an exhilarating activity, offering nature enthusiasts an opportunity to explore the beauty of avian fauna. Black Coucal or Centropus grillii is one such bird species that is an absolute delight to watch.

A master of camouflage, the black coucal is a fascinating bird that can easily blend into its surroundings, making it quite tricky to spot. In this article, we will explore the identification, plumages, and molts of the black coucal, along with field identification and similar species, all of which will help birdwatchers spot these elusive birds.


The black coucal is a medium-sized bird, identifiable by its black plumage and a distinctive long tail. The bird has a greenish-blue sheen on its head and body, which is clearly visible during bright light conditions.

The size of males is larger than females, with the males measuring up to 45-50 cm and females measuring 40-45 cm. The bird’s beak is straight and pointed, with a reddish-brown color.

The legs of the black coucal are dark and strong, adapted for life in the dense undergrowth.



When it comes to field identification of the black coucal, it is essential to take note of the birds habitat.

These birds live in dense undergrowth or swamp forests and can be heard more often than seen. Typically, their call is the best way to identify them.

The bird’s call is a low-frequency “whoomp,” which can be heard in the early mornings or late evenings. The bird’s call resonates throughout the forest, making it quite distinct.

In addition, their flights are short and fast, usually restricted to a few meters with a burst of wings and a drop.

Similar Species

While the black coucal is quite distinctive, there are a few species that one must be careful not to confuse them with. One such species is the African cuckoo, which is significantly larger and has white spots on its tail feathers.

Another species is the long-tailed cuckoo, which resembles the black coucal from afar, but has a much longer tail. The red-chested cuckoo is another species that birdwatchers must be careful not to confuse with the black coucal.

They have a predominately brown body with a prominent reddish-brown chest.


The black coucal has three main plumages: juvenile, immature, and adult. The juvenile plumage has a dull brown color that helps the bird blend into the undergrowth.

The immature plumage is a dark brown color, with a blackish-grey sheen on the head and upperparts. In contrast, the adult plumage has a deep black color with a greenish-blue sheen on the upperparts.


The molting process is an essential part of the black coucals life cycle, allowing it to maintain its plumage in top condition. The bird goes through two molts in a year: the pre-breeding molt (occurring in December-February) and the post-breeding molt (occurring in July-August).

During the pre-breeding molt, the bird sheds its old feathers and starts growing new ones, which help them attract mates. In contrast, the post-breeding molt allows the bird to replace any damage to their feathers resulting from breeding or environmental factors.

In conclusion, the black coucal (Centropus grillii) is a fascinating bird species that is worth watching out for. With a proper understanding of its identification features, habitat, plumages, and molts, birdwatchers can spot these elusive birds with ease.

Remember, hearing their “whoomp” call is your best bet to locate the black coucal, and look out for those distinctive black plumage and long tails while birdwatching in swamp forests and dense undergrowth. Call-to-action: Explore the natural beauty around you and be on the lookout for black coucals during your birdwatching activities.

The more you learn about these birds, the better your chances of spotting them in their natural habitats. So, grab your binoculars and get started today!

The Black Coucal or Centropus grillii is an elusive bird species that is native to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Its systematics history, geographic variation, subspecies, and related species have been studied for many years. Additionally, historical changes have been noted in its distribution.

In this article, we will delve deeper into each of these topics to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the birds.

Systematics History

The Black Coucal was first described in 1837 by Jean-Baptiste Joseph Dieudonn Boussingault, a French geographer and chemist, who named it after Friedrich Gruille, a German ornithologist. It is a member of the cuckoo family, Cuculidae, which comprises an extensive and widespread group of birds characterized by their unique feet.

The Black Coucal is the only species of the genus Centropus found in Africa, with other species of the genus distributed across Southeast Asia and Oceania.

Geographic Variation

The geographic distribution of the Black Coucal is restricted to Sub-Saharan Africa, where it can be found in countries like Angola, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. It is commonly found in the swamp and marshy areas of these countries, where it subsists on insects and other small invertebrates.


The Black Coucal comprises six subspecies, each of which has unique features that distinguish them from other subspecies. These subspecies are Centropus grillii grillii, Centropus grillii canicapillus, Centropus grillii cavendishii, Centropus grillii kavirondensis, Centropus grillii murinus, and Centropus grillii zenkeri.

The Centropus grillii grillii is the most widespread subspecies, and is found in central and southern Africa. In contrast, the Centropus grillii murinus is confined to the Kenyan and Tanzanian coast.

The Centropus grillii kavirondensis is only found in the Lake Victoria basin in East Africa.

Related Species

The Black Coucal is related to other species of the cuckoo family, with some species looking quite similar. The closely related species include the Madagascar Coucal (Centropus toulou), which is endemic to Madagascar; the Red-chested Cuckoo (Pseudococcyx badiceps), found throughout Africa; and the Dark Cuckoo (Cacomantis merulinus), which is found in Southeast Asia and Australasia.

Despite sharing similarities with these species, the Black Coucal has distinct features that make it unique.

Historical Changes to Distribution

There have been several historical changes to the distribution of the Black Coucal, mainly due to human activities such as habitat destruction and climate change. These factors have led to a significant decline in the bird’s population, and in some areas, extinction.

Human activities such as urbanization and logging have destroyed the bird’s habitat, making it challenging for the bird to find suitable nesting and feeding grounds. Climate change has also significantly affected the distribution and population of the Black Coucal.

The bird’s range is largely dependent on the availability of swamps and other water bodies, which are rapidly disappearing due to climate change. Additionally, climate change has led to the proliferation of invasive species that compete with the Black Coucal for food and other ecological resources.

Efforts to preserve the Black Coucal’s population and distribution have been ongoing for many years. Conservation agencies have focused on preserving and restoring the bird’s habitat through the establishment of protected areas and restoration of degraded ecosystems, such as drained wetlands and degraded forest areas.

Additionally, awareness-raising and education campaigns have helped to sensitize local communities on the importance of conserving the Black Coucal and other similar bird species. In conclusion, the Black Coucal is a fascinating bird species with a long history of study.

Its systematics history, geographic variation, subspecies, and related species have been studied extensively, and researchers have documented significant changes to its distribution due to human activities and climate change. It is essential to continue focusing on conservation efforts that aim to preserve the Black Coucal’s habitat and population to ensure the long-term survival of this remarkable bird.

The Black Coucal or Centropus grillii is a fascinating bird species found in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its habitat, movements, and migration patterns play an essential role in the survival of this bird species.

In this article, we will explore these topics in-depth to gain a better understanding of the habitat, movements, and migration of the Black Coucal.


The Black Coucal is typically found in dense undergrowth, often in the vicinity of wetlands, marshes, and swamps. The bird thrives in habitats that feature vegetation such as tall reeds, papyrus, and various grasses.

These habitats provide ample cover for the Black Coucal to hide in and are often abundant with insect prey. The bird is also known to occupy forest edges and secondary growth areas that have dense vegetation cover.

The presence of water bodies is also essential to the Black Coucals survival. They are often seen close to rivers, streams, and lakes, which offer abundant food sources.

Swamps are an especially favored habitat for the Black Coucal, as they provide stable nesting sites, breeding grounds, and ample food sources.

Movements and Migration

The Black Coucal is a sedentary species, which means that it does not undertake long-distance migrations. However, they do make small movements within their range to find suitable breeding sites and feeding grounds.

In the dry season, the Black Coucal may migrate to areas where there is more water available for feeding. During the breeding season, males will move around to find females, and juveniles will move from their birth areas to find and establish their own territories.

While the Black Coucal is not known for its long-distance migrations, there have been some observations of movements outside their typical range. For example, there have been sightings of the Black Coucal in Senegal, outside of its typical range, during the dry season.

These observations suggest that the Black Coucal is capable of making short migrations in search of food and water.

Migration threats

Migration can expose the Black Coucal to a range of threats and challenges. As the bird migrates outside of its typical range, it becomes more vulnerable to predation, hunting, and habitat destruction.

Additionally, resource competition with other bird species that also migrate to the same resources can affect the Black Coucal’s survival during migration.

Habitat Loss

The loss of habitat is one of the primary threats that the Black Coucal faces during its movements. Wetland destruction, logging, and land-use change have all led to significant habitat loss within the range of the Black Coucal.

As a result, some populations of Black Coucal have suffered severe declines, and in some cases, local extinction. Human activities, such as the drainage of swamps, construction of dams, and irrigation projects, have all reduced the availability of suitable habitats for the Black Coucal to live and breed in.

Additionally, the conversion of natural habitats to agricultural lands, grazing areas, and urban developments further limits the availability of the Black Coucals habitat.

Conservation Efforts

Conservation efforts aimed at preserving the Black Coucal’s habitat and population have been ongoing for many years. These efforts have focused on creating protected areas, restoring degraded ecosystems, and raising awareness about the importance of conservation.

Protected areas play an important role in preserving the Black Coucal’s habitat by preventing further habitat destruction and providing safe breeding and feeding grounds. Eco-tourism is also an alternative that has helped to raise funds for the conservation of the Black Coucal’s habitat.

Additionally, habitat restoration efforts have helped to improve the quality and availability of Black Coucal habitats. In conclusion, the Black Coucal is a remarkable bird species found in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Its habitat, movements, and migration patterns are critical for its survival.

Habitat loss, linked to human activities, hold significant threats to the Black Coucal.

Conservation efforts that focus on habitat preservation and restoration, creating protected areas, and raising awareness are essential for the long-term survival of the Black Coucal and other bird species in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Black Coucal or Centropus grillii is a unique bird species found in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Its diet and foraging behavior, as well as its vocal behavior, are essential to its survival and play an important role in the ecological balance of its habitat. In this article, we will explore these topics in detail to gain a better understanding of the fascinating Black Coucal.

Diet and Foraging

The Black Coucal is an insectivorous bird species that feeds on a wide range of invertebrates. Their feeding behavior is shaped by their habitat, predominantly marshes and swamps, which provide an abundant supply of insects.

The Black Coucal feeds mainly on beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, locusts, caterpillars, and spiders.


The Black Coucal feeds on insects that are either in open spaces or among vegetation. The bird typically forages on the ground by walking and hopping, searchanding and gleaning for prey.

It uses its long, sharp, and straight beak to probe into small crevices and cracks to locate insects. The Black Coucal also uses its powerful feet to dig and probe into soil or vegetation to reach its prey.


The Black Coucal’s diet varies depending on the season. Insects are abundant in the marshes and wetlands that the bird occupies.

During the breeding season, when the birds require a significant amount of energy and protein for egg-laying and chick rearing, their diet primarily consists of large insects such as beetles. Their diet in the non-breeding season is less specific and is made up of a wider range of insects, including crickets, grasshoppers, and caterpillars.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Black Coucal is known to have a high metabolism, which allows them to hunt and digest large quantities of insects. They have a unique ability to maintain stable body temperatures in their warm habitats by using their bill to dissipate heat through vasodilation, or by panting to increase their respiration rate.

They also have a unique ability to extract and absorb water from their prey, which helps them to stay hydrated in an often water-scarce environment.

Sounds and Vocal


The Black Coucal is a vocal bird, known for its distinctive “whoomp, whoomp” calls, which can be heard from a considerable distance away. These calls are used by the birds to indicate their presence, attract mates, and establish territory.

The calls of the male birds have a deeper resonance than those of the female, and they are often heard calling during the early morning or late afternoon.


The Black Coucal’s vocalization is a critical component of their social behavior, and their calls are unique to each bird. They have a range of calls, including the “whoomp, whoomp” call, which is used primarily for territorial purposes.

They also have a wide range of other calls, including a low, throaty grumble, a short, sharp “chup”, and a series of “kek-kek-kek” notes used during courtship. The birds are also known for their ability to mimic other bird sounds, and they have been observed mimicking the sounds of other black coucals and other bird species.

Conservation Efforts

Conservation efforts aimed at preserving the Black Coucal and their habitat play an essential role in ensuring the survival of this bird species. These efforts include habitat protection, restoration, and management, as well as the establishment of protected areas.

Awareness-raising and educational campaigns also play a significant role in promoting the conservation of the Black Coucal. In conclusion, the Black Coucal is a fascinating bird species characterized by its unique diet and foraging behavior and its distinctive vocalizations.

The high metabolism of the bird, their temperature regulating ability, along with their use of calls and mimicry to communicate is remarkable. Conservation efforts aimed at preserving these birds’ habitat and social behavior are essential in ensuring their survival.

It is our responsibility to ensure that we take care of the Black Coucal and other bird species to maintain the ecological balance of our planet. The Black Coucal or Centropus grillii is a bird species native to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Their behavior, breeding patterns, demography, and populations have been the subject of extensive research. In this article, we will delve deeper into these topics to gain a better understanding of the fascinating Black Coucal.


The Black Coucal is a unique bird species with a wide range of behaviors that allow them to survive in their marshy and swampy habitats. Locomotion is essential to their survival, and the bird typically walks and hops, using its powerful feet to dig and probe through soil and vegetation to find insects.

Self Maintenance

The Black Coucal engages in self-maintenance behaviors, such as preening and sunbathing, which are essential for their well-being. Preening allows the bird to clean and maintain its feathers, keeping them in excellent condition for flight and insulation.

Sunbathing helps to regulate their body temperature and is essential for their overall health. Agonistic


The Black Coucal displays agonistic behavior when defending its territory against other birds or predators.

The birds are known to be highly territorial and will aggressively defend their nesting sites, breeding territories, and feeding areas. They

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