A rare visitor

For days now I have been hearing this bird in our garden, but just could never catch sight of it. My bird guide* says that it is “easily overlooked as it keeps to dense vegetation“. Because of the good rains we’ve had since November last year, and the fact that our gardener has not been able to work regularly, our garden is now starting to resemble a jungle. So it must feel right at home!

The bird I’m talking about is the Burchell’s Coucal (Centropus burchelli), a sub-species of the White-browed Coucal. Click on the links for more information. In my bird guide* it says “As the wings are short and rounded, they are poor fliers and usually creep about in dense vegetation. Shy and secretive and thus easily overlooked.” Personally, I think it doesn’t creep so much, as do this awkward looking hop. But it is the Burchell’s Coucal’s call which is fairly unusual. It sounds like “a liquid bubbling series of notes, first descending and then rising in pitch, sounding like water poured from a bottle with a narrow neck“*.

This morning suddenly, there it was in front of me. The photographs below are not mine. I was trying to decide whether to stay in the garden and watch the bird or run for a camera. I decided to stay and watch. So these photographs are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. You can click on the photographs to link to the original Wikimedia Commons page and enlarge them. There is also a short YouTube video so you can listen to the sound it makes.

Burchell's Coucal in Hluhluwe, South Africa. (Image: Ripton Scott/Wikimedia Commons)

Burchell's Coucal (Image: Mister-E via Wikimedia Commons)

Burchell's Coucal (subspecies of White-browed Coucal) at Birds of Eden, Plettenberg, South Africa. (Image: Graham via Wikipedia Commons)

[*”The Bird Guide of Southern Africa” by Ulrich Oberprieler and Burger Cillié]

Tags: , , , ,

Categories: Nature/Environment


I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at https://notesfromafrica.wordpress.com and http://southerncape.wordpress.com (my photoblog)


Subscribe to the Notes from Africa RSS and Twitter feeds to receive updates.

24 Comments on “A rare visitor”

  1. March 23, 2011 at 11:27 am #

    We have a southern coucal around these parts, very similar to this one, except it has a black chest and belly. It also has these ruby red eyes. They make these mellow, throaty bass calls to each other _ that sound like low, echoey, electronic drum beats, quite hypnotic.

    • March 23, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

      From what I’ve read all the Coucals make very unique sounds. We have something called a Black Coucal which visits the Northern parts of South Africa which looks very similar to what you are describing.

  2. March 23, 2011 at 11:49 am #

    How wonderful that you get to see so many different birds and animals in your garden!! I guess I would have stayed watching too!!! Good idea to add the video!!

    • March 23, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

      I have been surprised by how many different birds visit our garden. We live very close to the mountains and forests, and a lot of these birds migrate into the gardens close by. It’s such a privilege to see these birds in one’s own garden.

      I just don’t think that the descriptions of the Coucal’s call quite matches the reality. Was lucky to find a video to let people experience it for themselves.

  3. March 23, 2011 at 12:32 pm #

    What a wonderful sound. I’m glad you stayed to watch. Thanks for adding the video.

    • March 23, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

      Isn’t that call just unique? When I started hearing it about a week ago, I rushed out every time to see if I could spot the bird. The chances of me taking such good photos of the bird (as those I found on Wikimedia Commons) were slim, so I figured I’d just enjoy the real bird instead.

  4. Estie
    March 23, 2011 at 1:10 pm #

    Great sound. Beautiful bird. Such an experience can make my day.

    • March 23, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

      It did make my day! It’s only the second time that I’ve seen a Coucal in our garden (in the 7 years we have lived here!). It was in the little yard (where the braai is), jumping along the wall (unusual to see it out in the open like that) and then it flew into one of the big trees in our front yard.

  5. March 23, 2011 at 2:05 pm #

    What a great looking bird.

  6. March 23, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    What an amazing sound, Lisa! Beautiful and other-worldly at the same time. Fascinating. I love it when you do these kinds of posts! I learn so much!

    • March 23, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

      That sound they make is like nothing else around here. I always think of the forests when I hear them, because that’s the only other place I’ve ever heard that kind of call.

      Hope you’re settling in and doing okay, Kathy!

  7. jacquelincangro
    March 23, 2011 at 5:09 pm #

    I love when you introduce us to the wildlife in your area!
    The colors of the bird’s plumage are marvelous. What a distinctive sound, like a little warbler. Thanks for posting that short clip.

    • March 23, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

      Thanks for your comments! I am also learning a lot in writing these posts, because I have to actually look up the details.

      I have no idea what a warbler sounds like. Although I should – we have them here too! I’m not very good with identifying bird calls, but these birds sound so distinctive that not even I can miss them.

  8. March 23, 2011 at 8:34 pm #

    One of the most interesting things about traveling is the different species of birds.

    • March 24, 2011 at 7:32 am #

      Like giant crows in Tokyo! Do they have any other interesting birds there?

  9. March 24, 2011 at 7:22 am #

    So that’s where that sound comes from! I’ve heard it before, but also never saw the bird. I usually hear it in the “kloof” at my aunt’s house where there are a lot of trees and shrubs.

    Thanks for unveiling the mystery! 🙂

    • March 24, 2011 at 7:34 am #

      My pleasure! I used to hear them a lot before I finally saw one. Willie knew what was making the noise though, so could enlighten me, before it drove me nuts! 🙂

  10. March 26, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

    What a beautiful bird! Never seen that type before. Thank you for sharing with your wonderful pics.

  11. March 28, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    We hear a Burchell’s Coucal calling around our house fairly often but I’ve only glimpsed it once for a brief second. Before I moved here, Joe actually saw one kill and eat a dove in the back garden!

    • March 29, 2011 at 5:04 am #

      That sounds horrific! It looks like such a clumsy, docile bird that one cannot imagine it attacking another bird. But the bird guide does mention it eating them.

  12. April 4, 2011 at 3:31 am #

    Can’t say I’ve ever heard a bird quite like that. What an interesting sound! The wings on your Burchell are beautiful as well. I’ve said it before and will say it again, I can’t wait until I get to South Africa! There’s just sooo much to see!

    • April 4, 2011 at 5:13 am #

      I think you’ll enjoy it here. Will be much more exciting than visiting Ireland! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: