Cuculidae – Cuckoos & allies

Shy birds with really loud voices making them hard to spot but easy to hear

This family includes roadrunners, coucals, couas, malkohas, guiras, anis, and cuckoos. They are mostly forest-dwelling, arboreal species and terrestrial species like roadrunners and coucals. Birds from this order are found all over the world except Antarctica. This family is not only versatile in terms of habitat, ranging from dense forests to open savannas, but also in dietary habits, with most being insectivorous while others are adapted to consume larger prey.

Cuckoos, the most widely recognized members of this family, are known for their melodious and often haunting calls that resonate across woodlands, fields, and forests. These calls are not just a means of communication but also establish territories and attract mates. The evolutionary success of cuckoos can be partly attributed to their remarkable breeding strategy known as brood parasitism. This unique reproductive behavior involves a female cuckoo laying her eggs in the nests of other bird species, effectively outsourcing the incubation and rearing of her offspring to unsuspecting foster parents. Some cuckoo species have even developed eggs that mimic the coloration and pattern of their host species’ eggs to increase the chances of their eggs being accepted and raised by the host parents.

The adaptability of cuckoos is further highlighted by their ability to time their egg-laying so that their eggs hatch earlier or simultaneously with the host’s clutch. This often results in the cuckoo chick outcompeting the host’s offspring for food and parental care. Some cuckoo chicks have even evolved the instinct to remove the host’s eggs or chicks from the nest, ensuring they receive undivided attention.

Despite the apparent success of their breeding strategies, birds from the Cuculidae family are not immune to environmental threats. Habitat loss due to deforestation, agricultural expansion, and urban development poses significant challenges to their survival. As forests are cleared and ecosystems altered, the intricate balance that allows these birds to thrive is disrupted.