The Greater Coucal: A Bird of Superstition and Splendour

The Greater Coucal, known scientifically as Centropus sinensis, is an imposing creature that holds a distinct place in the avian kingdom. Frequently mistaken for a crow due to its dark colouring and robust physique, the Greater Coucal is, in fact, a member of the cuckoo family. This bird, found in the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia, has a unique appearance with its lengthy tail, copper-brown wings, and distinct resonant call.  Known for its unique behaviour, the Greater Coucal’s mystical call has been associated with omens across various cultures, causing it to become enmeshed in the folklore and superstitions of its native regions.

**Serial NumberCharacteristicsDescription**
1Common nameGreater Coucal, Crow Pheasant
2Scientific nameCentropus sinensis
3ColourBlack with coppery-brown wings and a touch of purple gloss
4Average length48 cm
5Average heightNot typically measured, as birds are often measured in length
6Type of birdCuckoo, terrestrial
7Found in India in statesWidespread throughout India, particularly in the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia
8HabitatWide range from jungle to cultivation and urban gardens
9IUCN StatusLeast Concern

Features of the Bird


The Greater Coucal is a large species of cuckoo, with an average length of 48 cm. The size of this bird adds to its imposing appearance, especially when it’s seen walking on the ground or clambering about vegetation as it forages for food. The length of the Greater Coucal, combined with its long tail and sturdy build, often leads to the bird being mistaken for a crow, especially from a distance. However, a closer look reveals distinguishing features like the bird’s coppery-brown wings and its red eyes, which set it apart from the black plumage and dark eyes of the crow.


As birds are generally measured in length from beak to tail, the height of the Greater Coucal is not typically noted. The bird, however, has a fairly long tail that adds to its overall size and a large, robust body that gives it a somewhat tall and formidable presence. It’s noteworthy that despite their considerable size, Greater Coucals are weak fliers and are more often seen walking on the ground or navigating through vegetation.

Running Speed

While there’s no specific data on the running speed of the Greater Coucal, like most birds, it would be adept at moving quickly when needed, especially when foraging for food or escaping from threats. It’s known that the Greater Coucal is a ground-dwelling bird that is often seen walking and clambering about in vegetation. This could suggest a certain level of agility and quickness in their movements, even if their primary method of moving about is not by running.

Additional Features

An additional feature of the Greater Coucal that sets it apart from other birds is its distinctive call. Described as a deep, resonant “coop-coop-coops,” this sound is one of the most recognizable bird calls in the regions where the Greater Coucal resides. This call is so unique and compelling that it’s become associated with omens and superstitions in many parts of its range.

Habitat and Food of the Bird

  1. The Greater Coucal is a versatile bird that adapts to a wide range of habitats. It can be found from the jungle to urban gardens and cultivated areas. This adaptability has contributed to its widespread presence in the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia.
  1. Although the Greater Coucal belongs to the cuckoo family, it is not a parasitic bird. It’s omnivorous, feeding on insects, caterpillars, snails, and small vertebrates, including reptiles like saw-scaled vipers.
  1. Interestingly, this bird also feeds on bird eggs and nestlings of other birds, demonstrating opportunistic feeding behaviour.
  1. Apart from animal matter, the Greater Coucal’s diet also includes plant matter. It’s known to consume fruits and seeds. In some regions, it has been noted to feed on the toxic fruits of the Yellow Oleander.
  1. The bird’s diet changes based on the availability of food sources in its habitat. In certain regions, like Tamil Nadu, they predominantly feed on snails.

Nesting and Nurturing

Greater Coucals are monogamous birds, and their courtship behaviour involves chases on the ground, with the male presenting food gifts to the female. The female signals acceptance of the male by lowering her tail and drooping her wings.

The nest is a deep cup shape, usually hidden in dense vegetation, bamboo clumps, or the crowns of Pandanus trees. Nests can be built as high as 6 meters above the ground.It is common for both male and female birds to participate in building their nest. The typical clutch usually holds 3-5 chalky white eggs, which typically hatch after an incubation period of 15-16 days. The chicks then take about 18-22 days to fledge.


The Greater Coucal faces threats mainly due to habitat loss from urban development and cultivation. Being a ground-dwelling bird, it’s also susceptible to predation by domestic animals, invasive species, and other wild predators. Additionally, their eggs and nestlings are often targeted by other birds, such as the Indian Jungle Crow.

IUCN Status and Conservation

The Greater Coucal is listed as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List. This status suggests that, at present, the species does not face the threat of extinction in the immediate future. However, continuous monitoring of its population trends is crucial, considering the ongoing habitat loss and fragmentation in many parts of its range. Conservation efforts for the Greater Coucal should focus on preserving its habitats and managing threats to its survival, especially in areas where the population might be declining.

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