Cuculiformes – Cuckoos & allies

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

An order that boasts a fascinating array of birds, including the swift roadrunners, secretive coucals, enigmatic couas, vibrant malkohas, social guiras, communal anis, and the widely recognized cuckoos. These birds have conquered various habitats across the globe, adapting to life in dense forests, open savannahs, and even arid deserts, with their distribution spanning every continent except the icy expanses of Antarctica.

Roadrunners are ground-dwelling birds known for their speed and agility, capable of outrunning humans and even rattlesnakes. Coucals, on the other hand, with their deep, booming calls, prefer the undergrowth of forests and grasslands where they can forage for insects and small vertebrates. Couas, native to Madagascar, add to the order’s diversity with their striking colors and unique foraging behaviors, such as using sticks to extract insects from crevices.

Malkohas, found in the tropical regions of Asia, display a riot of colors and patterns. In contrast, guiras and anis, social birds found in South America, exhibit fascinating communal behaviors, including shared nesting and cooperative care of young.

Cuckoos are perhaps the most notorious members of this order, many of which are known for their brood parasitism behavior. This reproductive strategy involves laying eggs in the nests of other bird species, leaving the unsuspecting foster parents to incubate and raise the cuckoo chicks. Some cuckoo species have evolved eggs that closely mimic the coloration and pattern of their host’s eggs, a deceit that helps ensure the survival of their offspring.

Their diets are as varied as their habitats; while many feed primarily on insects, some have adapted to include fruits and seeds. Larger members of the order, like the Channel-billed Cuckoo, have been known to consume a variety of small vertebrates, including bird chicks, lizards, and snakes.

However, the future of many species within this diverse order is uncertain. Habitat destruction and fragmentation are pressing threats, with deforestation and land-use changes depriving them of their natural homes.