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All 19 Cuckoos in Ghana

cuckoos in ghana
Yellow-throated Cuckoo in Ghana: Photo by Mathurin Malby

Introduction

Discover the world of cuckoos in Ghana, where these slender-bodied birds inhabit various habitats such as forests, riverbanks, and coastal scrublands. With a diverse diet including insects, frogs, and fruits, cuckoos play an important role in Ghana’s ecosystems. Join us as we explore their behaviors, from foraging techniques to breeding strategies to the well-known habits of brood parasitism (not true of all cuckoos, as you will find out) shedding light on their fascinating lives in the Ghanaian wilderness.

What is Brood Parasitism?

Brood parasitism, a habit cuckoos around the world are famous for, is a reproductive strategy observed in certain bird species where a female lays its eggs in the nests of other bird species, known as hosts, instead of constructing its own nest and caring for its young. The parasitic bird’s eggs often mimic those of the host species in color and pattern to avoid detection. Once hatched, the parasitic chick typically outcompetes or eliminates the host’s offspring for parental care and resources, often resulting in the host species raising the parasitic chick as its own. This strategy allows the parasitic bird to allocate more energy towards producing eggs rather than investing in parental care, thus increasing its reproductive success.

Cuckoos in Ghana

Jump to a species!

Coucals

These semi-terrestrial, robustly constructed cuckoos are non-parasitic and characterized by rounded wings and long, broad tails. Their flight is clumsy and lacks sustainment. Females of this species are typically larger than males. They primarily feed on insects but also consume small vertebrates.

Black-throated Coucal (Centropus leucogaster)

  • Features: This African coucal ranks among the largest of its kind on the continent. Its mature plumage features a black hue extending from its upper parts to the breast, with barred buff patterns on the back and a blue sheen on the tail. The wings display a rufous-chestnut coloration, darker at the tips, while the belly appears white with a creamy tint on the flanks. Its eyes are red, its bill and feet are black to blue-grey. As for juveniles, they resemble adults but lack the glossy appearance on the head and breast. Instead, they have short buff shaft streaks on the head, throat, and breast, with brown barred wings, a buffy belly, and more pronounced barring on the tail. The iris of juveniles is grey or reddish-brown, and their lower mandible is horn-colored. In the leucogaster race, the plumage takes on a violet-blue sheen.
  • Behavior: This species primarily feeds on insects such as caterpillars, spiders, beetles, and grasshoppers, along with occasional prey like snails and frogs. Its foraging behavior typically occurs on or close to the ground. For nesting, it constructs a sizable ball made of leaves and grass, often lined with green foliage. These nests are usually situated up to 30 cm above ground level, typically found within bushes, forests, or amidst long grass.
  • Habitat: This species is commonly found amidst dense undergrowth, particularly along the edges of forests, forest remnants, secondary forests, thickets, and dense grasslands. They are especially abundant near streams and at the margins of raphia swamps. They tend to be more prevalent in areas with heavy gallery forests and dense second growth compared to primary forests. Their habitat primarily encompasses the lowland forest zone.
  • Range: The nominate subspecies is found sparingly in suitable habitat in the southern parts of Ghana, particularly from Kumasi and surrounds southward toward the coast.

Senegal Coucal (Centropus senegalensis)

  • Features: This coucal species is relatively compact in size. Its upper parts, ranging from the forehead to the mantle, display a glossy green or blue-black coloration. The back and wings exhibit a rusty-brown hue, while the rump remains unbarred and black. The tail is predominantly blackish with a green sheen. On the underside, it is predominantly white. Its eyes are characterized by a red iris, and it possesses a black bill. The female of the species tends to be slightly larger than the male. In certain regions of West Africa, there exists a dark rufous morph known as “epomidis,” distinguished by its dark brown to black chin, throat, and breast, and rufous belly, flanks, and undertail coverts.
  • Behavior: This species exhibits sunbathing behavior by positioning its back perpendicular to the sun. It is believed to be primarily monogamous and territorial, although there is potential for polyandry, particularly evident during incubation due to sex-role reversal. Its diet consists mainly of insects such as grasshoppers, locusts, mantids, cockroaches, adult Lepidoptera, caterpillars, small centipedes, Bellicositermes termites, beetles, and hemipterans. Additionally, it also consumes frogs, crabs, small rodents, and reptiles. In some regions of West Africa, Senegal Coucals may have multiple broods. It has been observed to begin incubating a second clutch while still tending to the young from the first nest.
  • Habitat: This species can be found inhabiting areas with coarse grass and thickets within woodlands, both near watercourses and farther away. It also frequents the edges of reedbeds, dense riverine bush, scrublands, sugarcane plantations, parks, gardens, and Borassus palm groves. Compared to other African coucals, it is less commonly associated with wet habitats.
  • Range: Known from throughout most of the country year-round, but not as common in the eastern regions of Ghana.

Blue-headed Coucal (Centropus monachus)

  • Features: The adult of this species displays a blue-glossed black coloration from the forehead to the upper back, with the lower back and wings exhibiting a reddish-brown hue. The rump, uppertail-coverts, and tail are unbarred and black, with the tail often showcasing a greenish or bronze gloss. Its underside is whitish to pale buff, with a darker tone on the flanks. It has red irises, a black bill, and black feet. The female is typically larger than the male.
  • Behavior: As a versatile carnivore, this species has a varied diet that encompasses insects, primarily grasshoppers and beetles, as well as snails, nestling birds, bird eggs, lizards, snakes, frogs, mice, and rats. It typically forages within cover, demonstrating a skulking behavior, and tends to be shy in its interactions.
  • Habitat: This species is commonly found in various habitats including swamps, marshes, papyrus and river banks, forest edges, mesic savannas near water sources or forests, dense cover, secondary growth areas, edges of villages, and along trails. It tends to inhabit wetter environments compared to Senegal Coucal (see above).
  • Range: In Ghana, the subspecies C. m. occidentalis is found generally in the southern part of the country, from Kumasi southward to the coast, similar to the Black-throated Coucal (see above).

Black Coucal (Centropus grillii)

  • Features: The adult of this species is characterized by its black plumage with rufous wings, a glossy black tail, dark brown iris, black bill, and black feet. During the non-breeding season, it adopts a dark brown coloration above, with rufous barring and tawny and black streaks extending from the forehead to the scapulars. Its underside appears buff-colored, with a brown bill above and a pale blue-grey hue below. Its feet are blackish. Typically, the female is larger than the male.
  • Behavior: This species is resident in regions where permanent freshwater sources are available, while other populations migrate to low-rainfall grasslands during the rainy season. Its diet primarily consists of insects, particularly grasshoppers and beetles, along with spiders, mantids, small reptiles, and seeds. Breeding typically occurs during the rainy season when grasses are at their peak height. During copulation, the male often feeds the female.
  • Habitat: This species prefers habitats with tall, dense grass and reedbeds, often found in grasslands adjacent to freshwater swamps. They are particularly abundant in wide grassy river valleys, marshes, and seasonally flooded grasslands. However, they are typically absent from estuarine or tidal marshes.
  • Range: Black Coucals are uncommon visitors to Ghana, found mostly near the coast.

Malkohas

This species is arboreal and primarily insectivorous, resembling Asian malkohas. It is not parasitic and the genus is endemic to Africa, with one of the two species found in Ghana.

Yellowbill (Blue Malkoha) (Ceuthmochares aereus)

  • Features: This cuckoo species is arboreal, possessing a slender body reminiscent of a squirrel, and distinguished by a notably long graduated tail without any white spotting.It features a dark grey crown and nape, gradually transitioning to a greenish-blue, blue, or violet gloss on the upperparts, wings, and tail. The underside starts as grey and darkens steadily from the breast through the belly to the undertail-coverts. Its orbital skin is bare and yellow, with a greenish tinge closest to the eyes. The irides are either red or brown, the bill is yellow (black near the base of the culmen), and the legs and feet are black. In the flavirostris subspecies, the plumage is glossed violet above and on the tail, with a more distinct transition on the underparts between the mid-grey breast and the slate-grey belly.
  • Behavior: This species has a varied diet consisting of insects such as caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, leafhoppers, winged termites, bees, and spiders. Additionally, they consume tree frogs, slugs, fruits, seeds, and leaves. Their movement involves short hops while utilizing their long tail for balance. They forage by searching through tangled creepers, turning and seizing insects when encountered. At times, they may join mixed-species flocks of birds or squirrels, using them to flush out insects which they then capture. Both parents contribute to feeding the young.
  • Habitat: This species is commonly found in forests, particularly in the upper canopy of old secondary evergreen forests and riverine forests. They also frequent forest edges, where they are primarily active between 8 and 30 meters above the ground. They prefer habitats with tall, dense thickets, tangled creepers, and lianas. Additionally, they can be observed in coastal scrub areas.
  • Range: The subspecies C. a. flavirostris is found mostly in the south in the High Forest Zone.

Typical Cuckoos

Arboreal in nature, these birds possess long, pointed wings and elongated tails, evoking the image of a small raptor during flight. They primarily subsist on insects and hairy caterpillars and are known as brood parasites. Shortly after hatching, young cuckoos often eject the eggs or nestlings of their host species from the nest. While many of these birds are inconspicuous, some are challenging to observe, yet each species possesses distinctive calls.

Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius)

  • Features: This cuckoo species is sizable. Adults show a silvery-gray crown in males and a gray-brown crown in females, both with a short, flattened crest. They have long wings and tail, which droops noticeably in flight. Their upperparts are dusky brown with white spots, while the underparts are predominantly white with a buffy to buffy-white throat. Juveniles can be distinguished by their black upperparts with white spots and conspicuous rufous primaries during flight.
  • Behavior: Its diet primarily consists of insects, particularly large hairy caterpillars, along with termites, locusts, grasshoppers, moths, and small lizards. It typically forages quietly within vegetation but also feeds on the ground when necessary. Before consumption, it often removes hairs and spines from caterpillars.
  • Primary Hosts: In its West African range, Pied Crows (Corvus albus) are its main victim of brood parasitism.
  • Habitat: This species predominantly inhabits semi-arid open woodlands, particularly Acacia thorn-scrub, as well as other types of scrub and rocky hillsides within dry savannas. Additionally, it can be found in areas of dry cultivation, such as those in the Middle East.
  • Range: These birds are fairly uncommon sightings around Ghana, but have been recorded in scattered areas all over the country. They are generally resident in Ghana but some birds are Palearctic visitors.

Levaillant’s Cuckoo (Clamator levaillantii)

  • Features: The adult of this species exhibits glossy black plumage above, often with a greenish or bluish sheen, accentuated by a black crest. Its wings display a striking white patch, while the tips of all but the central feathers of the black tail are also white. On the underside, it appears dull white or cream-colored, heavily streaked with black on the throat and to a lesser extent on the breast. The streaking becomes less prominent on the flanks and thighs. Its iris is brown, the bill is black, and the legs and feet are blue-grey.
  • Behavior: Levaillant’s Cuckoos typically breed during the wet season and migrate southward during the dry season. These cuckoos have an unobtrusive nature, often foraging within cover to avoid detection.
  • Primary Hosts: Babblers and the Chestnut-bellied starling (Lamprotornis pulcher).
  • Habitat: This species is commonly found in a variety of habitats including open woodlands, wooded Acacia savannas, thickets, gardens, old farms, riverine forests, scrublands, and even within the forest canopy. They are frequently observed in humid environments. Additionally, they inhabit areas at the edges of rainforests, secondary growth regions, and cultivated areas adjacent to the forest zone.
  • Range: Levaillant’s Cuckoos can be found across much of Ghana, in the north during the wet seasons and typically in the southern parts of the country when conditions get dry.

Jacobin Cuckoo (Clamator jacobinus)

  • Features: The adult of this species displays glossy black plumage above, featuring a black crest, a white patch on the black wings, and white tips on the black tail. Its underside is white in coloration. It is characterized by brown eyes, a black bill, and slate-grey feet. In contrast, juveniles exhibit brown to sooty black plumage above, with a whitish underside that may have fulvous or grey coloring on the breast. The spots on their tails are buff-colored rather than white, and they have a yellow eyering.
  • Behavior: This species primarily feeds on insects, particularly hairy caterpillars, along with grasshoppers, mantids, and termites. Additionally, they consume forest snails, eggs of host birds, and berries. Their feeding behavior primarily occurs in trees and bushes, although they also descend to the ground and hop around in search of food.
  • Primary Hosts: Common Bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus) and babbler species.
  • Habitat: This species is commonly found in open woodlands, scrublands, dry thorn savannas, and thorny jungles, as well as on plains. In Africa, it can be found up to elevations of 3000 meters, although it is typically more prevalent below 1500 meters.
  • Range: The subspecies C. j. pica is an uncommon and typically non-breeding intra-African visitor to Ghana.

Thick-billed Cuckoo (Pachycoccyx audeberti)

  • Features: This sizable cuckoo presents a somewhat hawk-like demeanor, highlighted by its banded tail. Adults exhibit a consistent slate-grey plumage above (turning brown in worn plumage), with varying white lores depending on the subspecies. Their wings are blackish, and their tails display brown and black barring. The underside is predominantly white, and they feature a narrow yellow eye-ring. Juveniles display dark brown plumage above adorned with broad white spots on the back and wings, while the face exhibits black and white markings.
  • Behavior: Their diet primarily consists of insects, particularly hairy caterpillars, marula worms (Imbrasia belina), grasshoppers, and mantids. In Madagascar, dragonflies (Odonata) are also noted as part of their diet. When capturing food, they predominantly forage in the canopy, typically alone but occasionally in pairs, and exceptionally in groups of up to five individuals. Dragonflies are caught mid-flight and swallowed immediately.
  • Primary Hosts: Helmetshrike species, particularly Red-billed Helmetshrike (Prionops caniceps) and possibly White-crested Helmetshrike (P. plumatus).
  • Habitat: In West Africa, such as in Ghana and Togo, this species is commonly observed in dry semi-evergreen open-canopy rainforests and transitional woodlands. Additionally, it can be found in thickets, closed-canopy woodlands, and riparian forests bordered by Anogeissus dry forests.
  • Range: Patchily distributed and hard-to-find residents in much of Ghana.

Diederik Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx caprius)

  • Features: The adult male displays a glossy bronze-green plumage on its upperparts, along with a broad white supercilium that is widest behind the eye. White spots adorn its wings and the sides of its tail. Below, it appears white, with green barring on the flanks. Its eye-ring and iris are both red, while its bill is black and its feet are grey. The female is typically duller in appearance, with some rufous tones above. Its throat is usually washed in buff, and its breast may have light streaking. The eye-ring of the female is brown, and its iris ranges from hazel-brown to grey, sometimes with dark flecks.
  • Behavior: This species primarily feeds on insects, with a diet consisting mainly of caterpillars, along with grasshoppers, termites, beetles, adult Lepidoptera, and eggs of host birds. Additionally, they consume seeds. Their foraging behavior predominantly occurs in the canopy, although they may also search for food on the ground, especially in West Africa.
  • Primary Hosts: Parasitizes mainly weavers, including bishop species, and sparrows.
  • Habitat: This species is commonly found in semi-arid thorn scrub, acacia savannas, open woodlands, and the edges of marshland habitats. It can also be occasionally spotted in gardens. In semi-arid regions, it tends to occur around water sources, often near colonies of weavers, where it may be chased by the nesting birds. Its range extends from sea level to approximately 2000 meters, typically remaining below 1200 meters in elevation.
  • Range: Common residents in the southern parts of Ghana, with some birds migrating northward in the rainy season for breeding.

Klaas’s Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx klaas)

  • Features: Males exhibit an iridescent green coloration on their upperparts, including the sides of the neck, along with a white patch behind the eye. Their underparts are white with delicate green bars. In contrast, females display gray-brown upperparts with green bars and whitish underparts adorned with fine brown bars.
  • Behavior: This species primarily feeds on insects, with caterpillars being the main component of its diet, and occasionally supplements its diet with fruits. When foraging, it typically searches through the foliage of bushes, particularly Acacia.
  • Primary Hosts: Warblers, sunbirds, cisticolas, white-eyes, and weavers are hosts, among more insectivorous birds.
  • Habitat: Found in a range of wooded environments, this species frequents forest edges, clearings, riparian forests, woodlands, and cultivated areas.
  • Range: Klaas’s Cuckoos are resident throughout most of Ghana.

Yellow-throated Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx flavigularis)

  • Features: The adult male of this species displays a bronze-washed dark coppery-brown coloration on its upperparts and neck sides, with white outer rectrices featuring subterminal black bars. Its chin, throat, and center of the breast are a vibrant yellow, while the sides of the throat and breast exhibit a dark green hue. Below, it is barred in buff and greenish brown. Its eye-ring is yellowish green, its iris is yellow, and its bill is greenish-yellow, with yellow feet. In contrast, the female lacks the green and yellow tones on the throat and face, with underparts finely barred in rufous and dark brown. Its bill is black, and its feet are a dull yellow.
  • Behavior: This species primarily consumes insects, particularly caterpillars, along with beetles, and occasionally feeds on fruit. It is characterized by its unobtrusive nature and remains relatively understudied.
  • Primary Hosts: Largely unknown. The only known host of this species is the Grey-throated Tit-Flycatcher (Fraseria griseigularis), with a pair observed feeding a young Yellow-throated Cuckoo in Gabon in 2006.
  • Habitat: This species primarily inhabits the primary forest canopy, as well as old secondary and gallery forests. It typically remains high in the forest canopy, where it can be identified by its distinctive song. Its habitat ranges include lowland areas.
  • Range: Yellow-throated Cuckoos are very rare residents, most frequently observed in the southern part of Ghana, in lowland forest.

African Emerald Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx cupreus)

  • Features: The adult male of this species exhibits a brilliant iridescent green coloration on its upperparts, head, and breast, with a yellow belly. Its eye-ring is blue, while its iris is brown. The bill is green and slaty below, with bluish feet. In contrast, the female displays a barred green and rufous plumage above, with a brownish face finely barred in white. Its underparts are whitish with greenish bars, and the breast is washed in buff. The eye-ring appears bluish-green, the iris is dark brown, and the bill is black-tipped.
  • Behavior: This species primarily feeds on insects, with a preference for hairy caterpillars, along with beetle grubs, grasshoppers, butterflies, and termites. Additionally, it consumes some fruit, bird eggs, and snails. When foraging, it navigates through dense canopy foliage and typically remains high in the trees. Renowned for its spectacular bright colors, the African Emerald Cuckoo is also highly vocal. Its advertisement call is distinctive and unmistakable, making it one of the characteristic songs of the African forest.
  • Primary Hosts: This species parasitizes small songbirds such as bulbuls, warblers, illadopsises, flycatchers, sunbirds (Nectariniidae), and weavers as hosts. While these hosts are primarily insectivorous, one exception is the Yellow-whiskered Greenbul (Eurillas latirostris), which raises the young cuckoo on a diet consisting mainly of fruit.
  • Habitat: This species is commonly found in forests, seasonal miombo (Brachystegia) woodlands, savanna woodlands, secondary growth areas, thickets, and around large shade trees. It can even be observed in towns and suburbs, where it sings from introduced eucalyptus trees. Its habitat includes lowland regions in West Africa.
  • Range: A common rainforest species in the lowlands of Ghana.

Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo (Cercococcyx mechowiI)

  • Features: The adult of this species displays a dark grey plumage on its upperparts, with flight-feathers exhibiting rufous barring. Its long tail is broad, with white or pale rufous tips on the rectrices. The wings are approximately 75% of the length of the tail. Below, it features black barring, with an unmarked reddish-buff belly. Its iris is brown, eyelids are yellow, bill is greenish-black, lower mandible is greenish, mouth is yellow, and legs and feet are yellow in color.
  • Behavior: It primarily consumes insects, with a preference for hairy varieties, along with beetles, ants, spiders, small snails, and seeds.
  • Primary Hosts: Hosts of Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoos are not well-known, but Brown Illadopsis (Trichastoma fulvescens), Forest Robin (Stiphrornis erythrothorax), and possibly Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher (Trochocercus nitens) are suspected.
  • Habitat: This species primarily inhabits lowland mature forests, particularly in the lower levels and dense undergrowth, often in close proximity to watercourses.
  • Range: Quite rare in Ghana, usually seen in the lowland forests.

Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo (Cercococcyx olivinus)

  • Features: The adult Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo exhibits a dark olive-brown plumage on its upperparts, with a greyish crown. Its remiges and coverts often lack barring, while the long tail features broad rectrices tipped in white or pale rufous. The wings measure approximately 82% of the length of the tail. Below, it appears whitish with black barring. Its iris is dark brown, with a greenish-yellow eye-ring and skin around the eye. The bill is slate in color, with a greenish lower mandible tipped in slate. The mouth is yellow, and the feet are yellow as well.
  • Behavior: Its diet primarily consists of insects, with a preference for hairy caterpillars. When foraging, it typically searches through the middle and upper strata of the forest and in the crowns of trees. It often accompanies mixed-species flocks of foraging birds. This species is shy and rarely observed.
  • Primary Hosts: This species utilizes hosts that are still largely unknown, though there is a possibility that the Pale-breasted Illadopsis (Trichastoma rufipennis) serves as a host, as indicated by the discovery of a cuckoo egg in its nest. Another potential host could be the Finsch’s Rufous Thrush (Stizorhina finschi), supported by the observation of the cuckoo uttering a call resembling that of this songbird.
  • Habitat: This species predominantly inhabits forested areas, particularly mature forests that are largely uninterrupted. It can also be found in smaller patches of forest, secondary growth areas, and gallery forests.
  • Range: Rare resident of the lowland forests in Ghana.

Black Cuckoo (Cuculus clamosus)

  • Features: The adult of this species appears black above with a glossy greenish-blue sheen and a white-tipped tail. Its iris is brown, and it has a black bill. Juveniles are duller in coloration, lacking the white tail tip, with remiges that are dark brown and patchily white with vermiculated inner webs. Their tail feathers are more pointed, a plumage thought to perhaps mimic other species. In the gabonensis subspecies, present in Ghana and West Africa in general, the chin to breast is rufous with darker bars, while the remainder of the underparts is banded black and buff, with undertail-coverts often unbarred in males and females exhibiting darker rufous tones. Their ear-coverts are dark rather than rufous, and the breast and belly are more heavily barred blackish, often extending onto the undertail-coverts.
  • Behavior: Feeding primarily on insects, this species has a diet consisting mainly of hairy caterpillars, along with termites, grasshoppers, and beetles. Additionally, it consumes birds’ eggs and nestlings, likely those of its hosts. Occasionally, it captures airborne prey as well.
  • Primary Hosts: Hosts in West Africa are unknown but the species elsewhere has been observed parasitizing bush-shrikes and orioles.
  • Habitat: This species is commonly found in various habitats including forests, open woodlands, riparian woodlands, farmbush areas, and acacia thickets. It primarily inhabits forested regions in Central and Western Africa. Typically, it is found in lowland areas, generally below 2000 meters in elevation.
  • Range: The subspecies C. c. gabonensis is a fairly common resident in the lowland forests of the country.

Red-chested Cuckoo (Cuculus solitarius)

  • Features: The adult male of this species displays a dark grey upper plumage with a white-tipped tail. Its chin is grey, while the breast appears rufous, often with dark barring. The upper belly is barred in black and white, while the undertail-coverts are unbarred and whitish. Its eyelids are yellow-green, the iris is brown, and the bill is black with a yellow base, complemented by yellow feet. In contrast, the female typically features a buffy throat, sometimes pale grey, but never barred. The breast is usually a paler shade of rufous and always exhibits barring.
  • Behavior: Feeding primarily on insects, with a preference for hairy caterpillars, this species also consumes beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, slugs, centipedes, millipedes, and snails. Additionally, it includes small frogs and lizards, as well as berries in its diet. Interestingly, the Red-chested Cuckoo was once referred to as the rain-bird due to the belief that its song heralded rain. However, careful analysis revealed no predictive value in the bird’s vocal activity when compared to rainfall patterns.
  • Primary Hosts: In Ghana, they are known to parasitize various thrush and robin-chat species.
  • Habitat: This species can be found in various habitats including forests, open woodlands, riparian woodlands, thorn scrub, and even in montane areas up to 3000 meters in elevation. It is primarily a forest-dwelling bird found in Western, Central, and Southern Africa.
  • Range: Uncommon residents in forested areas around Ghana.

African Cuckoo (Cuculus gularis)

  • Features: The adult of this species exhibits a dark ashy-grey coloration on its upperparts, with a tail featuring dark grey hue and blackish barring, along with a white tip. The outer feathers of the tail are barred white. Its chin to breast appears ashy-grey, while the rest of the underparts are white with narrow black bars that often fade out on the lower belly. It has a yellow eye-ring, yellow iris, and a yellow bill with a black tip. In contrast, the female may sometimes display slight barring or a rufous hue on the throat or breast, but there is no rufous morph. Juveniles are greyer (not brown) than those of the Common Cuckoo (C. canorus) species (see below), with broader white spots in the tail.
  • Behavior: Feeding primarily on insects, especially caterpillars, this species forages by navigating through foliage and also scavenges for food on the ground. Regarding its vocal behavior, the African Cuckoo is relatively common but often inconspicuous except when calling. Initially classified as the same species as the Common Cuckoo, its distinctive voice played a significant role in its recognition as a separate species.
  • Primary Hosts: This species parasitizes hosts such as the Fork-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus adsimilis) and Yellow-billed Shrike (Corvinella corvina) in Ghana.
  • Habitat: This species prefers habitats such as open woodlands and acacia savannas. It tends to avoid dense evergreen forests and arid regions.
  • Range: Not an unusual intra-African migrant that ventures throughout most of Ghana, missing out mainly on the southwestern portion of the country.

Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

  • Features: The adult male of this species showcases a dark ashy-grey coloration on its upperparts, with a tail that appears blackish-brown, spotted, and tipped with white, featuring uneven black barring. Its chin to breast area is ashy grey, while the rest of the underparts are white with black bars. It possesses a yellow eye ring, a light brown to orange iris, a black bill with a yellow base, and yellow feet. The female exhibits similar characteristics but may have a rufous-tinged upper breast. In the canorus race, the female can also appear in a rufous (“hepatic”) morph, with barred chestnut and blackish-brown upperparts, plain rufous rump and uppertail-coverts, and white underparts barred in pale chestnut and blackish, with the lower breast tinged rufous. Juveniles display a white nape spot and white tips to crown and back feathers.
  • Behavior: Feeding primarily on insects, especially caterpillars, this species occasionally includes dragonflies, damselflies, mayflies, crickets, and cicadas in its diet. In colder weather upon its spring arrival in northern breeding grounds, it may also consume beetles. Additionally, it feeds on spiders, snails, and occasionally fruit. It is known to prey on the eggs and nestlings of small birds.
  • Primary Hosts: Engaging in brood parasitism, this species utilizes hosts comprising numerous insectivorous songbird species, with over 100 recorded to date. These include flycatchers, chats, warblers, pipits, wagtails, and buntings. While some species are only occasionally parasitized, they still raise the young cuckoo. These cuckoos are often mobbed by real or potential hosts near their nests. However, being non-breeding migrants, Common Cuckoos do not parasitize any birds in Ghana.
  • Habitat: This species can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests and woodlands, encompassing both coniferous and deciduous types. It also inhabits second-growth areas, open wooded regions, wooded steppes, scrublands, and heathlands. Additionally, it ventures into meadows and reedbeds. Its range includes lowlands, moorlands, and hill country, reaching elevations of up to 2000 meters.
  • Range: Common Cuckoos are Palearctic winter visitors to Africa and can be spotted throughout most of Ghana during that time, but are most likely to be seen wintering in the lowlands.

Threats and Conservation

In Ghana, birds face various threats to their survival, primarily due to habitat loss and degradation resulting from deforestation, agricultural expansion, and urbanization. Illegal hunting and trapping, as well as the trade in wild birds, pose significant risks to many species. Climate change further exacerbates these threats by altering habitats and disrupting migratory patterns. Conservation efforts in Ghana are crucial for safeguarding its avian biodiversity. Several organizations are actively involved in bird conservation in the region, including the Ghana Wildlife Society (GWS), BirdLife International, and the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission of Ghana. These organizations work towards habitat protection, restoration initiatives, community engagement, and advocacy for policy measures aimed at conserving birds and their habitats.

Citizen Science

Citizen science has emerged as a powerful tool for bird conservation and research, enabling enthusiasts and professionals alike to contribute valuable data on bird populations, distributions, and behaviors. In Ghana, citizen science initiatives play a crucial role in monitoring avian biodiversity and informing conservation efforts. Platforms like eBird have gained popularity among birders, providing a user-friendly interface for recording bird sightings and contributing to global databases.

In addition to eBird, several other citizen science projects are active in protecting the cuckoos in Ghana, such as the African Bird Atlas Project, which aims to map the distribution and abundance of bird species across the country. The involvement of local communities in bird monitoring through citizen science fosters greater awareness and appreciation for Ghana’s avian diversity while generating data essential for conservation planning and management.

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Conclusion

The diverse habitats of Ghana provide essential refuges for a variety of cuckoo species, each with unique behaviors and ecological roles. Despite facing threats such as habitat loss, illegal hunting, and climate change, these enigmatic birds continue to thrive with the help of conservation efforts and citizen science initiatives. By studying and monitoring cuckoos in Ghana, we not only gain insights into their fascinating biology but also contribute to the broader understanding and conservation of avian biodiversity in the region. Through continued research, conservation action, and community engagement, we can ensure the protection of cuckoos in Ghana and their habitats for generations to come.

Credits:

Birds of the World – https://birdsoftheworld.org/

Borrow, N., & Demey, R. (2001). Birds of Western Africa. Princeton University Press.