Areena Birders Corner March 2019 – Burchells Coucal – AKA the Rainbird

Burchell’s Coucal is a bird that is either loved or hated by Birders.

On the negative side it is a voracious predator with its dietary habits focusing heavily on nest robbing and eating the young birds alive and/or devouring the eggs. If these tasty morsels are not available, it will focus on eating small mammals, reptiles, insects, frogs, crickets, grasshoppers etc.

In the plus column is its perceived ability to predict rain. The Zulu nation call this bird ‘uFukwe’ and their folklore is of firm belief that when it calls it will rain within a few days.  The Afrikaners of old called it ‘Die Reenvoël’ (the Rain Bird) with the same belief on hearing its very melodious call.

Trying to describe its call phonetically is almost impossible and the best attempt is ‘a cascade of bubbling notes, first descending in scale and then ascending.’  Much likened to sound of water being poured from a bottle. A pair of birds may also call in duet with one calling the ascending and the other the descending notes. 

It lives in wet thickets, reedbeds, coastal bush, woodland or forest and grassland, along rivers and at vleis and will often frequent well-vegetated suburban gardens.

One of the distinguishing features of this bird is the very bright red eyes and the heavy black beak.  It is not very adept at flying, but when it does it alternates between flapping and gliding before flopping onto bush or crashing into a thicket.  It clambers adeptly through vegetation and runs on ground between habitat patches. It often bathes and is also able to swim.

Its nest is an untidy, bulky, loose deep cup is built of grass and lined with leaves. The structure is then covered with a reed leaf tent to form a ‘bower’, entrance to the nest is made by crashing through the leaf walls.  The nest is built by the male who does most of the incubation and feeding of the 3 to 4 young.  The feet and legs of the young develop rapidly and they leave the nest about 3 weeks after hatching and are capable of running and clambering adeptly through undergrowth long before they are able to fly.  Both parents feed the youngsters during there development until they are fully fledged and can fly.

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