Thursday, November 24, 2011

Red-chested Cuckoo - Maree

A bird in the hand is a certainty, but a bird in the bush may sing.
Bret Harte

30th October 8.04 am and I heard the Piet-My-Vrou (Red-chested Cuckoo - Cuculus solitarius) for the first time this season! It's rather late, I normally hear them at the beginning of October, but it's as if they've waited for the first rains before being heard! (We had 20mm of rain last night and 15mm the night before, so the world around here is looking and smelling sparkling clean!) They're extremely shy and very hard to spot, but I managed to get a quick (not-so-good!) shot with my camera before he disappeared back into the thick foliage. Had to use my bird book to complete all the colours.

I have held most bird species in my hands at least once, but with the Red-chested Cuckoo I have not had that pleasure.

In Southern Africa, all cuckoos are "migratory" (the Klaas's and Emerald Cuckoos appear to be resident in the warmer east), arriving from Central or Eastern Africa at the start of the rainy season in late September and October. Upon arrival, the males establish territories and advertise their presence to females (and birdwatchers!) by calling incessantly, sometimes even after dark.

The Red-chested Cuckoo is mainly found in the eastern half of southern Africa, and is quite common in protected areas, living in a wide range of habitats. It feeds mostly on invertebrates, particularly hairy caterpillars but also grasshoppers and beetles, amongst others. Our Blue Gum trees (Eucalyptus) get over-run by caterpillars in Oct/Nov and I just love watching this Cuckoo scrambling up and down the trunk collecting them.

It mostly parasitizes members of Muscicapidae (robins, thrushes, flycatchers, etc.), rushing into their nests, and removing the host's eggs before laying one of its own, all in just 5 seconds! Once the chick is 2 days old, it evicts the host's eggs and nestlings. It stays in the nest for 17-21 days, and is dependent on its host parents for 20-25 days more, before becoming fully independent. It is the weirdest sight seeing the little Robin rushing around feeding this chick 5 times her own size!

This Cuckoo occurs throughout Africa south of the Sahara, but avoids arid regions. In southern Africa it is common in eastern Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and eastern and southern South Africa. It generally prefers Afromontane forest, closed woodland, Miombo woodland, open Savannah thickets, stands of trees in human settlements, mature gardens and parks.


  1. What interesting nesting habits! And your watercolor sketch is lovely, Maree.

  2. Lovely loose sketch of your cuckoo ...

  3. You have the most interesting birds in SA. Here in Virginia, we have cowbirds who also lay their eggs in other's nest, usually the poor little bluebird's. Rude behavior if you ask me.
    Lovely sketch.

  4. Thanks Paula! Yes, I also say so, decidedly rude and irresponsible! lol!

  5. Thank you Kate, it is such a thrill seeing them!


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