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Lesser coucal (Centropus bengalensis)
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Cuculiformes
Family: Cuculidae
Horsfield, 1823
Genus: Centropus
Illiger, 1811
Type species
Cuculus aegyptius (Senegal coucal)
Linnaeus, 1766

About 30, see list

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. Unlike many Old World cuckoos, coucals are not brood parasites, though they do have their own reproductive peculiarity: all members of the genus are (to varying degrees) sex-role reversed, so that the smaller male provides most of the parental care. Male pheasant coucals (Centropus phasianinus) invest in building the nest, incubate for the most part and take a major role in feeding the young.[1] At least one coucal species, the black coucal, is polyandrous.[2]


The genus Centropus was introduced in 1811 by the German zoologist Johann Karl Wilhelm Illiger.[3] The type species was subsequently designated as the Senegal coucal by George Robert Gray in 1840.[4][5] The genus name combines the Ancient Greek kentron meaning "spur" or "spike" with pous meaning "foot".[6]


Many coucals have a long claw on their hind toe (hallux). 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).[7] (Cuvier, in Newton 1896) The length of the claw can be about 68-76% of the tarsus length in the African black coucal C. grillii and lesser coucal C. bengalensis. Only the short-toed coucal C. rectunguis is an exception with the hallux claw of only 23% of the tarsus length. Thread like feather structures (elongated sheaths of the growing feathers that are sometimes termed trichoptiles[8][9]) are found on the head and neck of hatchlings and can be as long as 20mm. Nestlings can look spiny.[10] Many are opportunistic predators, Centropus phasianus is known to attack birds caught in mist nets[11] 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.[10]: 17 

Coucals generally make nests inside dense vegetation and they usually have the top covered but some species have the top open. Pheasant coucal Centropus phasianinus, greater coucal C. sinensis and Madagascar coucal C. toulou sometimes build an open nest while some species always build open nests (the bay coucal C. celebensis)[10]: 120 

Some coucal species have been seen to fly while carrying their young.[12]


The genus contains 29 species:[13]

A fossil species, Centropus colossus, is known from the Quaternary-aged Fossil Cave, Tantanoola, South Australia.


  1. ^ Maurer, G. (2008). "Who Cares? Males Provide Most Parental Care in a Monogamous Nesting Cuckoo". Ethology. 114 (6): 540–547. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0310.2008.01498.x.
  2. ^ Andersson, Malte (1995). "Evolution of reversed sex roles, sexual size dimorphism, and mating system in coucals (Centropodidae, Aves)". Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 54 (2): 173–181. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8312.1995.tb01030.x. Archived from the original (Abstract) on 2013-01-05.
  3. ^ Illiger, Johann Karl Wilhelm (1811). Prodromus systematis mammalium et avium (in Latin). Berolini [Berlin]: Sumptibus C. Salfeld. p. 205.
  4. ^ Gray, George Robert (1840). A List of the Genera of Birds : with an Indication of the Typical Species of Each Genus. London: R. and J.E. Taylor. p. 56.
  5. ^ Peters, James Lee, ed. (1940). Check-List of Birds of the World. Vol. 4. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 66.
  6. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 96. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  7. ^ Newton, Alfred (1893–1896). A Dictionary of Birds. London: Adam and Charles Black. p. 107.
  8. ^ Shelford, R (1900). "On the pterylosis of the embryos and nestlings of Centropus sinensis". Ibis. 6 (4): 654–667. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919x.1900.tb00763.x.
  9. ^ Hindwood, KA (1942). "Nestling Coucal" (PDF). The Emu. 42 (1): 52. doi:10.1071/MU942050c.
  10. ^ a b c Payne, R.B. (2005). The Cuckoos. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-850213-3.
  11. ^ Hicks, R.K.; Restall, R. (1992). "Pheasant coucal Centropus phasianus attacking birds caught in a mist net". Muruk. 5: 143.
  12. ^ Bell, H.L. (1984). "Carrying of young in flight by Coucals Centropus spp". Australian Bird Watcher. 10: 171.
  13. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (January 2022). "Turacos, bustards, cuckoos, mesites, sandgrouse". IOC World Bird List Version 12.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 12 August 2022.