Lesser coucal

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Lesser coucal
Lesser coucal പുല്ലുപ്പൻ from Kole Wetlands DSCN9697.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Cuculiformes
Family: Cuculidae
Genus: Centropus
C. bengalensis
Binomial name
Centropus bengalensis
(Gmelin, JF, 1788)

See text

The lesser coucal (Centropus bengalensis) is a species of cuckoo in the family Cuculidae. It has a wide distribution range that overlaps with several other similar species. The habitat in which it is found is often marshy land with grass and tree cover. It is distinguished by its smaller size, less prominent bill, pale shaft streaks on the feathers of the head and back. It has a much longer claw on its hind toe and a distinct call. It is also among the few coucals that show season plumage differences but like in other coucals, the sexes cannot be distinguished in the field.


The lesser coucal was formally described in 1788 by the German naturalist Johann Friedrich Gmelin in his revised and expanded edition of Carl Linnaeus's Systema Naturae. He placed it with all the other cuckoos in the genus Cuculus and coined the binomial name Cuculus bengalensis.[2] Gmelin based his description on the "lark-heeled cuckoo" from Bengal that had been described and illustrated in 1776 by the English naturalist Peter Brown.[3] The lesser coucal is now one of around 30 species placed in the genus Centropus that was introduced in 1811 by the German zoologist Johann Karl Wilhelm Illiger.[4][5] The genus name combines the Ancient Greek kentron meaning "spur" or "spike" with pous meaning "foot".[6]

Six subspecies are recognised:

In the past, this species was lumped along with the Malagasy coucal (Centropus toulou) but comparison of DNA sequences suggest that the lesser coucal is more closely related to the black coucal (Centropus grillii) and Philippine coucal (Centropus viridis) than to any other relatives.[9][10]


Subspecies javanensis in Taman Negara, Malaysia

This slightly smaller-sized and shorter-billed coucal has a very long hind claw, the longest within the genus. The overall plumage, as in many other coucals, is of a blackish bird with a long tail and rufous wings. They have two plumages, a breeding plumage in which the head and upper back are glossy with dark shafts to the feather and a duller non-breeding plumage in which the feather shafts on the head and back are whitish. The wing coverts also have pale shafts showing as whitish streaks on the brown feathers. The central upper tail coverts are barred and very long. The iris is darker brown and not the crimson red as in the greater coucal. Juveniles have black spots, bars and have a browner colour.[11] The calls of the lesser coucal include a series of low double "whoot-woot" or "kurook" notes that increase in tempo and descend in pitch. The Indonesian name of dudut is onomatopoeic.[9]

Call recorded in southern India (April)

The species is widely distributed west from the Indian subcontinent (but not in Sri Lanka[11] despite an old report of a skin of doubtful provenance[12]) extending east across Southeast Asia. Slight differences in size and plumage are noted in different parts of their range and several subspecies have been designated. The nominate form is found from India to Thailand. Subspecies lignator is larger and found in southeastern China and Taiwan. Subspecies javanensis is smaller and found across the larger islands along the Malay Peninsula extending east to the Philippines. Some island forms are larger and these include sarasinorum and found on Sulawesi, the Sula Islands, Lesser Sundas and Timor. The form on the Moluccas, medius is the largest. Some other subspecies like philppinensis from the Philippines and chamnongi from Thailand[13] are not always recognized and are thought to form either variants or intermediate plumages.[9] The population patchily distributed[14] in the Western Ghats of southern India may constitute a distinct subspecies.[11]

Behaviour and ecology[edit]

The lesser coucal is found singly or in pairs low in the undergrowth in marshy or grassy areas adjoining forest. They appear to be found mainly in lowlands. Like other coucals, they are not brood-parasitic cuckoos. They nest from May to September but mainly after the rains in June in India, building a dome of grass blades on a low tree.[11] The usual clutch is 3 eggs in India, 2 in Southeast Asia and 4 in Taiwan. Both sexes incubate the eggs and care for the young.[8]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2016). "Centropus bengalensis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T22684254A93021566. Retrieved 21 October 2021.
  2. ^ Gmelin, Johann Friedrich (1788). Systema naturae per regna tria naturae : secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Vol. 1, Part 1 (13th ed.). Lipsiae [Leipzig]: Georg. Emanuel. Beer. p. 412.
  3. ^ Brown, Peter (1776). Nouvelles illustrations de zoologie : contenant cinquante planches enlumineés d'oiseaux curieux, et qui non etés jamais descrits, et quelques de quadrupedes, de reptiles et d'insectes, avec de courtes descriptions systematiques [New illustrations of zoology, containing fifty coloured plates of new, curious, and non-descript birds, with a few quadrupeds, reptiles and insects]. London: Imprimé pour B. White. p. 26, Plate 13.
  4. ^ Illiger, Johann Karl Wilhelm (1811). Prodromus systematis mammalium et avium (in Latin). Berolini [Berlin]: Sumptibus C. Salfeld. p. 205.
  5. ^ 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 13 August 2022.
  6. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 96. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  7. ^ Mees, G.F. (1971). "The Philippine subspecies of Centropus bengalensis (Gmelin) (Aves, Cuculidae)". Zoologische Mededelingen Uitgegeven Door Het Rijksmuseum Van Natuurlijke Historiete Leiden. 45: 189–191.
  8. ^ a b Payne, R.B. (1997). "Lesser coucal". In del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 4: Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. Barcelona, Spain: Lynx Edicions. p. 590. ISBN 978-84-87334-22-1.
  9. ^ a b c Payne, R.B. (2005). The Cuckoos. Oxford University Press. pp. 250–254. ISBN 978-0-19-850213-5.
  10. ^ Parkes, Kenneth C. (1957). "Taxonomic notes on the Lesser Coucal, Centropus bengalensis". Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. 77: 115–116.
  11. ^ a b c d Rasmussen, Pamela C.; Anderton, J.C. (2005). Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide. Volume 2. Washington D.C. and Barcelona: Smithsonian Institution and Lynx Edicions. pp. 223–224. ISBN 978-84-96553-87-3.
  12. ^ Butler, A.L. (1897). "On the occurrence of the Lesser Coucal (Centropus bengalensis, Blyth) in Ceylon". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 11 (1): 162.
  13. ^ Deignan, H.G. (1955). "Four new races of birds from East Asia". Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. 68: 145–148.
  14. ^ Philip, V. (1993). "Occurrence of the Lesser Crow-Pheasant Centropus tolou in Neyyar". Newsletter for Birdwatchers. 33 (5): 93–94.

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