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the web of life in southern Africa

Cuculus gularis (African cuckoo) 

Afrikaanse koekoek [Afrikaans]; Mukuku (generic term for cuckoos and coucals) [Kwangali]; Afrikaanse koekoek [Dutch]; Coucou africain [French]; Afrikanischer kuckuck [German]; Cuco-africano [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Cuculiformes > Family: Cuculidae

Cuculus gularis (African cuckoo) 

African cuckoo male. [photo Neil Gray ]

Cuculus gularis (African cuckoo)  Cuculus gularis (African cuckoo) 

African cuckoo male. [photo Neil Gray ]

African cuckoo. [photo Dave Scott ]

The African cuckoo occupies huge areas of sub-Saharan Africa, absent from parts of the DRC, Somalia, South Africa and Namibia. It usually occurs in open woodland and Acacia savanna, mostly eating caterpillars. It exclusively parasitizes Fork-tailed drongos: the male distracts them whilst the female flies in to the nest, removes any existing eggs before laying one of its own. Soon after hatching, the chick removes any existing Drongo eggs or chicks in the nest, remaining in the nest for about 23 days before leaving.

Distribution and habitat

Occurs across sub-Saharan Africa, absent only from parts of the DRC and Somalia. In southern Africa it is fairly common in northern and central Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and north-eastern South Africa. It is shy and unobtrusive, generally preferring open woodland and Acacia savanna, avoiding evergreen forest.

Distribution of African cuckoo in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project ( Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  



Male (left) and female (right) recorded by R. Meyer, White River, Mpumalanga, South Africa, [ Transvaal Museum]

Movements and migrations

Intra-African breeding migrant, arriving in southern Africa around August-September, going through its full breeding cycle before departing around March-April.


Its diet is almost exclusively made up of caterpillars, foraging amongst the foliage of trees and shrubs, occasionally flying to the ground to pick up a prey item. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • It is a brood parasite, meaning that it lays its eggs in other birds nests. The host (usually a Fork-tailed drongo), thinking that the egg is its own, incubates the egg and cares for the chick.
  • Egg-laying season is from September-December, peaking from October-November.
  • Both sexes participate in the egg-laying process: the male distracts the hosts while the female flies in to the drongo's nest, removes any existing eggs before laying one of her own.
  • Eggs are incubated by the host for 11-17 days.
  • The chick removes any existing Drongo eggs in the nest, eventually leaving the nest at about 23 days old.


Not threatened, in fact quite common in protected areas.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.