By Pompie Burger
African Cuckoo, Cuculus gularis
Roberts No 375
Ever since I started bird-watching, and – more specifically – doing bird photography, I’ve had this thing about cuckoos.
Being a Mpumalanga boy, I grew up in an area where the Red-chested Cuckoo is abundant. However, as you possibly know, although these birds are very vocal, they are shy and seldom seen.
In Namibia, the Diderick Cuckoo is probably the most well-known and frequently seen cuckoo, but it’s also not that approachable.
Once you start talking about the other cuckoos, especially the African cuckoo and Common ones, you’re talking about rare birds.
The two look virtually identical, the main difference being that the African Cuckoo has a striped outer tail, while the Common Cuckoo has spotted feathers. To be quite honest, this difference is not that obvious, even when you’re looking to identify them in the book.
The other more foolproof method of distinguishing between the two is by listening for their calls, and in the end this is what did the trick for me.
The African cuckoo is vocal, and has a very distinctive call that sounds just like the African Hoopoe.
The Common Cuckoo, on the other hand, is quiet. So, if you’re not sure, just wait for it to call, and if doesn’t, it’s a Common Cuckoo.
We saw one at Okaukuejo on Christmas day and I probably disturbed quite a few people having their Christmas dinner when I was trying to get a picture of this rather elusive bird.
Hopefully some of them found my efforts entertaining.
The most well-known peculiarity about cuckoos is their habit of being brood parasites. To see one of the cuckoo chicks flying around looking like a cuckoo but acting like a babbler or a drongo is quite hilarious. Like all the other cuckoos, the African Cuckoo is a migrant bird, in this case, an intra-African migrant.
When in Namibia, African cuckoos frequent the central and north-eastern part of the country.
This article appeared in the Dec ‘06/ Jan ‘07 edition of Travel News Namibia.
Based in Windhoek, Pompie Burger is an orthopaedic surgeon whose part-time passion is photography, in particular wildlife, and specifically birds. This regularly takes him to the most remote corners of the country, resulting in riveting images and articles.
Pompie is the author and photographer of the coffee table book Birds of Namibia, which was published in 2008. The book contains articles and photographs which attest to the insight and knowledge of an accomplished observer.
Read more of his articles in our Birding Section.