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Cuculus solitarius (Red-chested cuckoo) 

Piet-my-vrou [Afrikaans]; Uphezukomkhono [Xhosa]; uPhezukomkhono [Zulu]; Mukuku (generic term for cuckoos and coucals) [Kwangali]; Tlo-nke-tsoho [South Sotho]; Phezukwemkhono [Swazi]; Ngwafalantala [Tsonga]; Heremietkoekoek [Dutch]; Coucou solitaire [French]; Einsiedlerkuckuck [German]; Cuco-de-peito-vermelho [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 solitarius (Red-chested cuckoo)

Cuculus solitarius (Red-chested cuckoo)

Red-chested cuckoo. [photo Callie de Wet ] Red-chested cuckoo. [photo Sion Stanton ]
Cuculus solitarius (Red-chested cuckoo) Cuculus solitarius (Red-chested cuckoo) 

Red-chested cuckoo, South Africa. [photo Johann du Preez ]

Red-chested cuckoo, Ntsikeni Nature Reserve, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ]

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. 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.

Distribution and habitat

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 savanna thickets, stands of trees in human settlements, mature gardens and parks.

Distribution of Red-chested 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.  



Recorded by Peter Ginn, Grahamstown, South Africa 1971, [ Transvaal Museum]



Feeds mainly on invertebrates, especially hairy caterpillars, doing most of its foraging in the tree canopy. It occasionally goes down to the lower branches to pick up a scrap of food. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • It is a brood parasite, meaning that it lays its eggs in other bird nests. The host, thinking that the egg is its own, incubates the egg and cares for the chick. The following bird species have been recorded as host of the Red-chested cuckoo:
  • Egg-laying season is from October-January
  • The female often has a hard time getting into the host's nest, as it is constantly mobbed and attacked. Amazingly, once it has got into the nest it can remove the host's egg and lay one of its own in less than 5 seconds! In one observation, the female laid 20 eggs in one breeding season.
  • Once the chick is about two days old, it evicts the host's eggs and nestlings. It stays in the nest for 17-21 days, becoming fully independent 20-25 days later.
Cuculus solitarius (Red-chested cuckoo) Cuculus solitarius (Red-chested cuckoo)

Red-chested cuckoo juvenile being fed by a Karoo thrush host, Modimolle, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ]

Red-chested cuckoo juvenile with host, Motacilla capensis (Cape wagtail). [photo Peter Steyn ]


Not threatened, in fact it is well represented 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.